"Shua-nging!" (Children!) The sound of her strident voice reverberates down the narrow stairwell. I remember that musty, dark, winding stairwell that led to her second floor apartment in Glendale as vividly as I did the day I established a meaningful relationship with my grandmother. Through this relationship, I have come to know her as a friend, a confidante, and lastly, a woman I admire.
I was only seven at the time, and the only thing I cared about was the fact that my grandmother spoke in a very loud and grating voice, and that she kept on patting my hand (which annoyed me to no end). My grandparents are separated- my grandfather lives with us, while she lives in a separate apartment by herself in Glendale. My family and I used to eat lunch at her house every week. I remember trudging up the dank, squeaky stairs with my siblings, yelling "An-yang!!"(grandmother) all the way. She would yell in a similar fashion "Ah! Shua- nging!" (ah, children!) Smells of old-fashioned Shanghainese cooking would assail my senses, as my mouth watered in anticipation of the savories to come.
One particular afternoon, after we had finished eating, we draped ourselves around her living room. I was sitting on a dilapidated couch, whose colors were made indiscernible by time, and was looking around her room. My gaze swept from the thin, worn carpet, bare in some places, to the scarred wooden dresser, to a dirty doll with an eye missing. (My grandmother could never bear to throw anything away). She came and sat down next to me, taking my hand in hers. The tight braid at the nape of her neck was coming undone. Wisps of thick black hair framed her square face. I looked down at the contrast between our hands- my hand was unblemished, pale and smooth, while her hand was mottled with age spots, tanned, and leathery. She started to pat my hand in the most annoying fashion, while telling me how large my feet were. I was somewhat surprised, because I had always been told that my feet were rather small for my size.
Then I saw her feet.
Her feet were deformed and incredibly stunted. Her toes grew in a peculiar fashion, and none of them were straight. I had seen toddler shoes in the doorway when I arrived, but I assumed they were my old baby shoes. I now realized that they were HER shoes! All in all, it was the most horrendous sight I had ever seen.
I thought that foot binding had ceased a long time ago in China. At the age of seven, I was filled with righteous anger at a society that had forced young girls to conform to societal standards. I remember being shocked that day, wondering why I had never noticed my grandmother's feet before, and why no one else had ever pointed them out to me.
Throughout her childhood, she labored in the rice fields of Shanghai. She moved to the States in her late sixties. After my grandparents separated, she moved to her apartment in Glendale. At the age of 88, she cooks for herself, cleans her apartment, does needlework, and maintains her own garden. Just this past summer, she had a stroke. I was again astounded by her tenacity and her drive to live. She was out of the hospital in only a week.
Now, every time I visit her, I check to make sure that her feet have not grown even smaller. I have an irrational fear that one day, her feet will dwindle away. But they no longer instill feelings of revulsion in me- they are a living testimony of the hardships she endured- and a life that I have never experienced. So I sit patiently and let her pat my hand, knowing full well that we still have much to learn from each other.