Saturday, 03 April 2010
My paternal grandfather died this morning. He was over a hundred and had been miserable and good at making the people around him miserable for at least half of his life, if not more. I heard the news with perfect equanimity; his passing makes approximately zero difference to my life, and I hadn't seen him in about ten years.
He lived a long but curiously unhappy life. He gave up poetry and calligraphy to be a soldier, then spent the rest of his life treating his family as if he were still a general. His marriage was arranged to a woman who, remarkably enough, was equally narcissistic. They had seven children, all of whom are deeply psychologically and emotionally scarred people. He shrieked abuse at them when they did come to visit, and shrieked abuse at them when they didn't. After my grandmother died, he had the good luck to remarry a sweet, gentle woman who probably didn't know what she was getting herself into. I don't envy those last fifteen or so years with him. His temper, never good, was not improved by old age. His children remained terrified of him until the end. My dad was too afraid even to tell him that I got married (to a non-Chinese, non-doctor, non-millionaire).
He liked rocks. There were several gigantic jasper ones in his house, the kind that you could almost see pictures in. Until his health began to fail, he was an avid gardener and practiced tai chi chuan every morning. Those are the good things I have to say about him.
I have only one really clear memory of this distant grandfather whom I hardly ever spoke to, and sadly, it is not a happy one. When I was ten or so, I was an avid stamp collector. My dad must have said something, because my grandfather brought all his stamp albums out for me to look through. Mom and I dutifully looked through them (we were at his house, and accordingly bored out of our minds) and returned them to him. Pretty soon, he came back and started yelling at me. I always had a hard time understanding his dialect since my Chinese is fairly shaky to begin with. My mother responded, and from her answer I inferred that some valuable stamps were missing and he thought I had taken them. Although nothing ultimately came of this -- my mother vouched that the stamps in question had not been in the books to begin with -- the incident left me in tears.
There are no tears now.
Rest in peace, Grandfather.