Tuesday, August 17th, 2010 Dinner
I knocked on the door of my grandparents' house at quarter after seven this evening and no one answered. I knocked again, louder, and waited.
My grandfather opened the door slowly. Both he and my grandmother paused, looking at me somewhat confused.
"Oh, it's so good to see you!" my grandmother said. "Are you hungry? Did you want something to eat?"
I looked at her, puzzled. I had just spoken to my grandfather yesterday about having rice porridge today for our weekly dinner.
"Um..." I stuttered.
"Next time you should let us know you're coming and then we can have dinner ready for you! You can tell us what you want to eat and Ba will make it. Aren't you coming over tomorrow?" she smiled.
"I... uh..." I continued to stammer. What happened? Did my grandfather forget too? "Today is Tuesday," I said. "I've been coming over on Tuesdays for dinner."
"Today is Monday," my grandmother said.
"No it's not," I said, starting to be convinced that I had the day wrong too. Was today Monday and I just forgot? No, I went to work yesterday. Today is definitely Tuesday. "Today is Tuesday," I repeated.
My grandmother looked really confused. My grandparents then started arguing.
"I knew it was Tuesday this morning! But, then..." my grandfather paused, "she convinced me it was Monday again! I even changed all my watches back a day because she convinced me!" I glanced at both of my grandfather's wrists. There was a watch on each of them.
"I did?" my grandmother was incredulous.
"I should have known," my grandfather sighed with exasperation. "Tsk, I knew I talked to you last night about coming over today. I cooked all morning and I knew this morning it was Tuesday, but she convinced me it was Monday."
The argument continued for several more minutes as my grandfather turned the fire on under the rice porridge.
Then my grandfather became adamant about buying more chicken wings and ordered my grandmother to watch the soup. He shuffled out to the garage and drove away to go to Pacific Supermarket, a few miles away, leaving my grandmother feeling flustered, and me feeling like I was imposing on their evening.
I stirred the huge pot of porridge for my grandmother. "You should come over for dinner next time and eat with us," she said.
"You guys ate already?" I asked.
"Yeah," she answered. "See, the dishwasher is going already." She pointed at it as if that explained how they had lost an entire day.
I continued to stir the pot. My grandfather had put the fire on high, so the heavy bits at the bottom were starting to stick.
"Lots of ginko nuts in there!" my grandmother said. "Just like you like it!"
"Oh, good," I smiled back at her. Ginko nuts are my favorite.
I left the pot for a little while to look for the journal, to see if my grandmother had written anymore entries. She had not.
The soup had started to boil and I served myself a bowl, and then sat at the table to eat. My grandmother insisted I have a little bit of sesame oil in my soup to make it taste good. She got a little flustered because she couldn't remember at first where the oil was in the kitchen.
My grandfather arrived a short time later, with a box of fried chicken wings. He left them on the table and started to putter around in the kitchen.
Most of the rest of the night was too painful to continue putting down all of our dialogue at the moment (hopefully, someday when I write a book I'll put it all in), but she asked if my husband was coming to dinner even though I've been divorced since last Fall. She was surprised I was divorced, especially since it was so long ago. She seemed to have some recollection when I explained that he changed his mind about having kids.
The saddest part was when she asked me about my parents.
"How are your parents doing? They still doing all the things they used to do?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Wow, that's great. I haven't seen them for a long time," she said, drawing out the 'o' in "long" to show it was a very long time indeed.
My brows knitted. "Didn't you just see them on the weekend?"
"Your mom and dad... I saw them on the weekend?" she looked more puzzled than me.
"Didn't you guys have dinner with my parents on Sunday?" I asked.
"Yes!" called my grandfather from the kitchen.
"Stacey's parents?" my grandmother shouted back.
"Yes, and it was lousy!" he said. My grandfather has gotten very picky in his recent years and nothing ever tastes right except for a Chinese restaurant called Ming's in San Bruno. My parents tried to vary things a little bit by making the weekly dinner at Shanghai Dumpling House in South San Francisco for a change this past Sunday.
My grandmother couldn't remember who she went to dinner with on Sunday. My grandfather reminded her that not only did my parents go to dinner, but her brother, my Uncle Ed, also went.
Even though it was only with a forlorn curiosity that made me want to hear the answer, I asked my grandmother if she remembered who my parents were.
"We call her 'Nancy Paw Paw,' " my grandmother said, after pausing to think for a few seconds. "Paw Paw" means grandmother in Cantonese.
"And who is my dad?"
"Uhh... he looks kinda plump? Yeah, we call him 'Nancy Gung Gung,' " she answered.
"No, my parents," I prompted again.
"Oh, Nancy..." she said. "And..." she struggled. "I forgot your dad's name... Who?"
"Gary," I said.
She paused again. "Gary?!" she said, shocked. "My son, Gary, is your dad?!"
"Uh huh," I said, tentatively. "I'm your grand-daughter. Do you remember?"
"I don't know... I know you're Stacey and we always have you around and we always take care of you when you were little..." she rambled, nervously fingering a bit of rash developing on her cheek. My grandmother always had sensitive skin.
"You don't remember that I'm your grand-daughter?" I asked.
"No," she said, surprised.
"Huh..." I said, with an unexpected nonchalance. I was trying really hard not to make my grandmother feel even worse.
"Isn't that terrible?!" my grandfather exclaimed from the kitchen upon hearing our conversation.
"I'm sorry," my grandmother sounded upset and even more flustered. "I guess that's just how I am now..." I was worried she was going to start crying. "I can't... I can't change that... I just can't remember..."
"It's okay," I consoled her. I was ready for her to say something like this, but it was still disheartening.
"Now that you mention it," she continued, and trailed off.
"Remember you used to call me 'Boo?' " I said.
"I just called you 'Boo' today," she offered. She shakes her head. "I never thought... because I was very good at remembering things." She told me the story about being a biller for Koret of California for many years and whenever they needed to remember a sale or something, they'd ask her and she'd remember. She went on to tell me this story a few more times during my visit.
At some point my video camera ran out of battery life and shut itself off. My grandfather started talking about his brother, my Uncle Kaye, and how he engraved his own urn. Uncle Kaye was a talented artist, and did engraving and sandblasting for a living. My grandfather thought it was so strange to engrave your own urn and to choose the picture that would be displayed on your mausoleum chamber. The discussion turned to how they had their chambers picked out, which would be next to my parents, and it was all I could do not to break down in front of them. I've been lucky enough to have so many wonderful years with my grandparents, but I couldn't help thinking about how they may never get to see my children, or that they may not even know who I am anymore if they survive long enough to see their great grand-children. And, I also couldn't help thinking about how I would probably be going through this one day with my parents, except that I hoped I wouldn't have any regrets about not getting to hear all their stories before they were gone from their memories.
As I packed up my stuff and took the leftovers my grandfather had packed for me, I hugged them and told them I'd make sure to call them Monday and Tuesday next week. I headed out the door and drove home.
After getting weepy on the phone to my boyfriend, I called my parents after they got home from a late dinner with friends, and asked if they wanted to have brunch over the weekend.