Grandma wrapping homemade rice cakes
My maternal grandmother turned 80 this past December. We lived in the same city when I was growing up, and my childhood memories are filled with her and my grandfather. After he passed away, she came to live with my parents when I left for Chicago in 2005.
Since then, every time I would visit home in Irvine, she was the first face I would see when I walked through the door and the first one to hug. We would sit in my old bedroom, now hers, and visit with each other and trade updates. She would always ask about my health, and Nick, and non-too-subtly eye my midsection, looking for any signs of a baby. Every morning on those weekends, I would get up and look out the kitchen window, knowing that she would already be well into her morning exercises, walking laps around our backyard in her white cap, or praying in front of her makeshift altar (she is a devout Buddhist).
I love my Grandma Sue. Everyone who meets her loves her. She has endured so many obstacles in her life but has kept her wicked sense of humor and spirit, even though she seems sweet and docile on the outside. She’s a special lady.
She has been in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers even more lately, and while she is still with us, I’d like to write down all that she means to us in our memories. I reached out to my cousins and below is a compilation of our memories of our “Ba Ngoai” or Grandma Sue. She has 5 children, 15 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren (one more on the way). These recollections are just the tip of the iceberg.
- My Grandma:
- Her love for sweets and chocolate is endless. She loves ice cream especially. Rum raisin is her favorite flavor. She craved massive amounts of nougat when she was expecting her first child.
- She has always been active and used to walk around the lake daily with my grandpa. At our house, she would do laps around our backyard in the mornings.
- In her later years, she stays busy playing Sudoku, watching Korean soap dramas and writing emails. She loved jigsaw puzzles when her eyes were better. She also keeps a diary of her daily activities and news of the family.
- She knitted some pretty awesome sweater vests and gloves and scarves for all of us when we were younger.
Proudly displaying her knitwear
- I love her smell. Her favorite perfumes are Tresor and Chanel No. 5 (on special occasions). She currently wears Givenchy.
- My grandma loves chicken wings.
- We used to pluck her gray hairs for her when we were young.
- Her specialty is making xoi, (Vietnamese sweet rice)
- She loves to tease her grandchildren and remembers every one of our birthdays.
- My grandma has great skin, in part to her genes, lifestyle, and her Clinique moisturizer.
- She has the loveliest handwriting. I wish it could be made into a font.
- She used to work for Bank of America and everyone called her Sue
- When my Grandma was 16 years old and underage, she and her sister once secretly started a school for the younger, poor kids in the town.
- She first met my grandpa when she saw him fishing one day. He was a city boy trying to be a country boy. He flipped the rod and it came up empty and he ended up splashing himself. She thought it was funny.
- She needs to sleep on hard surfaces and sleeps on a boxspring. Yet she loved soft blankets, especially her electric blanket.
- She and Grandpa always kept Almond Roca in their refrigerator. To this day, I have to have Almond Roca cold.
- She has the dearest frown, and the best laugh
- Her hands are incredibly soft, but strong.
- She was born on December 14, 1932
- She isn’t afraid of technology, always has her laptop with her, and even joined Facebook.
- She is fiercely independent and takes the bus to her doctor’s appointments….although she misses driving
- Grandma used to make our mothers chaperone each other on dates when they were younger.
- Every time Nick comes home to visit, she says hello and inevitably comments worriedly on how thin and pale he is (Asian grandmas).
- She always reminds us to be good girls to our husbands.
- She is the most beautiful soul.
My Cousin Christina’s Grandma:
- She was a tomboy as a child and liked to climb trees and play with boys. She made her mom exasperated and therefore never learned to cook/clean/be a lady as much as was expected. However, she excelled in school and was her dad’s favorite (as she tells it!)
- Sniff kisses (all of our mothers, her daughters, now do it)
- She is known for her ruou niep (rice wine) and loved making it for our cousin Nicole
- She loves to garden. We will always remember the rose bushes she kept at my grandparent’s house when we were younger.
My Sister Darlene’s Grandma:
With “Barbie” the stuffed dog Darlene gave her
- Whenever she and Grandpa would pick me up from pre-school, she would always check to see if my fingernails were long and she would cut them for me during the car ride home.
- I think I remember taking naps on the floor with Grandma after pre-school and she said it was supposed to be better for your back.
- She appreciates all the little things and remembers all the simple gestures from anyone
- If I invited my friends over to the house, Grandma loved talking to my friends and she was always offering them food. My friends would always compliment her and said she was a kind, generous, very intelligent grandmother who spoke English so well!
- I remember she liked knitting and tried teaching me one time
- She is so generous to everyone but never lavishly spends money on herself.
- Whenever someone is sick, she goes out of her way to help them recover
- She’s always trying to be most helpful around our house whenever she can such as cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, and folding our clothes
- She would listen to the radio at night before sleeping
My Cousin-In-Law Michael’s Grandma:
Michael with Grandma and Melissa
- The first time I met Grandma I didn’t know to hug her or shake her hand. So I did the latter. I said hello and slightly bowed and the first words she said to me, ever, were “You have such soft hands, like a lady.” I knew we would get along after that. She’s always been extraordinarily kind, and awkwardly honest with me. I love her for that.
- I once saw her pour a packet of sugar onto an avocado and eat the whole thing in three bites. When I asked her what happened to the avocados she said “I don’t know,” but I could see she still had a mouthful of avocado hiding in her cheek. Then she turned her back to me (I guess thinking that made her invisible) and started devouring the other half to hide the evidence. God she loved avocados.
My Cousin Angela’s Grandma:
Grandma with Melissa and Angela
- She and Grandpa used to babysit us and I always remember their walks each morning around Irvine lake.
- They always had Quaker oats granola with raisins as their cereal of choice for breakfast
- We used to always stop by Grandma’s room when she lived with us to say goodnight as have a daily chat
- Grandma loves reruns of ‘I love Lucy’ and the Golden Girls, Everyone loves Raymond, and Wheel of Fortune. She loves reading anything by Mary Higgins Clark and Nicholas Sparks.
- She loves meditating in the backyard and used to do tai chi every morning
- She is the best story teller: hearing childhood stories of what a tomboy she was growing up in Vietnam are so fascinating
- Watching her interact with Becca has been priceless, the way her face lights up when she smiles at her or watching Grandma watch Becca walk/crawl around the house is so amazing
- She was born in the year of the monkey
Grandma playing Sudoku. She crafted the board and game numbers from old medical files.
Update 3/22/13: After a long, hard-fought battle, our sweet grandmother passed away peacefully today. We will love and remember her always.