When I was a little girl, my grandmother would walk me to and from school. On the days that she didn't pick me up, one of my cousins would. Some days, my grandma would have an afternoon snack waiting for me. Sometimes she would bring me a piece of French bread with a thin spread of mayonnaise on it. Other days, it would be steamed Chinese rice pudding cake known as "bok tong go." When we walked home, I always started off walking next to her. Eventually, I would be walking in front of her because my childhood friend would join me for a few blocks. She would listen to us carry on Cantonese. My friend was born in China and came over so his English was not so great. I am American born Chinese, my Cantonese is not so great. Still, grandmother would listen to us yammer away.
When we would get home I would take off my shoes, clamber up the marble steps and greet my grandfather loudly and excitedly. I could always find him in the kitchen preparing an afternoon meal for me (if my grandma hadn't brought me a snack). Of all the things he would make, I remember his hash browns and porridge the best. My grandfather had learned how to make American food because he was a cook for the US Navy for a brief amount of time. As a little girl, I would sit at the kitchen table in the seat closest to the stove. I would watch him deftly pick up his frying pan and flip the hash brown over with ease.
Porridge tastes so plain and it seems to easy to make. Yet at the same time porridge is complicated, almost like risotto. My grandfather always made the smoothest porridge. He would put preserved egg, pork, dried scallop and peanuts. Eventually, he grew to understand that I did not like the peanuts so when he would scoop me some for my afternoon meal, he carefully avoided the peanuts.
My grandfather was a man of many trades, but one of his strongest talents was cooking. He had a knack for it. That man could throw together a 10 course meal like it was a walk in a park. Dish after dish, they'd all come out of his kitchen and onto the dining room table with ease.
When I was 20 years old, I went to China for a month. I stayed in my family's hometown. There, I met many friends and relatives whom I never knew I had or even heard of. Funny thing was, each of them would ask me about my grandfather. "Does he still cook?" they would ask. "Of course he does" I would say. "Everybody has to eat right?" and I would laugh. My family would go out for dim sum with these people. As we would start to eat, they would ask me "So, how is this dim sum? How is it compared to dim sum in America?" Honestly, it was pretty damn good. "Is it better than your grandfather's dim sum?" HECK NO. They would all laugh and tell me how envious they were, how jealous they were that I able to have my grandfather's cooking all the time.
When I moved out of my grandparents' home, I frequented for dinner. As I went through my adolescent years, I attended dinner less and less. Still, my grandfather would always prepare food for me and tell my mother to bring it home for my siblings and I. There in our fridge would sit bags and bags of pork dumplings or "sui mai" as we call it in Cantonese. Sometimes my mother would come home with bags of buns! They would either be bbq'ed pork buns "cha siew bao" or milk custard buns "nai wong bao" and I knew my grandfather made everything from scratch with his own two hands. I always ate the sui mai and nai wong baos. Whenever I have dim sum, I never eat sui mai or nai wong bao. People may order it, but I won't touch it. People have asked me why I don't eat it. I always tell them that I ate so much of it growing up because my grandfather knew how to make dim sum. The truth is, nothing will ever compare to the dim sum my grandfather made for me.
I walk beside my grandmother now, but I carefully hold her hands in mine. Many many years ago, she was a seamstress in the very last sweatshop in San Francisco's Chinatown. As she sewed, I wasn't allowed to be around her. So, I would run around in that dark basement chasing my cousin. We would throw buttons at each other and she would scold us. My grandmother would assign us little tasks like sorting buttons to keep us busy and herself out of trouble. Her hands are arthritic now and her eyesight is poor.
Since my grandfather's passing, their home feels a lot colder. The kitchen is lifeless.
My grandmother. Oh my grandmother.
I walk beside her.