My mother would like to go to Henan, her ancestral province (does ‘ancestral province’ make sense? because I mean the province her ancestors are from) soon, so she can see her father’s and grandmother’s graves. We haven’t been to Henan since…I think…2011? Or 2010. We went that year during Tomb-Sweeping Day, because my older sister was still here that year.
And it makes me feel sad that this is going to be the last time she’ll see their tombs for a long while, because we’re going to Texas in a few months, and she’s probably not going to have the time to visit since my sister and I both have to go to school. She likes talking about her father and grandmother, and I like hearing her talk about them, especially her grandmother. My great-grandmother.
My great-grandmother lived through a lot of interesting things. She had her feet bound when she was a girl, and my mother says that, even though my grandmother unbound her feet when she was an adult, her feet were still deformed and she couldn’t walk really well. She used to look at my mother when she was wearing heels, and feel really surprised that my mother could walk at all. She lived to be about eighty something, I think? But she had my mother and my maternal grandfather arrange to make her a coffin when she was in her sixties. She also made her funeral clothes herself–out of black and navy cloth that she had my grandmother buy (with clothing tickets, the things that were the equivalent of money in China decades ago)–because she insisted that she wanted to be buried in clothes that she liked, not clothes that other people would hastily get for her after she was dead and couldn’t choose. Also, she knew how to sew pretty shoe insoles and clothes, and she would get impatient because my grandmother didn’t really know how to.
According to my mother, my great-grandmother was quite matter-of-fact about death. She had lived through so much in her life; her husband died when they were in their thirties or forties, and she had been pregnant thirteen times, yet only four of her children ever survived to adulthood: my grandmother and her three brothers, one of which passed away quite recently. A few of her children died when they were very, very young, because of illnesses. She lectured my mother, and kept saying that she should be grateful to be alive in a time and place when she could learn and live without being afraid of war or crushing poverty.
And my grandfather did the same. He’d been to the Korean War, and he would often tell my mother how lucky he was to be alive, when so many of his friends had died so young–and in another country. He was rather ill for the rest of his life, my mother says, but he was always very…I don’t know how to say it–very dignified, I guess. Since he was in the military, my grandmother and him would move a lot, and my mother and her four siblings were born in different places. My mom was born in Guangdong, so she still knows how to speak a little Cantonese.
Anyway, I’ve never known either of them, but they are my family, and they had such profound impacts on my mother–whom I am a part of. My great-grandmother got to see my older brother before she died, at least; my grandfather knew of my older sister’s birth, but not mine.
So we’re going to go to sweep their graves and burn paper money for them soon, and I’m actually quite looking forward to it. I feel that, as their descendant, it is my duty to honor them…remember them. And that’s all I wanted to say today.