Changing Memories

A May visit...

May 2, 2011
My grandmother spills the soup today as she is serving it.

"I told you to sit down!" my grandfather scolds.

"Instead of helping, I made things worse," she pouts mournfully.

She goes back into the kitchen to get plates.  Her hair is short now.  It looks like she finally got a haircut.  It had been getting pretty long and scraggly over the past couple weeks.  My grandfather is making chow mein and has already made his potato pancakes as usual.  My grandmother is driving him crazy asking over and over again if he wants a platter.

"What did you do today?" she asks me.

"I worked."

"You work every Saturday?!" she asks, incredulous.

"Today is Tuesday," I say, gently.

This conversation happened twice already and dinner hasn't even started yet.  She goes back into the kitchen to get another plate for me because she forgot she put potatoes on mine already, and thinks my plate is now a serving platter.  I tell her quickly that I already have a plate.  This probably isn't going to be a very good day for her, memory-wise.  At least it's starting to warm up again.  It's been a cold spring, and today the sun is shining outside.

She comes back with the platter of chow mein.  It looks so good, and I'm upset that I didn't bring my camera today.

I brought them bok sui gee gurk today from Chinatown.  It's my grandfather's favorite that he can't get anymore since he won't go to Chinatown: boiled pig's feet.  Bok sui literally means "white water" and gee gurk is "pig's feet." 

"The gee gurk is cut so nice.  You probably have to be a nice young girl to get them to do that for you," my grandmother jokes. "If I asked, they'd probably be like, 'Here!' " she says, miming the cook shoving the meat towards her carelessly.

"No, she exaggerates," says my grandfather, wanting to make sure his wife's self-esteem didn't take a hit.

My grandmother starts asking me her favorite questions that she asks every week and forgets the answers.

"Do you have a steady boyfriend now?"
"You should tell him to come to dinner sometime! Will you ask him to come?"
"What does he like to eat?"
"What do you cook at home for yourself?  Do you cook Chinese?"

She's always surprised when I tell her that I do cook Chinese sometimes.  But, I always tell her it's just fried rice.  Although, lately I've discovered a new trick of soaking dried scallops and shittake mushrooms and then chopping them up for the fried rice, adding a little of the soaking liquid.

They offer me 7up and the thought crosses my mind that she's probably going to spill it.  I don't want to undermine her though, so I just try to have faith.  She pours from a two-liter bottle, and she does spill.

"Ai-ya! Goddamn..." I hear her exclaim in the kitchen, and then later, "shit" as a whisper.

My grandfather claims he never said, "I wish we were married," like my grandmother always says.  He says they just drove down to Salinas and found a police judge.

"So you never asked her?" I say to him.

"Not really.  She just went along with it," he shrugs.

I'm left wondering if it really happened that way, as the stories seem to change slightly every time they tell them. I suppose that's the thing about memories. The present tends to color the past.  My grandmother used to do all the social planning and all the bills.  She took care of me and all their other family obligations, and now she's almost like a small child again.  She can't be left by herself for too long because she forgets where my grandfather is and thinks that he just disappeared somewhere and didn't come back, even if he tells her where he's going.

My grandfather is left to take care of everything he already did, like the house maintenance and the cooking, the fixing of everything that could break, and now he is also left with everything she can no longer do.  He couldn't handle the bills so my parents are doing their accounting now, but I know the rest of it wears on him, especially with his memory starting to fail too, though quite not as quickly as my grandmother's.  In his mind it probably only makes sense that he didn't have to ask her to marry him.  They've been together for so long that it seems only fitting.  Where else would she be if not by his side, letting him take care of her?


  1. It is sad to see the memory go. Stacey asked me what I would want her to do if I got that way--I don't know the answer.


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