My Grandmother would tell me stories about my life as a toddler living in Taiwan.
In her proto-typical Asian matriarchal way she reserved the same few stories to tell me during our infrequent in-person meetings and phone calls. After niceties were said, we would begin our familiar ritual.
"Did you know about this?"
"Yes Nai Nai you've told me this story before"
"Oh, well. Still, do you remember...."
These stories became a tradition of their own, the retellings an essential part of our bond. They were not only a time capsule of the past, but also a way to engage fantasy in the present. Her retellings allowed for us to keep our connection to moments when we were always together, fading the reality of our present distance.
One story she would tell me was about the how I would play as a child.
When I wasn't asking her to go to the park or for more food to eat (I apparently could eat stream of consciousness style as a toddler), I would have all of my 90's color plastic kitchen gear sprawled out on the low coffee table in the living room and "play house" by myself. If I made something truly worth tasting I would call my Grandmother over to try. My Grandmother would note how good I was keeping myself entertained for hours, only calling for her on occasion to come eat or drink something.
I would then joke that I was "good" out of necessity as there were no other kids for me to play with or to compare to. Being the first kid born among my parent's circle of friends had its perks, but most of the time I was eager for friends. My Grandmother would then laugh and question, "Well! Is that so? "
I wonder today how much those early years influence my current view here behind a tea table - here with an array of precious tea ware, sharing tea and life with others. It recently became clear to me the lesson of hospitality and excellence in service that was first taught through the care and tenderness of my Grandmother. The present version of myself would not have come to be without those countless hours at my grandparents' house. And so, while it is not at the forefront of my mind whenever I drink tea, the history and memory of those who shaped me to who I am today is always there.
After I finished preparing the food, a unique dish of colorful plastic builder blocks in a plastic bowl I would call my Grandmother over.
"Try it, try it, I made this for you."
My Grandmother would sample my latest creation, with the appropriate amount slurping noise to compliment my efforts.
"Does it taste good?"
"Yes, yes it does. Thank you."
My Grandmother passed right before I started the MBA program, I received the news as I was making the drive down to officially move in.
It was an incredibly difficult time. I could not have gotten through it without the support of those who were kind and helped me through the grieving process and encouraged me to feel.
I've been thinking about this short blog post for around a year now. Not in a way that is obsessive or taxing, but slowly piecing through my own memories and emotions of sorrow and gratitude. A lot has changed since my Grandmother's passing, good times and bad times (typical of everyone's life I know) and I have grown significantly through the journey. I'll be heading to Atlanta, Georgia to start my post-grad life soon. There certainly will be tea and an open invitation for those who come by. I hope you will stop by while I'm there to share your story with me.
(My grandmother was the head nurse of a prominent hospital in Taiwan, she would have told you that her rank was denoted by the bands on her cap. She would have also told you that she was the smallest female nurse, but got the job done.)