Recently, my great-aunt and great-uncle spent three days with us. The first two days, the torrential downpour kept us trapped inside, so I spent a lot of time at the mercy of my great-aunt, listening to her discuss the finer points of ancient Chinese literature. I have the speaking ability of a young Chinese child, so needless to say, I really had no idea what she was talking about.
At some point, I drifted off, daydreaming about childhood days at my great-aunt’s house, eating kumquats and reading on the roof in the blazing California sun. About my great-uncle before his stroke, about his old record player and Chinese historical movies.
My great-aunt and great-uncle have been in America for twenty years. They can barely speak any English. When I was a kid, I used to look down on them because they seemed so out of place. They could only speak comfortably in Chinatown and the only interactions they had with their neighbors were smiles and waves. I never realized how unfair it was to condescend on them when they never judged me for not speaking what should have been my native language.
My great-aunt and great-uncle lived through the Cultural Revolution in China. My great-aunt fled the Communists for years before finally being sent to a hard labor camp and very nearly losing her life. They have lived hard and complicated lives that I once dismissed because they didn’t speak English. Lately, I have started to treasure the memories that I have with them, each as beautiful as the rainbows in the spray of my great-aunt’s garden hose as she watered her plants in the summer.
The final day of their visit was blessedly sunny. We visited Longwood Gardens, another childhood haunt that I had not been to since middle school. It was nostalgic to see the children’s garden, renovated but still vaguely familiar, and the waterlilies, their leaves smaller than I remembered. My great-aunt was happy, and my great-uncle was happy to see her happy.
Life rarely gives second chances, but I felt that I had been given some kind of chance to connect with two people who I had pushed away in my youth. My great-aunt pointed out all the edible ferns, much to my mom’s and my amusement. She also expressed her awe of the size of the grounds. Through her eyes, ordinary plants suddenly became a delicious delicacy, and the grounds that I had taken for granted became impressive in their vastness.
This dish is dedicated to them. It’s simple and light but delicious, qualities I know they would enjoy.