The Light of a Grandmother

One person who has seen me grow up over my 13 years of life so far, ever since the day I was born, is my grandmother. Also known as “yeen yeen” in Cantonese (y is somewhat silent), my grandmother has seen me make mistakes and learn from them even if I refused to do so. She has seen me cry out every rushing tear I had left in my waterfall eyes as a buried my head into a pillow. She has seen me evolve into the person I am today, towering over her short, petite body. She has seen me fall down in weakness and struggle to get back up on my feet. She has seen me scream in agony, anger, and embarrassment. She has seen me in every moment possible, through the dark brown eyes of a stoic, serene face. She has seen me work through an entire night on homework until I felt satisfied with what I had accomplished. And nevertheless, she has seen me succeed, fail, and mature into a teenager still striving for an unknown but hopefully triumphant future.

My grandma has always inspired me to choose the honorable, worthy path in life and to make decisions that benefit myself, but also support others in some kind of way. She has been through 84 years of life and yet she’s always ready to spend time with her grandchildren and spread love to her family and relatives. She hasn’t given up on life and knows that time is uncontrollable; living as if every day is her last. I’m not always the type of person who would ask someone else for advice. I feel like if I don’t have the ability to deal with my own problems, I won’t be able to build the strength for myself in my future. However, my grandma always manages to be the peacemaker in the family and when she feels like speaking her mind about something, she does so in a humble and tranquil manner. She’s the kind of person who would let such wise words flow out into the open at any given moment when it was needed, and I would never stop listening until the last syllable came out of her mouth. Whatever she says, I always pay attention to so it’s carved into my mind to remember for myself. Her soft tone would brush past any other sound disturbing her voice, finding its trail into my ears, swirling through my mind as I smiled or kept a straight, understanding face expression.

One instance of this happening ceaselessly replays in my head almost every other day when I greet my grandmother after I come home from school, and it seems as if I could easily imagine myself in the scene once again. It was a weekday like any other and all the aromas from every dish of food at the table crowded the atmosphere of the room with the start of dinner. As everyone sat down, we individually admired the food before picking up our chopsticks and clawing at whatever we wanted to eat first. It was quiet and placid until my mother started nagging me about how I needed to eat more vegetables in order to continue my growth.

I argued with the normal, “I knoooowww, Mommy.” She began to get annoyed and landed a large mountain of greens on the top of my clean bowl of rice.

She gave me a threatening look with widened eyes and as soon as I finished staring back, I plopped the vegetables back onto her bowl and yelled, “I am capable of getting my own vegetables, ya know?!”

She hated the fact that I talked back to her, especially at the dinner table. Everyone stayed speechless as she started scolding me. The air stayed still and only my mother’s booming voice could be heard.

I ignored her and as soon as she paused for just a second, “yeen yeen” interrupted her and spoke in an irritated but composed tone: “Don’t worry about her. A 13-year-old girl can choose her own foods to eat and if she doesn’t grow, that will be her fault. Let her make her own mistakes and if you keep trying to control her, she will just keep screaming and refuse to listen. You’re just wasting your time by trying to convince her to eat the vegetables. She knows what’s right.”

I hid my evil grin and stuffed some more rice into my already full mouth. I knew that she had taken neither side of the fight, but I was happy that my grandma had said something to stop anymore disputing. She reinforced my argument with my mom’s intertwined and afterwards, no one else spoke about it for the rest of the meal.

My grandmother’s tolerance and beliefs in beauty have made me much more open to life ever since she took care of me when I was little while my mom worked at a Chinatown sewing factory. I remember when she used to wake me up every morning for breakfast from my crib, cradling me in her arms as she walked to the living room, whispering in my ear, “Good morning, Pauline and welcome to this beautiful world.” She always exuded positivity around me, reminding me of the magnificence on our planet.

I remember when life was so simple that all I could ever worry about was losing one of my crayons I would use in my Disney Princess, Blue’s Clues, or Sesame Street coloring books. I remember my mom leaving every day for work, kissing me goodbye on my forehead as she dashed away, striving to make ends’ meet, as each 10-hour shift passed by. “Yeen yeen” would pick me up and carry me on her slightly hunched back every afternoon with a big piece of bright red flowery patterned cloth wrapped around both our bodies so that we were hugging each other tightly, leaving only my tiny bare arms and legs sticking out. She would start pacing back and forth in the living room shuffling her purple fuzzy slippers with each step she took, and patting my behind repeatedly as my head laid onto her back like a silky, cloudy pillow. And as she bobbed slightly up and down, suddenly I would hear an expected Chinese lullaby being sang unceasingly from her scratchy but melodic voice, entrancing me into a deep nap. She would let me down after an hour, and place me carefully into my bed making sure my entire body was covered by the blanket, as I continued to dream and sleep happily.

One thing that my grandma has always valued ever since she retired was her religion. Our entire family has always been Buddhists, but my grandma is the only vegetarian. She refuses to eat meat because of Buddha’s wishes to do the same. She doesn’t believe in judging others if they aren’t vegetarians and I really appreciate how concrete her morals are as a person. My grandma does prayers every single week at her designated desk with fruit, candy, holy water, flowers, her small books to chant from, and a photograph of Buddha to look at throughout the entire process. I always wonder what she’s saying and how she says it all so quickly, but I always smile when I see her doing it. It gives me assurance that my grandmother is giving our family hope and fortune by praying. She always keeps me unruffled no matter how nerve-wrecking and irrepressible my life is, and that makes me feel special as her granddaughter, I have a clearer view on life because of her.

Although my grandmother and I have not bonded so often, I know that we share a connection no one could break. I feel like she understands my opinions sometimes when someone else in the family doesn’t agree with me. I love hearing her laugh when I make silly, childish faces and I honestly cherish every single day she is here with me, by my side. Whenever I see her walk through the door of my apartment as she comes from hers just one floor above us, I greet her with an outburst, telling her once again that it’s time for dinner. I’ll always remember seeing her right crooked index finger, which resulted from a sewing accident many years ago, curl around a pair of wooden chopsticks as she sits down, puts her hands together, and says a mini thankful prayer to Buddha before taking her first bite. “Yeen yeen” is my one and only grandmother I have now in the U.S., and I appreciate her for all she has done to encourage me in learning about life. She’s shown me that we must always think about what we are privileged to have and not what we desire; and I will always keep that lesson with me tight in my pocket as I travel through the rest of my life, prepared to make memories and to fulfill my expectations.

Pauline Wan
Age 13, Grade 8
NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies
Gold Key

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