Monday, March 1, 2010

Suey Lee

I always wondered where they all came from
A closet full of stuffed animals
Pandas and polars, black cows and blue pigs
Crinkle skin or fur, button and bead eyes
Enough toys filled grandma's walk-in closet
From the floor stacked up to her cheongsams
Which draped short from the hanger
Given grandmother's size
We received a new plush pet each time we visited
We could visit each time we wished for a new pet

Grandmother never spoke ill of anyone
But my mother shares secret ill stories of times before
Shortly after the arranged marriage, grandpa shipped off
To California, leaving behind his wife with his mother
My great-grand mother, whom I've only seen with white hair
On a gravestone with white characters carved beneath her frail frame
GGma made grandma a slave of tradition, clean cook sew serve
Bow obey and stay and stay
Coin crossed the sea along with letters of dutiful love
But for years my grandparents were separated by stronger duties

Every section of my grandparents' american home
Had replenishing gifts: colorful fabrics that grandma sewed into
Dresses for our aunts' weddings, summer days, school pictures
:candy drawers with tootsies and butterscotches and occasionally
toy sets with scissors, thread and plastic for seamstress pretend
:hybrid roses with ribbons of violet and white stitched into their petals
dandelions, irises, pear and orange trees, which we plucked and returned
to more for the taking each week we came over

After the fire in San Francisco grandpa had enough
To bring the family over one by one
First Grandma and then the others
The first thing that grandma did
when she reached the free states
Was get an American hair cut, a short curly bob
And she wore it as Americans wore independence
With a sworn oath to serve themselves

There was very little that ever struck me as Chinese
about my grandmother besides the smells
of round ball soup, imported wood and antique figurines,
jade medallions and ovals strung and mounted on necklaces and rings
The foreign language was merely stretched vowels she shared with her husband
The untold stories were even purposely left behind
She spent most of her time twiddling her thumbs
As her eight grandchildren ran about her house
Not even ever needing to take the time to revel
Over what she was and what she had become

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