She's a Chinatown pretty

On Sunday, my mom and I joined her sisters, Rose and Susie to sort through my Popo's clothes. I've been known to have quite the grandmotherly fashion (sometimes erring on the side of grandfatherly, I've been told!) I also just wanted to spend time with things that reminded me of her, and that day taught me much about who she was. 

The woman loved her turtlenecks

Now that I think about it, I never saw my grandmother's neck! I literally cannot imagine it. As I picked through piles of pink and purple sweaters, I found that most had a neck hole about the size of large apple pear. Auntie Rose said it was because she had a surgery around her neck and was self-conscious about her scar- a fear that feels so oddly intimate for someone no longer alive. Touching each turtleneck helped me hold some of the insecurities she carried and introduced me to things I never knew about her. 

The first generation & their last suitcases


When my grandmother was 19, she arrived in San Francisco with an infant and these suitcases. I held them gingerly, respecting their age and wear, but much like my Popo, they were not as fragile as they appeared. 

I've also held the luggages Jon's grandfather brought with him from Japan and it makes me wish I knew what came in them. How do you decide what you bring from a home you may never return to? What keepsakes and what lingering smells prepare you for the heartache of homesickness and the dizzying anticipation of a new life unfolding? My grandmother has stated: "I didn't know how to be scared." So, well that's that.

It is strange to think that at some point you put away these luggages and you know that you won't need them again, and the person you were when you first packed them is not who you are any longer. 

Wishing she could see us now

We spent hours going through her different closets and drawers- first her Chinatown sweaters, next her jackets, then the piles of turtlenecks and scar-veiling wraps, then her traditional dresses- her cheung-sams. My mom and aunts gasped with each one, recalling the wedding or photograph she wore them in, pointing to the signature seams of her masterpieces. And, as we picked through piles and hangers, we tried on her shirts, and sweaters, and dresses and each one of us looked so different in the many outfits she owned. We giggled and groaned through ill-fitting skirts and suffocating neck lines. It is rare to sit together like this, among her things, but without her. 

At one point I stood alone before a mirror, wearing a blue cheung-sam she had made by hand. I felt more beautiful than a bride. And it fit perfectly, (in the asphyxiating way these dresses do), and my mom joined me with a silence of sadness and affection. And she said, "Popo had such stylish taste", and I felt like this dress was made for me. Though, removing the dress required that I hold onto my undergarments while my mom strained to wriggle it free. 

These garments felt cold without her and yet that day they came alive again, with each unfolded and refolded blouse, every button we snapped or zipper we pulled, they moved again. And we laughed so. hard. These are the moments I see her eyes the brightest, it is when I can most clearly hear her laugh. It is when I hear her muttering under her breath, "Wow, so beautiful. Ho liang."