When my grandmother passed away a little over 10 years ago, all the grandkids received a classic, Chinese red envelope with a $5 bill in it. Since then, I have just kept it in the center console of my car, and I had changed cars a couple times since then. It just transferred from car-to-car. Untouched.
I don’t always remember that the envelope is there, but I stumble across it every now and again when I am rooting through my center console looking for change to buy a Snickers bar from the vending machine at work. Or when I am looking for hand sanitizer that fell to the bottom of the console. I can count on one hand the number of times I have thought about breaking that $5 bill, but I couldn’t do it. If it was going to be spent, it had to be worth it, because it came from my grandma.
I was never very close to my grandma only because there was a language barrier. I never learned how to speak Chinese, and she had a limited English vocabulary, but she definitely loved me dearly. I remember living with her for a summer during college. I wasn’t and never have been a party kid or adult, so I was there most nights during the week, went to my parents’ on the weekends, and stayed in my room most evenings when I was there. I remember she would make fried rice, especially for me, with Chinese sausage. Definitely better than restaurant fried rice.
I could use a bowl now.
She always said I was a handsome boy. She would say at times my hair was “very pitty” (very pretty). Then the times I had shaved my head, she would say, “Charlie’s BALD!” At least that’s what she would say to my parents before I was able to see them. Then when my parents did see me, they would say, “Oh, grandma said you were bald. You’re not bald! Whew!” Then the time my cousin, Jessica, cut her hair before moving to Spain I heard, “Oh she cut her hair like Charlie.” I don’t know if I have a picture of that, like a “Who Wore It Best?” Maybe I’ll find one.
Besides cooking for me and complimenting me, my grandma, from what I did know of her, was pretty cool. She loved to gamble. If the dinner party didn’t have any gambling-cards or Mahjong-it was a boring party. When I was a kid, she would go to Chinatown in Downtown and play Mahjong with her friends. One of my aunts would drive her to her friend’s in this shady, rundown townhouse in downtown, then some time in the afternoon or evening my mom and I would go pick her up and take her home. A couple of times, I would be the runner to ring the doorbell and get her. Being a shy little Asian kid walking up to the front door and having some weird old man answer the door was, clearly, something to remember.
Whenever Hustler casino opened, which was in the general area of her house, some of the family gossip was that she wanted to go. I was thinking, “Ummm, grandma might…not…like…it…there.” I don’t think that deterred her. The only thing that did was the location – I don’t think anyone wanted to drive her there.
Today, I had to break my $5 because I was a dumb-dumb-dad and forgot my wallet at home. My youngest wanted to get something from the store with her own money, but I forgot to include tax. Luckily, I did have my $5. I really only needed some, so I put the rest back into the envelope. Then put it right back into my center console. Hopefully, saving the day for my daughter is a justifiable reason.
It would have been cool if my kids could have met their great-grandma, my grandma. They have a great-grandma in my wife’s grandma, and I am thankful that they have the opportunity for that relationship. They are also very close to their grandparents, both my parents and my wife’s. But I would have loved to see her be a great-grandmother. I’ll always have this to remember her by.
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