We've been the landlords to a Chinese family for the past year. They've been renting the bottom half of our house while their new home is being built. There are two kids, Mom and Dad, Grandma, and for two months a few cousins. I only understand about 1/10 of what Mom or Dad tells me, and Grandma speaks straight Cantonese with a lot of hand gestures. I always smile because her eyes laugh and shine whenever she speaks to me.
The laundry room is shared and I have to walk through their hallway, past their bathroom, Grandma’s room, and the kitchen to get there. I would have been horrified if any of my landlords had to walk down my hallway to do their laundry. I get shivers just thinking about a few of my landlords. We had a peeping tom for one when I lived in Prague...
In any case, whenever I venture down there, first knocking politely, then jiggling the doorknob so they know I’m about to enter, Grandma always greets me enthusiastically, with a hand on my arm, and the ladies wave from down the hall in the garage, pausing over their sewing machines... oh, yes, they do piece work in the garage. Mom, Grandma, Sister, and “Cousins.” They are chatty and keep the radio on a Chinese version of an easy listening station. The laundry room is just off the garage.
Over the last several months, Mom has hemmed two pairs of pants for me, our curtains, and she made me a green cammie for my birthday. I’ve photocopied papers for her, faxed documents to China, and I gave her kids most of my Halloween candy. They are moving out at the end of the month; their new
house is finished.
Today is Christmas and I need to do laundry. I had heard the whir of sewing machines earlier, so I know someone’s around. I’m not sure if they celebrate Christmas, with kids growing up North American and living in such a fusion of cultures. My own traditions have morphed since moving to Canada.
I grab a little present so I won’t go down empty handed. It’s a honey gift set that my friend made. Her parents run an apiary. They make the honey and she makes the beeswax candles. I venture downstairs and find Mom, Grandma, Sister, Cousin and a Girlfriend sharing a meal in the kitchen. Merry Christmas, Mom says. I hand her the honey gift set and she tells me in very broken English that she wants to invite me to a party at her new house. She then says to come over and she’ll hem my pants. Okay, I say.
Grandma opens all the cupboards, pointing and chatting the whole time. I smile and shake my head. She opens the refrigerator and gestures inside. I still don’t understand. She goes to a calendar and flips the pages to Dec 28. She points to everything around her and then gestures away. Ah, they are moving on the 28th. Everything in the kitchen will be gone by the 28th is what she means. That’s a lucky day. The Mom had once said that numbers ending in “8” are lucky.
Grandma goes to the stove and grabs something wrapped in aluminum foil. She offers it to me. She points to herself, then the item, then to me. I'm pretty confident she's giving it to me, so I take it. It’s heavy and warm. Thanks, I say, Merry Christmas.
I go back upstairs and into our kitchen. Baby is in the middle of making a traditional Christmas chili. We've been camped out for a few days due to weather and illness. We didn't get a chance to buy any of the usual holiday fare, so chili and pancakes it is.
I set the steaming package on the counter.
What’s that, Baby asks. I believe, I say, it’s a Christmas Yam.
Today I am grateful for the beauty of small gestures.
Happy Holidays to all! Be well and safe! May you all be delivered your own Christmas Yams.
Our front yard, yesterday :-)