Monday, January 26, 2009

My grandfather the farmer

I visited Taiwan in the winter of '07, but it was warm. It's like that in Taiwan. My grandfather didn't recognize me.
"Grandpa, it's me," I said. "It's Strange Glory."
He looked into my eyes. He told me to take off my glasses.
"Doesn't look like you," he said.
He walked away, knees unbending, toward his bedroom.
I would only be in Fuli, in the town where my father grew up, for a few days. In those few days, I would only see my grandfather a few times. I suppose it made sense considering I'd only met him about five times in my life. He'd emerge from his bedroom when it was time to eat, then he'd return to his room to sleep. And again.
Those two days stretched like weeks because it's like that in Taiwan. I lay awake at night, under a mosquito tent, picturing my father doing the same. I took a chair outside to look at the surrounding mountains, picturing my father doing the same. It was a small house for six people. The math on the rooms didn't add up.
My mother took me for a walk on the second day. We went behind the house, an area I didn't even know existed.
"Your grandfather won't sell this land," she said.
She waved her arm in a sweeping motion, a motion I took to mean a lot of land.
"Your relatives have been trying to get him to sell it for a while now, but he won't."
I saw sugar cane and unsugared canes that were just trees. We ended our walk at a stone structure with several engravings.
"That's where your great-grandmother is buried," she said.
I might have nodded. Or made a face. We walked back to the house.
We were leaving that day, and my grandfather came out from his bedroom. He sat me down on a couch and reached into his cardigan pocket. He pulled out a wad of bills and placed it in my palm.
"I don't need this," I said.
"Take it," he said.
"I don't need it," I said. And again.
I won the argument by telling him I had a job.
"You work?" he said.
The cab arrived a few minutes later to take us to the train station. My grandfather put his arms around me, and he felt small and large all at once. I thought of my first trips to Taiwan, wrapping my tiny arms around his waist as I sat on the back of his motorcycle. We would go to the market, and he would pick up sweets and toys one by one, asking if I wanted them. I didn't need them, but I took them.

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