Sunday, August 25, 2013

In Memory of Grandma Chang Zu-Ing (1928-2013)

I remember my Wai Puo (grandma) as the quintessential matriarch, with her influence extending across four generations.  Intelligent, persuasive, remarkably resourceful, compassionate, and selfless, she is as much respected as loved, trusted as obeyed.
When my eldest daughter was born, my mother informed me, "Wai Puo says you should should speak to her in Chinese and play Chinese CD's for her as early as possible so she develops familiarity with the language.”  While both my own mom and eldest sister also encouraged me to do this, the extra guidance from my Grandma -- what "Wai Puo says" -- made a huge difference.  When my Wai Puo says something, we pay attention.
Wai Puo’s words have always carried a special weight, especially when she played the role of storyteller.  She would close her nearly-closed, tired eyes, sit back in her chair, and then bring the past back to life in a vivid, methodical manner.  Whether recounting her refugee journey, my mother’s gallant survival as a newborn, or life in a new rural village in Taiwan, Wai Puo spun a time warp around those of us fortunate enough to attend and shed a tear over her memories.
What I remember most fondly about my Wai Puo is the pleasure she derived from nourishing her family.  In my extended family, cooking is generally considered a chore -- a necessity to be done efficiently.  But with Wai Puo, it was different.  In my twenties, a frequent highlight of my trips to Taiwan was the chance to sit in my Wai Puo’s dining room and eat her cuisine, continuously spinning the Lazy Susan to bring more food my way.  I would marvel how much I could eat and still want more.  I always found baffling that Wai Puo would concoct a delectable feast for her family, but not sit down and eat with us.  She would sit next to us, but away from the dinner table, resting.  It brought her tremendous joy to watch us eat, she would say.  I would not understand how she could do that until I had a family of my own.  Now, when I wrap potstickers or wontons with my family, or encourage a dinner guest to go ahead and eat without me, I think of my Wai Puo.
I miss Wai Puo, but take comfort in knowing she is with Wai Gong (grandpa) and that her influence and what she means to her family will live on for generations to come.

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