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The Unspoken Love of Family Dinner

“Surprise Por Por!”

I leaped into my grandma’s arms and we toppled backwards into her armchair. I was in Sydney for the weekend and decided to surprise her with some takeaway. I really didn’t want my recovering Por Por to stress over hospitality. A couple of months ago she broke her elbow after tripping over the garden hose. Before her elbow had a chance to heal, she fell again and fractured her ribs while returning home from a grocery run. Overnight, my fiercely independent Por Por became bed bound and unable to perform basic tasks without help.

When I found out about the accident, my Por Por promised to keep me updated on WhatsApp. While she updated me often, deep down, I knew that she was just putting on a positive facade to put my mind at ease. There was one day when the pain of breathing through a fractured rib became too much. My grandma had sent me a chirpy voice message as usual, except this time, she wasn’t able to fully stay in character.

“Por Por will be ok. It doesn’t hurt that much. Just work hard and don’t worry about me…”

Her voice trailed off and she broke down in tears. I replayed that voice message so many times. I didn’t think that it was possible to hear someone’s voice and yet still feel so far away.

“Did you know I was coming over Por Por?” I asked excitedly.

Of course! I made your favourite soup and your Gong Gong will steam garlic prawns for you when he’s home, ok?”

I glared at my mum who smiled back at me sheepishly. Mum has always been terrible at keeping secrets. On receiving news of my arrival, my fearless Por Por travelled 500m on foot to pick up last-minute groceries. My 80-year-old Grandpa assisted her with carrying the bags back home.

“Por Por you really have to be more careful! Here, I brought you some fruit so you don’t have to walk to the shops to buy them this week.”

I held out a small bag of apples and mandarins. My gift suddenly felt very measly in comparison to the efforts that my grandparents had gone to welcome me home.

“Aiya! Why did you buy me fruit? Don’t worry Heidi, when you are older and make more money, you can look after your Por Por!”

As my Por Por received my gift, I couldn’t help but chuckle. When will I ever be old enough? When will this stubborn lady ever recognise her limits and allow me to serve her in return? Is her independent nature the reason behind her inability to accept the free gift of God’s grace?

My Gong Gong (grandfather) prepares garlic prawns.

Dinner around the table that night was noisy and lively as usual. Por Por retold funny stories of how my Gong Gong had tried to care for her over the past few months.

“He may be slow and clumsy now but back in the day he could do anything! He could swim, dance and play basketball!” she recalled glowingly.

Despite her injuries, Por Por refused to sit still. She delighted in getting up and down to serve her children and grandchildren with extra food and drink. Every now and again, she would clutch her chest and wince in pain, but she would never give me time to show my concern. Within a few seconds she would bounce back up again, speaking and laughing with a greater determination than before.

At the end of the night, my mum thanked me for making time in my short stay to visit my Por Por. She noted that it had been awhile since she had seen my Por Por so lively and happy. I was humbled. It really didn’t take much to make my Grandma laugh again. I guess in my childhood home, nothing says “I love you” with more sincerity, than simply showing up for a family dinner.

Por Por serves our favourite soup.

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