My grandparents raised me since the day I was born. They took me from my mother’s arms to care for me in their bedroom in the attic. We lived in a big old house in Chia-Yi City, right behind the downtown provincial hospital and next to a temple. I love that city! My grandfather was a scholar and a civil servant who used to work in the city hall. Wherever we went in town, people seemed to recognize my grandparents and greeted them with great respect. My grandmother used to be so proud of showing me off to people because she became a grandmother at the age of 43. My grandparents were like my parents when I was growing up.
My grandmother raised three sons and two daughters. My father was the oldest one, the first born to give them a grandchild. They raised me in the family home, so my parents could be spared to focus on building their careers. My parents were young when they started a family and had me right away. It was not easy for my father to pursue his career in Chia-yi because farming was the main industry in Southern Taiwan then. He was an engraver. He decided to leave the family in Chia-yi and moved up north to run his business. Later on my mother, who ran a beauty hair salon, also left Chia-yi with my younger siblings to unite with him. I was left to stay with my grandparents.
My grandparents took care of me and taught me many things while I was growing up in the south. The advantage of growing up with the grandparents was that I got to know a lot about their past history and the family stories. The disadvantage was that I never got close to my parents until later on when I was older. This is one of the reasons why I never encourage my friends or family to send their young children to study abroad on their own. Young children need their parents!
I had never been in a kindergarten class. I remember my aunt took me to a kindergarten to visit her friend once. I felt very awkward meeting children of my own age. I felt I was a lot older than those kids; however, I was fascinated by the toys they had. I was given a rocking piggy bank there at the kindergarten. That was my first ever toy. In fact, I did not grow up with toys, never played with a real doll. I always made my own toys such as dress-up paper dolls or games.
I had tons of pastime activities in my grandparents’ home. My grandfather used to take me everywhere on the weekends. My grandmother was a stay-home housewife, so I used to tag alone wherever she went. They allowed me to roam the field across the street at the hospital or climb the trees to pick fruit in our yard. My best buddy was the boy next door who was my age but he was a bit slow. There was another girl who lived behind the temple and her grandmother used to run a small variety store. My grandmother used to tell me that her grandmother often took advantage of the little kids who shopped in her variety store. When I left for Taipei, I never got to see them again.
Later on, my parents wanted me to move up to live with them not because they were ready to have the whole family together. They wanted me because they thought that I would be spoiled rotten by my grandparents. We lived in a big family with too many aunts and uncles, so there was no surprise that we always had a lot of typical generation gap or in-law power struggle issues in the house. I was sent up north to live with my parents for a while after one family argument.
My parents were renting a small place in San Chong outside Taipei city. In fact, we moved many places within the city of San Chong. I remember San Chong used to have flooding all the time whenever we had a heavy rainfall or typhoons. I did not like living in San Chong to be away from my dear grandparents. My parents thought I was truly spoiled.
When you live with older people for too long, you get to observe the human interactions, their facial expressions and the family dynamics pretty fast. I did! I had to be careful with what I said in front of my grandparents about my parents and vice versa. (My parents used to ask me if I were my grandparents’ little spy. Hahaha.)
Whenever my grandparents were talking about their children, including my parents, they would speak in Japanese because they did not want to criticize their children in front of me, a little grandkid. They grew up under the Japanese rule so they received Japanese education by default, not by choice. They were both fluent in Japanese. When you grew up in that kind of family environment with a foreign language, you tend to learn the language pretty fast. I used to remember those Japanese “code names” for all of us and many Japanese words. I sometimes could understand what they were saying in Japanese. (Hahaha. Maybe I could be a spy.) I love those days.
My parents were financially stretched too thin with four kids but they bit their teeth and refused to bow their heads to tell my grandparents. I remember on one August Moon festival, all the children and my parents huddled together on the platform ta-ta-mi (note) bunk bed during a typhoon. We were worried about the flooding but the only exciting thing for the night was that we received a care package from my grandparents. We opened the box and shared those moon cakes under the candle light while the rain and wind were howling and pounding outside. I love my grandparents! August Moon is always a special day for me not only because it was the time when my dad passed away. It was always the time when we got special care package with love from our grandparents.
I eventually went back to live with them in Chia-yi until I was in Grade Two. After I moved up to San Chong to live with my parents permanently a couple of years later, my siblings and I often went back to stay with my grandparents in the summer. Although our family politics continued to play among all their children in the big family, my grandparents were always kind to us, their grandchildren. They helped us out when we were in desperate needs. We loved each other! “I was their special one,” my siblings used to say it with a jealous tone. In fact, we were all special in their eyes. I miss them terribly!
Today is Thanksgiving Monday here in Canada. There are so many people in my life I want to thank but many of them are no longer with us. My grandparents are two very important people in my life. As one famous Chinese author once said, “There are too many people whom we have to thank in our life; therefore, we thank Heaven as the representation instead.” I thank my grandparents for their gentle love and kindness to me. I am forever indebted to them.
Ta-ta-mi is a Japanese straw-mattress on the platform bed. It used to be very popular in Taiwan.