Saying Goodbye to Grandfather

7 Jun

by Alma Younger
7th Grade

Green, green, green everywhere. The terraced hilltops cascaded down the mountain, reflecting everything: the world, the grass, the sky, and my family. In the distance I could see our little one-room house nestled in between the slopes and the other houses, its thatched roof and muddy walls (built by my father and my after we migrated south last summer.) I thought about the warm stove and the rice and the place in the roof where the rain leaked in. I secretly loved when it came time to plant the rice very year, because even though it as hard work and we were going from dawn until much later than dusk, it also represented new hope and a potentially better harvest. I would wade in the mucky water up to my ankles and feel the mud squish between my toes. I would plant the seeds in the earth and convince myself that everything was going to be okay.

But now, walking away from everything I love and know how to do, I wasn’t sure if I would belong in the city. I had to try though. My grandfather was sick and my parents were nursing him, and my sister couldn’t go to the city, so it had to be me. Me, Jin Ling Lum, in the city, earning money to pay Zho Bai Wum (the medicine woman we’d heard had saved many dying people with her treatments who were before unable to be cured), and living far, far away.

I remember when they first brought the new rice from a land that I had never heard of. The rice was rumored to resist the droughts and grow twice as fast. And it proved its worth. It was magnificent: so many crops sprouted up and my family had so much to eat. None of us left a meal hungry and we had so much rice to sell! But there is never enough money in the world, and with my grandfather dying and my parents preoccupied and unable to keep him alive for much longer, I was needed somewhere else: the city.

The trek was long and hard and it forced me to stop several times, catch my breath, and focus all of my energy on walking. Would life in the city be this hard? Would it be harder? I was so nervous that I caught my food on a rock and fell, hard. I began to bleed and tore a piece of my clothing off to bind the wound. It was a jagged, deep cut running across my kneecap down to my shin. I wiped the sweat off of my brow and my hand came away bloody, so I must be bleeding there, too. Was this how much grandfather hurt every day? Did he feel as helpless as I did right now?

I remember the first time Grandfather fell ill. (It had been many months ago.) We were just harvesting the rice, the “thwack, thwack” of the blades slicing through the crops. Grandfather had been bending over to scoop up some plants when he fell with a loud “thump.” He was probably too old to be helping with the harvest anyway, but that was grandfather: always ready to jump up and get work done. I had been standing next to him when it happened. It was terrifying. We thought he was dead. Ever since then he just hasn’t been the same, keeping to himself, barely able to speak. I always hoped that he’d get better, but I guess I knew deep down that he would never recover.

The city was strange. Everything was so expensive and everyone judged you by your cover. Being a farmer’s son, I didn’t have much luck with jobs, though eventually I got hired as a dumpling-seller on the streets. It had its benefits: the delicious smell, meals, and fresh air. I had foolishly spent what little money I had made on a message to be sent to my family, telling them of my luck with my job and where I was located in case they needed me, although I should have been saving money to pay Zho Bai Wum for my grandfather’s care. I hadn’t received word from my family in weeks, so I knew the situation had not improved.

Morning: I woke up to the streets full of people and the sun halfway into the sky. I was really late for work! I quickly threw on my clothes and rushed out the door. I arrived to a very angry boss and a messenger. The boss said the messenger had been waiting for a long time to tell me something urgent. The messenger opened his mouth to speak. “Your grandfather has a day to live. You must come home immediately.”

For about a minute I was in complete and total shock. My mouth hung open and I pushed the tears back. Although grandfather had always been extra hard on me, we had been so close. The memories flooded back to me: his smile, our jokes, planting rice, everything. He had always been so strong and I just couldn’t imagine him not being there.

I ran the whole way home, remembering everything from my journey out here. Suddenly, this journey didn’t feel so long and exhausting any more. I just had to get there before it happened: I needed to say goodbye and be strong, like he had always been for me. The lump in my throat returned and it became hard to breathe. I slowed my pace, gathered myself, and continued on.

When I arrived, my mother came over to me and embraced me for a long time. When we were done she quietly led me over to the little stove and asked me quietly if I was tired from my journey and wanted some soup. I said no, although that was a lie, but I wanted to save it all for grandfather because he loved soup. Then I saw grandfather lying on a mat on the floor looking feverish. I approached quietly and kneeled down beside him. He saw me, but I don’t think he had the strength to speak. We sat like that for several minutes. Then I touched his hand and he looked at me, pain in his eyes. I had never seen him look this defeated.

I began to whisper the song he had sung to me to cheer me up when I was little and had just scraped my knee. It was melodic and eerie, but it had always cheered me up. It was about how beautiful the sun looked after a month of rain. I really wanted that sun to come out right now.

Then Grandpa wheezed and coughed up some blood. As he drew in his final breaths, he looked me in the eye and said, “Do the family name proud, my boy. I have always seen something special in you.” Then he closed his eyes and didn’t open them.

I cried for a long time. Everybody else was stoic, but I just couldn’t help it. They all said it was his time, but I didn’t think about it that way. How would I get through all of my problems without grandfather? How could I ever get used to the awkward silence during meals, silences he used to fill? How could I get over his absence? I hugged myself and hummed the song, remembering every note and word of it. I didn’t ever want to stop.


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