Remembering Aunt

Last week, I went to visit my relatives in Toronto. It had been about 7 years since I last gave them a visit. One of the biggest reasons for me to visit was for my aunt, who is my blood relative there. She is my father’s oldest sister.

Back in December, her husband passed away, and her children have been visiting her every day in the nursing home. I didn’t realize how much has changed since December, even in these last 7 years.

Before I visited my aunt, my cousin brought me to pay respects to my uncle. His ashes were stored in a temple known at 佛光山 (Foguang Shan). A sign outside the prayer room asked you only take one joss stick (essentially an incense stick). Seeing as today I’m not only here alone and representing my other brothers back in China, I took three.

We did not stay at the temple for very long. My cousin brought me to the nursing home to visit my aunt. Right before we had left the temple, though, my nice and nephew (well, in Chinese culture they refer to me as uncle, but they are first cousin once removed) explained to me that my aunt may not remember me, and not to take offense.

Hearing those words were very mind opening.  My Chinese pronunciation isn’t great, so I became concerned that not only would my aunt not recognize me but wouldn’t even be able to understand me.

We arrived at the first floor of the nursing home. Pamphlets and hand written letters written in both English and Chinese were pinned to the wall. We took the elevator up, to the fifth floor I think, and walked into the dining room.

In the far end of the room sat my other cousin, who’s attention was on her mother. My cousin and I sat down, and my aunt’s first question was, “Who are you?” My cousin replied, “I’m your son!” You could feel the weight of his heart against his warm smile as he asked his sister if aunt was eating. Aunt didn’t eat; she only spat out the food. Then aunt’s attention turned to me and she asked the same question.

I replied with my name: “我是龙华. 华仔.” It was clear that neither name (well, 华仔 is more of a nickname) had any familiarity to her ears. She repeated back the name to me, and I smiled back.

My aunt would periodically ask who I was, and I’d tell her I’m her nephew from the US. I drove 7 hours to see her. I told her I have brothers in China, to which she replies, “龙华, you love me so much! Your brothers don’t love me!” It’s both funny and sad at the same time to hear this reaction. I explained to her that for me, it’s very easy to drive, but for my brothers it’s too far. She soon forgot, and I would remind her my name and that she’s my aunt and I’m her nephew. I would tell her she would make pork chops and buy me dim sum.

My cousin (her daughter) told me that some mornings, she will take her outside on the patio and my aunt loves seeing this cow statue. It’s one of those abstract statues where a bunch of silver metallic pieces are arranged in such a way that forms a cow shape.

A few days later, I got my brother on a video chat to speak with my aunt. It was quite a bitter sweet moment. My aunt couldn’t remember my brother. I told aunt that he is in our hometown back in China, and sometimes aunt would remember little by little.

After that day, I told my nephew I wanted to buy aunt a cow stuffed animal. We drove around the whole day, going from toy store to toy store, but Toronto is not cow country. There were horses, and spotted dogs, and pigs and every farm animal you could find but no cows. Maybe cows are super popular and got sold out?

I did find a plush ow the other day. Right in a wooden box found within the Apple Cider Mill gift shop in Vermont. Cow country. Hopefully I can go back, buy the cow, and mail it to my aunt. Though it might be better to present it to her in person, I’m really not sure how much longer she has, but I’m glad to have been able to visit her again.

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Countdown to the green light

One sunny afternoon in Essex, my mom and I stopped on at Grand Union to buy groceries. This was way back in the day when Grand Union, Ames, and one other store I can’t remember took the place what is now Lowes.

Just Mom and I in the front seat. There’s something special when it’s just the two of us. As we sat there waiting for the light to turn green, I reached up and changed the angle of the rear view mirror. Pretending to drive means I have to be able to see the cars behind me, right? Well Mom changed the mirror back so she could see, so I just looked at the mirror from the visor above my seat. A man in a pickup track waited behind us, and I tried turning around to get a better view. My eyes barely made it over the seat; I probably only saw the top of the window of the backseat. I sat back down, waiting for the light to change green.

“5…4…3…2…”

But I never got to 1. What happened stopped my thoughts as our car spun into the three way intersection. I don’t remember how many times our car spun. Everything was just a blur, but when we finally stopped I felt a tinge of guilt. Why did I have to change the rear view mirror? What if I hadn’t tried to see the driver behind us?

Mom was very dazed and confused. She was trying to be strong and brave, but she couldn’t communicate with the other drivers as they ran to our car. I was too young and scared to say a word. But my mom was strong and brave. She was also smart. She removed a cap from her head and pointed at the logo stitched to the hat: the phone number and address to our restaurant about a mile down the road.

We sat in the car with traffic stopped all around us. I couldn’t remember who else was involved. Maybe there was a police officer directing traffic. We must have sat there for a long time. My sister came running down the road, wearing the same hat as my mother. My heart felt relieved.

Who is your super hero?

Looking back, I have very few memories of my dad. He was always working hard for the family. I have a few pictures of him and I together in the same photo. There is a family photo where I am sitting on my dad’s lap. I used to wonder why I sat on his lap. Why not sit on my mom’s lap? My brother sat on her lap, but not me. For some reason, I felt that I should be sitting on my mom’s lap.

One strong memory I have is that my dad smoked. It’s not a negative memory; it’s just difficult for me to remember him from my childhood. I don’t think he was a heavy smoker, but I remember he liked to smoke. Maybe from working so hard in restaurant he needed to relax. Could be that this was just something he carried over from China.

My brother and I are only 4 years apart in age, and we didn’t like that he smoked. One time during a road trip, we all stopped at a convenience store. There was a cigarette box key chain with a single cigarette poking out the box, and if you pressed it down, the voice box within the key chain would cough a few times followed by something against smoking. I thought it was a great key chain, but of course my dad couldn’t understand the message.

It’s tough trying to remember what kind of father you had when you were so little. I have many pictures of him and myself: birthday parties, dinners, him and my mom. I even have a family movie with him in it, however it’s scary to realize that these real events from the past cannot be found within my memory. I don’t remember whose birthday we are celebrating, but there is a cake in the photo. In another photo, he holds my arm to keep me balanced as I stand in a chair to get in the photo frame. We are all chiming our drinking glasses. Our home video shows us all enjoying a dim sum meal in Boston. Maybe as I continue with this blog, I will be able to recall more memories of my father.