When I was about eight years old, I asked my grandmother, “Why do you like boys more than girls?” She looked at me with disbelieve, “Why did you ask such question?” “Well, you gave Auntie Mei one chicken after she had a baby girl, but you gave Auntie Lui two chickens after she had a baby boy.”* My grandmother shook her head with a smile, “No, I love them equally. It’s just how things get done here in our family.” Not a tradition again, I said to myself. I did not stop there. I was going to proof she was wrong for playing favor. “Ah-Ma (“Grandmother” in Taiwanese), you do like boys more than girls. You gave my Mom one chicken when she had me, and gave her two when she had my brothers. Why don’t you just admit that you like boys more than girls?” She raised her hand up (I thought, “She is gonna smack me. I am in trouble again for talking back at an adult,”) and gently rested her palm against my cheek, “Chan-Rai (my father, her son-in-law, was sitting next to her), you have raised this girl to be out spoken, haven’t you?”
My grandmother might be right about how my father has raised me. But what she did not know is that never-surrender-to-status-quo and the unstoppable-ness of me are really her—she has weaved that part of her into my heart and my soul.
My grandmother was the only woman in her village refused to marry to a man she had never met. Are you kidding—she could have been shamed, and disowned by her father, and her community. She managed to let her voice heard—“I told my father, ‘Over my dead body should you force me to marry to that man.’ ”—and married to my grandfather. I asked her, “So you and grandfather actually dated a few times before you got married?” She laughed, “No, of course not. People didn’t date back then.” “So you and grandfather’s marriage is an arranged marriage after all?” I was disappointed since I thought my grandmother was a “feminist” in her time. “I had seen your grandfather a few times around town, but didn’t know him well. At least, I got to say who I want to marry, and being responsible for what I chose.” That is another part of her that she weaved into my being.
I love you, Ah-Ma, for you had taught me living a life fully, and to be true to one’s commitment. Your love forever moving on this planet, and the love that I will weave and generate into the future. Just like the song, “Breaths,” sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock…… (Thanks, Jerrie, for sharing this with me)
Those who have died have never never left
The dead have a pact with the living
They are in the woman’s breast
They are in the wailing child
They are with us in the home
They are with us in the crowd
The dead have a pact with the living…
‘Tis the ancestors’ breath
In the voice of the waters
*As one of the Taiwanese traditions, “Drunken chicken” is cooked for and served to a new mother to help breast milk production. In my grandmother’s family, the amount of chicken given is determined by the sex of the baby. Say if you have a baby boy, then you get two chickens, if you have a baby girl, you get one chicken.