Saturday, August 30, 2014

Abba's smiles are mine

Dear old man.

Your sons and daughter knew you to be a stern, exacting father. They each still stagger under the burden of your expectations, and so they sometimes like to remind me that this big softie was not the "real" you.

But you came to me with nothing but unabashed affection, like you had worked your whole life just to cross oceans to adopt and adore me. That was the 阿公 I knew.

So I was lucky. Very lucky to have had you for so long.

I get my 5'3.5" from you, I guess. It astonished me to find while visiting you, when I at 16 had (sadly) reached my max height, that I was just as tall as you ever were. Because you were an absolute giant in my book––I wrote an essay about it in my high school Comp class, and all that sap put you and me up for an NCTE Award for Excellence in Writing. Grandpa, I had worked and reworked that paper trying to make sure each word was the right one for you. In my memory, you will always be among the tallest of men.


I watched you fade, these years. Your body got too small for your mottled old skin-bag. Your goofy big ears, that aquiline nose. They just kept growing while you shrunk... 160... 110, 100, 90, 80... and finally 70-something lbs.

You hated to go this way. You absolutely hated losing your competencies one by one––and you were SO competent. You shouldn't have gone in this slow excruciating fade. I hated to watch life dissipate from you, slowly, slowly. You should have ridden your オートバイ into a typhoon to save a puppy––or otherwise exit in some act as heroic as you were to me. But then I wouldn't have gotten to keep you for so long.

So I was lucky.  To have overlapped 25 golden years with you.

2013 you, wearing my jacket.
I watched the earth grow dim to you--first you stopped reading world news as your cataracts set in, then you stopped keeping your meticulous methodical 5-year diary, then you stopped visiting the flower markets as was your Saturday ritual, then you stopped being able to chew your favorite foods (but you still drank coffee, beer, red, and whiskey), then you stopped being able to do the dishes as you did for G-maw when she cooked, then you stopped wearing shoes with laces, then you stopped sweeping the floors as you did every morning, then you stopped remembering who spoke Japanese and who spoke Taiwanese and just spoke in whatever the hell language you felt like to whoever you felt like talking to, then you stopped doing anything at all unless Grandma did it for you.

A photo posted by Esther L (@estherogen) on

The silly smiles you reserved just for me stayed as bright as ever, even while your lights dimmed, slowly, slowly. I would thank your sons for the help and hospitality they showed with each of my visits to Taiwan. And they would thank me for coming and revealing a delight and a will to live/be that they felt unable to elicit on their own. Who am I? That you regarded me with such joy and favor.


I was lucky. You saved all that delight for me. Sometimes I wondered whether I was just a proxy for my mother, your favorite child, your baby girl, whose prison prevented her from visiting. But then you would call me 娃娃. How many 娃娃 do you have? Gramma would ask you, one of the many quiz questions meant to stave off your senility. Just one. Her name is 特特!

Like that one time, what, 20 years ago or so, our family was in Nashville, when you went all hypoglycemic and we heard you and your camcorder hit the floor, and you got rushed to the ER by ambulance. You came to, and you recognized nobody. Not Grandma, not Mama––not immediately anyway. But you knew and asked for your 娃娃, they brought me and I asked you  大丈夫? And I know that right now, you are indeed alright. You are with Christ. またね!

So, my old dear man, surely I was the luckiest, to have known Abba's smiles through you.

1 comment:

  1. Hey you, I read this awhile ago and wanted to comment then but got caught up in something else. I loved this post and the ones following it, and cherish your reflectiveness and tenderness towards the people you hold most dear. You're also articulate, a natural storyteller, and a very good writer of sentences. I'm sure you write mostly for yourself, but don't stop sharing b/c I always enjoy reading.