During my childhood, I perceived my grandmothers as extremely hard, harsh women. They were strict. They were not cuddly and doting in the way that grandmothers I saw on television were. They were matriarchs. They were survivors. Both of them lost their husbands during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and had to build new lives in the United States.
When I think harder about my grandmothers and delve beyond the emotions of the spoiled, selfish child, I see the reality of how much they cared for me. I was my maternal grandmother’s (Grandmother B) first grandchild, my paternal grandmother’s (Grandmother H) favorite son’s first child. Grandmother B took care of me five days a week throughout the schoolyear from kindergarten to sixth grade. Grandmother H looked after me every summer while my parents worked.
I have to temper my memories of their yelling at me to clean up with my memories of them cooking for me, my memories of watching Khmer-dubbed dramas from Asia with them, my memories of the jewelry and the money they gave me. If I had been able to see through my Westernized upbringing, I would have understood that everything that my grandmothers did was an expression of how much they cared.
I have nothing inside me anymore that can think of the lack of physical affection as a lack of anything. These two incredibly strong women, who had been through war, who had lost sons, who had lost their husbands– they gave me everything.