The Warmest Embrace by Bixia Chen ('18)

           When I was eight years old, my mother and father suddenly left me behind. I did not even have time to react. And I just stood there, like a wooden figure, until their hazy silhouettes got farther and farther away from me. I started to run in the direction where they had gone. Unfortunately, I could not catch up with them. Accidentally, I fell to the ground-hard; I lay there and started to cry. I do not know how much time passed before I regained my composure and sat quietly on the ground. But then, at some point, I felt a gentle embrace holding me.

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           It was my grandfather, who would soon take the place of my parents. During my first days living at my grandfather’s home, I wept when I opened my eyes each morning and again when I was awakened by nightmares every night. But at the same time, I always had grandfather's warm hugs to comfort me. A week later, I started to feel accustomed to life there. There was the metallic washbowl in the bedroom, where grandfather used to wash his face and mine. And in the other corner of the room was a bathroom, consisting of bamboo poles and red patch fabric hanging in front. The most terrible thing I recall is the toilet grandfather used there. It was just a wooden bucket. I can still remember the unpleasant smell that permeated the room until grandfather emptied it every other day.

           However, there were also great places to hide when I missed mommy and daddy, like the wood paneling next to the bed. I think I often hid there when he was away because I was trying to escape the truth of my loneliness. On the other hand, I also played a “hide and seek” game with grandfather and hid there. Every time he couldn’t find me, and I would have to climb out of the wood panels to shout to him. I must have been really naïve at that time because I retreated to the same place over and over while Grandfather indulged me.

           Maybe everyone has a grandfather who loves and cares for them, but mine is the best of the best, and I am so grateful to have him in my life. From the time that my parents left me behind, he took me into a new life, starting in the field. Each day began with the hens waking me up. Grandfather was always standing on the threshold of my bedroom, waiting for me. I am not sure how early he woke, but he was always there. Every day before we left home, he would patiently help me dress. He was so clumsy, putting my head in a sleeve. It took at least a half hour to get me dressed and I was covered with sweat. But, gradually, he became more familiar with the process. I often spent the whole day with him in the field he owned and greatly enjoyed.

           In his village in China, people used adult tricycles to travel from their homes to the fields. One of my favorite things to do with my grandfather was to ride with him. It was an old style bicycle that had three wheels, used to transport crops. My grandfather had converted the small trailer in back into a space that fit just right for me to lie in. That was my little paradise. Normally, grandfather rode the tricycle slowly and I rested in the back carriage comfortably, which grandfather had covered with a soft cloth carpet. This was an experience that I felt only belonged to me. He took his time, so as not to spill me; the road was not very smooth. When I recall these moments, I feel so guilty because he had to keep pedaling, while also coddling me, until we arrived at the field. All the while, he would sing his favorite song. I cannot remember the structure of the song, but I remember his voice was so vigorous. Our own youth is comes to feel like someone else’s childhood, suddenly in the past. Grandfather’s weather-beaten face got older and grew more wrinkles. Each action of his became less comfortable than the one before.

           How long did it take to get to the field? I cannot remember because I was distracted by the birds in the sky. These were moments that my grandfather and I would never forget: those small and maroon colored sparrows, wheeling freely in the sky. I would say to him “Grandfather, I want to be a sparrow that can fly in the sky too. If I could, I would be happy to be flying in the blue sky, singing, cheering for dreams. I will fly where mommy and daddy are.” I think he knew I missed my mother and father. He didn’t reply immediately. Suddenly, he just hugged me and in smooth, low tones, he said, “Dear, sparrows can fly in the sky because they have wings, which we don’t. But we do have feet. We can use our feet to travel around to places where we want to go, as sparrows do.”  I didn’t understand what he was saying, and it may have been too complicated for me at that moment. Besides, I just wanted to meet up with mom and dad. So, I ignored his speech and fell asleep in his warm embrace.

           Usually, I spent all day with grandfather while he planted seed, and harvested sweet potatoes. Over all, I would just play around in the fields. The first time I saw sweet potatoes were the day that I saw grandfather harvest them one by one. I helped him dig up the soil, and then we used both of our hands to bring up each one gently, as if we are holding a new baby. I was so surprised that there were different shapes: round, chubby, thin, short, and long. After we arrived back home, grandfather would take two sweet potatoes and put them into the kitchen range, above the firewood. A few minutes later, two black coals would appear in front of me. I thought that this might have been a joke, grandfather switching the sweet potatoes for these charred embers. Instead, grandfather peeled off the surface of the coal, layer by layer. Instantly, I saw the golden color and the heat of the potatoes, waving the sweet aroma under my nose. I grabbed them from the plate and began to gobble them up immediately, even though they were super hot. I became addicted to that delicious taste.

           Ten years later, after I had grown, my parents came back without any notification. I will never forget that moment. I saw a tall, beautiful thin woman, wearing a pink skirt, and a tall, handsome thin man, wearing a dark blue suit and holding a lot of parcels in his hands. I was ecstatic and very curious, hiding behind grandfather's back. I poked my small head out and looked at them. At that moment, I wished that they would not to be my parents who I missed every day.  And the daydream became truth. In fact, they were my parents who had left me behind. I cried as they came to my side, holding me tightly.  They told me that there were several reasons they had left. We hadn’t had enough money to live on and then there were political problems, such as the heavy fines resulting from breaking the one child policy. So, they chose to immigrate to America, looking for a better opportunity for all of us.

           Even though my parents came back, my grandfather can never be replaced. One thing that I thought I had in common with him is that we were both alone. My childhood lacked a parent’s companionship, and my grandfather did not have his son to accompany him. I often spent all day with him, from sunrise to sunset; it was simple and fulfilling. Even, with my loneliness and losing my parents in various ways, he had painted a wonderful memory for me that became “my childhood”.

           I realize now that I had a great opportunity to live in a rural area and experience farming life. I would never have gotten this kind of experience in the city, surrounded by huge buildings. My grandfather taught me that every bit of life should be wonderful and full of love. We always need something to push ourselves to live completely.