In a red building, on the 4th floor, behind a wooden door plastered with red “good luck” banners, is a small apartment unit. It’s old, not often tidy, a little cramped, but is always filled with warmth and love.
This is where I come from.
I was born in Beijing, China, and had a, shall we say, quite an unusual childhood. Shortly after my birth, my father left to attend graduate school in the US, leaving my mom with two-months old twin daughters. Soon after, she had to return to work, but what to do now? Both of her parents also worked at the time and couldn’t help take care of twins. But my dad’s parents were already retired. Thus, she brought us down south to a little town called Wuhu to our paternal grandparents.
But a few months later, my paternal grandfather fell ill and they no longer had the capability to take care of twins. So then came another solution: my sister would remain down south in Wuhu while my mom brought me back to Beijing to my maternal grandparents’ house.
A year later, when I was two, my mom flew to the US to join my dad, each of her daughters entrusted in the care of one set of grandparents.
We wouldn’t be rejoined with our parents until we were six years of age. After they had found a way to maintain a living in the States.
So as such, I spent my early years in China, enveloped in the affection of my grandparents. Somewhere along the way, my sister joined us in Beijing. My grandpa drove us to and from kindergarten everyday on his red tricycle, come rain or snow. My grandma taught us reading and simple arithmetic so that we would be ahead of the curve. We ate three square meals a day, all home-cooked by my grandma. My aunt and uncle took us around Beijing on weekends to play. We had a well-rounded childhood full of love.
Today, entering my grandparents’ door still conjures up all the feelings of nostalgia only a childhood home can bring. The delicious smell of food wafts from the small kitchen by the door, where my favorite childhood dishes are cooking. In the living/dining room, the table is set and is surrounded by an odd assortment of mismatched chairs. I walk down the hall to put down my things in the room I used to sleep in. In my days, I had a fluffy white bunny and now a fluffy white cat roams through the rooms. The small space is still crammed with all sorts of knick-knacks, the walls with my grandma’s artwork.
It’s a very much lived-in and loved space. Through the decades, it’s been through remodels and fires; it’s seen laughter and tears, comings and goings, goodbyes and returns, sometimes years in between. But through it all, it’s welcoming arms have always been the one constant.
The discerning difference now is that the apartment is a little quieter, the mood a little more somber. My grandpa’s infectious laugh no longer echoes through the rooms. Alzheimer’s has robbed him of his memories of the past few decades. On the bad days, he sits in silence un-acknowledging of the activities around him. On the good days, he smiles the same smile I remember so well and asks, who are you?
“You’re my grandfather. I used to live here, and you used to take me to kindergarten everyday on your tricycle.”
“Oh really. We have this history together?”
Indeed, this place is full of my personal history. When I leave, I walk down the same stairs I had walked hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. I wave goodbye to Granny Yin on the second door as I pass her door, behind which my childhood best friend used to live. I open the front metal door and step out onto the small porch. Across the way is the little park where my grandfather planted some trees decades ago, now fully gown.
This is where I come from. And I’m proud to call it home.