Archive for July, 2008
Earlier this month, both of my grandpa’s passed away. This is a tribute to the second one.
Dr. Peter Hsiao, or Ah-Gong (grandpa in Mandarin), was my mother’s father. The earliest memories I had of him were embedded in our annual Christmas adventures. Vague memories of long car rides from Salt Lake City, UT (1978-1982), and then long flights from Madison, WI (1982-1986) would culminate with time spent at Ah-Gong and Ah-Ma’s house in Torrance, CA. The times were sweet, with numerous memories with my siblings and cousins: building little kingdoms and rivers of dirt in Ah-Ma’s famed backyard garden, picking peaches from the tree on the side of the house, trips to Leco-Seco Park, afternoons on the sands of Redondo Beach, messing around with the foot-long skateboards with roller-skate wheels Ah-Ma got from one of her regular garage sale trips, doing numerous chores (sweeping, playing piano, math problems) for the reward of a few cents each chore, wandering through the huge Del-Amo mall, trips to Service Merchandise (remember that store?), camping out in Mike and Jelin’s backyard, trips to Jimmy and Kenny’s big house in Palos Verdes. Ah-Gong and Ah-Ma’s house was memorable as well: there was the sliding door that divided the living and family room, the extra TV in their bedroom with Japanese soap-operas constantly on, the pink bathroom with a drawer for a door lock and a toilet that never seemed to flush (thankfully the toilet has been changed since those days in the 80s), a layout that worked well for hide-and-go-seek in the dark.
And then there was Ah-Gong. In those early years, everything was about eating well (or else we’d go to Ethiopia!), which included meals with liver, clam chowder with veggies, and his ketchup/mayo dressing mix with iceberg lettuce. Later, the diet included salmon or white sea bass marinated with miso, along with the traditional plate of sashimi (usually a full plate of surf clams, yellowtail, or tuna).
But there was much more going on, much more. I never got it as a kid- I think it’s pretty typical. But there was love, a lot of love, being poured out in those moments. As I grew, this became clearer. I mean, who packs marinated salmon steaks for his grandchildren when they’re in college? What drives a man to never forget a grandchild’s birthday, sending a card every year? Bigger yet, who stays married with his bride for over 60 years, cherishing her with the same, if not more, devotion? What drives a man to give millions of dollars to the cause of Christ, to lend money to his children, to always have a red-envelop for the grandchildren on special days?
The moment of love most unique to me- all of us grandchildren have a different one of these moments, I believe- came during my seminary years. Having chosen a path that was unique to the family, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Ah-Gong. Not that he would unsupportive. But having been a successful doctor himself, when all of his children succeeding in the medical and scientific fields, I guess I just didn’t know. Or I didn’t expect him to be so involved with his love. Each time I was over, it seemed like Ah-Gong had something new to share about what He had learned, either from the Bible or from some Christian book he was reading. He would have his copy of Our Daily Bread next to his recliner, Bible open, eager to engage in a conversation with me. And he would have books on his shelf, typically biographies, there to share. In fact, he gave me a number of books, including my copy of Just As I Am (Billy Graham’s definitive autobiography), numerous monographs by Mother Teresa, and even a copy of The Pursuit of Happiness by the Dali Lama. Love delights on the other, taking on their interests and passions. Here was Ah Gong, father and grandfather to so many, taking time to delight in just one of many.
I know there is so much I never got to know about Ah- Gong. And I know there is so much I will never fully “get” about Ah-Gong’s life, including those amazing times of WWII history in the Pacific. I am thankful, though, that His great Savior knows about every moment and every moment of love. And I am glad that He has begun to receive His reward for it all.
Ah-Gong, thank you for your unending grace and love to all of us. We look forward to seeing you again.
On June 26, 2008, my father’s father (Ah-Yeh in Mandarin) passed away. Here is a tribute I wrote in 2006 on his 90th birthday.
One of the most vivid memories of Ah-Yeh was from my early teen years. I was sleeping over at my parents Tomich Road house, the one Sixth Aunt used to live in. I think Ah-Yeh resided there as well; I can’t remember it clearly. In any case, I was staying overnight, and made my bed in the family/TV room, somewhere on the floor.
I must have slept relatively lightly because at around 4am (from my guess at that time), I was suddenly aware of Ah-Yeh. He had woken up and was making his way to the back yard, passing through the family/TV room in the process. What was he doing? I can’t remember when I figured it out, but at sometime I realized his reason for going out – he needed to pray. And so my picture of Ah-Yeh, who he was, began to grow from here.
Prior to this, I can’t remember much, but I can imagine. In preparation for this essay, I spent some time looking through my old photographs of Ah-Yeh and our family. There was Ah-Yeh, in the early 80s, full head of dark hair, tan, and… I’m not sure. There was something deep in his eyes, some unspoken emotion. Perhaps it was from his years going through what the rest of us could never imagine: a world war, loss of a homeland, loss of a spouse, immigration. There’s a reason why the famed news anchor called those in Ah-Yeh’s generation the “Greatest Generation.” It’s true, it really is.
But the pictures changed. I don’t have a whole lot of them with me in San Diego, but the next set of photos of Ah-Yeh were, well, different. They’re from the mid to late 80s, when Ah-Yeh would purposefully not look into the camera. Instead, he would look away with a solemn, flint-like gaze. What was he thinking? More importantly, what was going on in his soul? Was he grieving and dealing with the radical changes going on in his life and family as time kept passing? Was there a dream forming through the brokenness and change he was going through, a dream born of the Spirit?
I don’t know what was going on in those pictures, but those photos remind me of something: Ah-Yeh was and is human. He was and is a human being like the rest of us, full of hope, hurt, desire, passion, and grief. It’s hard to remember this at times, at least for me, because grandparents (and parents) always seem like static figures- they’re the same day after day, year after year. But they’re not, and that’s the truth.
And that brings me back to this phase of being cognizant of Ah-Yeh, this phase that began one early morning on Tomich Road. Who is Ah-Yeh? He is a man, a true man, who has grown and matured with each passing season. He is a man, a true man, who has felt love and pain, life and death, youthfulness and age. He is a man, a true man, who is living a true life, a life of Spirit and flesh, a life of body and soul. And he will become a man, a full man, one day when his decaying body will be resurrected- perfect, invincible, void of all pain and sorrow.
Ah Yeh, thank your for showing us how to live. Keep on living- not just physically, but with your soul. I can’t wait to see you once again when the imperishable comes, and we finally get to see the One we’ve been longing for all these years.