Ah-Gong, A Tribute

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.

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