My grandma on my mom’s side was a sensation. Every summer until 7th grade, we’d go visit her and Grandpa in Dan Dong, China. Every morning, she walked down the stairs from their 5th floor apartment, never using the elevator. She’d walk outside, chat with the men who worked at the gate of the apartment complex, and head to the market. There, she would exchange familiar greetings with all the vendors, who brought in fresh produce daily. She weighed out hazelnuts, which were my favorite, and asked for the ripest blueberries, waving away the steep price because she knew I would happily devour the whole box.

She never rode taxis because she tended to get carsick. I suppose that speaks to the fact that she belonged to a different generation: she hadn’t even seen her first car until she was in her 50’s, and the things made her nervous. One time, it began to rain so she was forced to hail a cab. She spent the whole ride making lists of what she could make us for dinner that week, and found that the whole car ride passed without a moment of nausea.

Grandma had a clear, ringing voice, and liked to attend choir with her friends every week. She had a voice like a bell: strong and clear, and never faltering. It was a voice others would pause to listen to, a voice that rang above the hundreds of others in the choir, and I grew up singing little jingles and rhymes that she taught me. When she was in her 20’s, she studied Peking opera, a unique style of singing that requires a voice like hers and theatricality. She had plenty of both. I gasped the first time I saw a picture of her in her 20’s; she was stunning.


I frequently get these weird little ideas in my head, about which I will suddenly become very passionate and excited. My current obsession is nautical stationary. If there is anyone who can send me a link to order paper with little anchors on it, I will treasure you forever. There is no reasoning behind it, no predictability to my thought patterns. I am like the wind.

So when I was in third grade, I grew suddenly curious about pioneers moving towards the Pacific Ocean during America’s frontier days (there is absolutely no logic to this sudden fascination, I know) and I picked up a bunch of books in the library about families moving west in a wagon. I probably told the librarian what I was searching for in those exact words.

One of the books I got was the diary of a 12 year old girl moving with her family to Oregon. I brought this one with me to China over the summer. The girl in the story made toys and jewelry for myself, and I grew infatuated with the idea of making my own jewelry too. I got some yarn, and measured it to fit my skinny neck. Then, I went around the house looking for loose buttons. My mom still laughs when she recalls how I scoured every inch of the kitchen, leaving cupboards open and pots and pans out and about in my search for buttons. I left no room unsearched, no drawer unturned, in my quest for button acquisition.

My grandma got home and just stared at the mess I’d made. I fervently explained to her my mission and she nodded sternly, and told me to hang tight. When she came back, she had a sewing box and an armful of clothes. We sat down together on the couch, and proceeded to cut the buttons off all her old clothes. I held each article of clothing up for her approval, and I would say, I want buttons, Grandma! And she would eye the blouse or skirt and nod affirmative, and we would work to get those buttons off. In an effort to keep up some kind of organization system, we placed all the buttons we gathered to the side, to be threaded on my necklace later.

Every day, she came home from the market, or her choir, or lunch with her friends, and I’d be waiting. I would holler, I want buttons, Grandma! And she would drop everything, and grab the sewing box.

What a special woman she was. She endured all of my strange ideas and little quirks and never questioned a single idea I had. She bought me hazelnuts and extra sour blueberries, and didn’t ask for any of us to be grateful. To one of the most special women I’ll ever know, I wish you could see me now. I wish you could see me with my fascination with the Soviet Union, my passion for almond butter, my yearning for nautical stationary (seriously someone, send me a link), my obsession with calendar books, my curiosity about ancient monuments, my infatuation with Russian literature, my regrets from the past, my plans for now, my hopes and dreams for the big future that I can’t even pretend to know. Wish you could see me now, with all my heart.

Take these people, who never laugh at you, who not only encourage you but actively participate with you, and love them, every day that you have them. Watch out for those people with hearts bigger than the world, who will hear you yell that I want buttons, Grandma, and drop everything to make you happy.

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