Power And Dollar

My Grandma’s Smiles


When I first met Sandra in a webinar, I found a strange sense of familiarity.  Her hair was getting sandy, but I could not quite tell if she were 60’s or 50’s.  She wears her hair to her ears.  She gave me a sense that she was quite sharp.

A colleague of mine requested a meeting with her department and it turned out she was to meet us at her desk.  I led my colleague for it.  I finally understood what was playing my mind.

She is in a very comfortable pair of jeans, some kind of unmemorable tee shirts, and very fitting sneakers.  She looks as if she is ready to actually play some sports.

Her cubicle is at a corner.  So, “a corner office without having to earn it with blood on your hands” I said to her.  She took the “corner office” part as a complement.  There are small desk calendar pages stuck on the wall with jokes about women and science.  She has a calendar from El Pronto.  This is a very very crowded cubicle: full of ornaments and decorations.  She must like Mexican food and probably a Spanish aficionado.  My guess is probably right again.  She got numerous little ornaments that are in Spanish.  I think that picture of hers with a child is very likely to be one of those adopt-a-child program where the donor commits a monthly donation in exchange for a closer relationship with the child.  She could be a girl from anywhere from Mexico to Chile.

This is probably her husband.  Both of them look like educated hippies.  A map of the bus is on the wall.  Some bicycle toys on her shelves.  I bet they do not own a car and ride bicycles to work.  So her clothing makes good sense.  Some technical reference books that, by book jackets, should have been printed earlier than 1980, probably mid 70’s.  This field has evolved a lot since the emergence of cheap computing powers.  They have to be her college textbooks rather than some specialty reference books.  That will work out that she was born in the late 50’s.  So, she is more like the age of Kevin Arnold’s sister rather than Kevin himself.  Thinking of the attitudes toward women pursuing science at that time, she must have had a strong will at least back then.

This cubicle is full of pictures of cats, dogs, Spanish decorations, chocolates, magnets, a picture of a Hispanic girl:  everything but a hint of her own children.

She speaks in a very soft and comfortable voice.  I let my partner do all the talking and keep searching her face and her cubicle because I still cannot shake what of her that gives me that strange sense of familiarity.  I lean on her wall and a full lot of magnets fall.  I am so embarrassed and I quickly pick them up.  I look right into her eyes and apologized.  She friendly smiles and tells me: “many people do that.  Don’t worry.”  Her eyes finally reveal the secret.  She got my grandmother’s eyes.

Her eyes are tired but forever optimistic and radiate benevolence.  Her cheek and chin are exactly my grandma’s when she smiles, a very sweet grandmother kind of smile.  Probably part of the ageing process, her cheeks are running thin which makes her chin sharper than it actually is.  Yes, she got my grandma’s hair too.  She certainly was a brunette but her hair is actually grey or white rather than sandy.  The hair is thin, probably soft.  I remember the day when I left home and she was already 82, she just started using her hair dye and I noticed her white hair.  She is definitely petite, maybe 5’2”?  Her small frame may mislead you to think she is weak.  Her forever optimistic eyes tell you that she is stronger than you think.  If she were born in the late 50’s and she is about the sister of Kevin Arnold, then she is not showing her opinion about war and peace in her cubicle.  But then, my grandma never showed her opinion or even emotions about any of the warlords rampaging around her nor my grandfather’s hometowns in the 20’s and 30’s, Japanese or Communists in the 40’s.  Throughout all that time, she was the talk of the town, starting from who her groom to be and who actually was, to her travelling after marriage, to how she managed to maintain her life style during the 40’s.

“How did you remain optimistic after what you had gone through?” went to my lips and I suddenly realized she is Sandra and not grandma.  So I changed my sentence to something else since it was way too late for me to simply to eat what I had in mouth.  She answered in her own pace.  She comfortably crosses her legs with the technical questions my partner thrown at her.  Now the name “Jane Austen” came into my head all of a sudden.  As I am telling Jane Austen to go away, she twirls back and says: “she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”  Sandra is a little reserved, or private or even timid, indifferent to this world while my grandma gave a sense of royalty without a kingdom and servants.  My grandma’s privacy is “you have not earned the privilege to know.”  Her indifference is “I saw, I came, I survived.”  Her benevolence to strangers is “I love you because I want to earn your loyalty” while her benevolence to familiar is “I love you all sinful or not, you are all my children.”

Does she have all these cats and dogs to save her regrets of not having children?  I was thinking “Sandra, you can always visit my children. My wife tells me I am not a qualified father anyway.”  But you know, I have my regrets too.  My grandma was 90 years old when her time came.  I was the only one on her mind in her last days.  I could not make it to see her.  She dragged on herself for two days to wait for me.  I never got to say goodbye.  She spent the most time with me of all her more than a dozen grandchildren and I did not say goodbye, nor attend her funeral.  In fact, the time she spent raising me probably is the best time of her life after the war.  She got her affluent and comfortable lifestyle back.  Of course time had changed so much that she did not have servants, plural by the way, like her old days.  However, money was no longer a constraint on her expenses.  Of course, she had changed so much from her wild days that she never spent much anymore.  She could have appreciated a sense of fame from my father, her last of seven sons, just like she had from her father the kingpin of gambling, then from her husband THE benevolent tycoon who never evicts tenants from farmlands, then from herself for spending money all over the province and gambling to earn her living through the war.  I was not even able to afford her one minute to say one word for her last moment.

I was cruel and impious.  One can apologize for his wrongs to his victims and one can compensate for wrongs.  But one cannot apologize to the dead and one cannot compensate for the dead.  It took me a long time to understand what it is like to wish someone away and be happy for them, just like she was happy for me that I was grown and longing for my return for one last time.  In fact, she willed all these for me.  Yet, I did not let her see how happy I was.  I did not let her know what made me so proud.  Would she have understood what or how?  Probably not.  But she simply wanted to see that I was so she could close her last chapter.

She dragged herself for two full days for this chapter.  She dragged herself to the last moment when she gave up all hope, gave up all the joyful memory, deliberately removed her mask for there is no hope to hope for, nothing would be good enough to exchange for one last glance of her last grandchild, the most promising grandchild of the most accomplished child.  Why could I not return as simple and as good as a goodbye for someone I would never meet again, for someone who has been longing for my good, and for her eternal, or even internal, peace?  It was a simple dying wish and I squashed it like a pesty fly as if it did not even register in my mind.

Sandra, I know I cannot re-do something like this.  I know I cannot apologize, recover or compensate for my sin.  Even a confession would not work.  But will you want to play with my children some time if you like kids these days?  Or if you want adult kids, will you want to spend time with me and my wife?  If you like travelling so much, you must have stories and you probably like other people’s travelling stories.  We are well travelled people as well.  Will you want to come and visit us?  Sandra, I fear to open myself up.  I did that, crossed a boundary and lost a friend.  I sinfully, cruelly and irrecoverably lost my grandmother.  So, instead of talking to you, can you instead work here for a few more years, stay close to my department so that I can see more of my grandmother more often?


October 14, 2015 - Posted by | Current Events

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