Fried Chicken is Hilarious: The Unexpected Wisdom of Grandma Wang
Updated: Aug 17
True to my promise of morbid and chaotic content with the silver linings of wisdom and self-unraveling, I kick off my blog a tribute to Grandma Wang, the endlessly modest, endlessly wise, and endlessly loved woman who raised me in the earliest years of my childhood. She has profoundly touched and shaped my life and the lives of many others through simple lessons delivered in unassuming forms such as hysterical laughter at fried chicken.
When LaoLao moved to the states with my parents over 20 years ago, she brought along just a few material belongings, and an English vocabulary to the extent of “Hi and Thank You”. But she put these words to good use. She loved to communicate with others and express how much they meant to her. She was also always greeting you with a rosey smile on her face—and it felt as if, to her, your presence alone was a gift as beautiful as the sun moon and stars, and so she would never ask for anything more. But if you did show her that extra little kindness, she made you feel deeply appreciated. She always thanked you from the bottom of her heart, taking your hands in both of hers, and laughing with delight. And I suspect that there was magic in that laugh, for although she never asked for much attention, she was always deeply admired and cared for. It suspected that the reason people loved to do her these little kindnesses was because it felt so special to see her smile, and to thank her for having made this world so much brighter.
I spent a good six months with my grandma in her senior center last year (we saw each other almost daily) and saw the nuances of the way she interacted with her new friends and home. I spotted her standing alone by the window of her bedroom one evening, quietly talking to herself. When I inquired about this peculiarity, she told me she that she was thanking the stuffed animals sitting along the window for watching over her domain while she was away. A Marie Kondo before Marie Kondo. Over time, I also noticed the way she sometimes thanked the elevators for taking her up and down, and how she would sit quietly in the lobby in the early morning before the other seniors arrived, waiting for the shuttle that would bring them to senior day care. She was always excited to go play mahjong with friends there, and thus never showed up late and never missed a day without notice save for the time she was jet lagged from travel, and then on August 13, 2018, her final day. Since then, my family has put in her casket a mahjong set with a winning hand on the top layer so that she may forever be winning (gong xi fa cai), and I’ve put a stuffed animal there as the guardian of her new spiritual realm.
A grandmother’s selflessness leaves deep impressions on a grandchild. Can you ever truly feel like you’ve repaid your grandmother enough for the giving your family the gift of life and showing you the wonderful things that make it life? Well Shuo and I would sometimes confront this question of “repayment” with food. I wasn’t as confident as Shuo in my cooking and she would rarely let me take her to a restaurant, always insisting: I’ll just eat these leftover dumpings for dinner, but why don’t you take this money I saved and buy you and your friends something nice to eat. Well, I thought I hit a jackpot one night when she finally told me she was craving some fried chicken. I quickly ordered delivery and when that box of chicken arrived, her eyes got bright and wide. A moment later, she was erupting with laugh. She continued laughing until her cheeks were red like those of the original Coke commercial Santas. What she said then was so simple, but her words really hit me: what a funny world it is, where you could take out a phone and have a boy with chicken show up at your door half an hour later—it’s a thing she never could have imagined in her lifetime.
Later on, it made me think of a series of voice memos between my mom and my grandma that I came across on my mom’s old phone, in which they recounted in detail her life in Puching. Our family rarely brings up the past, but I’ve always craved to know my cultural and familial roots, and some of these stories gradually helped me bridge that gap. I heard that a leader in my grandma’s village once hoarded the community's sweet potatoes for his own family—the other villagers were starving but frightened to speak up. But despite the risks, my grandmother went to this family and asked that they considered the plight of the others even in their own hardship and share their plenty. You sometimes had to stand up for yourself to get justice as well as to just stay fed. My grandma was that kind of nature fighter. She had a unique strength, absent of ego, fear, and hatred. So while I watched her laugh at the chicken and have it strike her how plentiful this life could be, an equal force struck me with how much we take for granted. I have since been thinking, maybe I could never give enough to this woman after all, when her laughter alone could remind me of the hardship and strenth of an older generation and leave me so humbled. Perhaps the only gift to we could strive to give now is the knowledge that we are learning from what she has already given and shown us.
Despite having tasting bitterness, she was never herself bitter about life. She was a funny and adorable person. I remember outside the senior center is a road sign that reads “Slow, Elderly.” Well the cars could slow down for the elderly but my grandma was not going to slow down for anyone. She treated her walker like her Mustang. Every day, she and her shiny car would zip down the halls. There was so much vital energy there that we’d often thought she might live to a hundred; and while that can’t happen anymore, we can celebrate her having lived the life she had to over 100%. Even in today’s material world, my grandmother was someone who looked for no more than what she had. She lived deliberately and enthusiastically, and for that seemed to me the wisest woman in the world. She was a tough and bold as a young woman and equal parts gentle and sweet as the Lao Lao I remember. And as I once said in a high school speech, she is my Yoda — a petite Jedi warrior. I think I speak not just for myself when I say that ultimately, she is a true wonder and lifelong role model. I may always wish I could have shared her last meal; been there for her last round of mahjong; or been a more perfect grandchild. But then again, she was and always will be at peace with who we are and what the world is. From above, she will continue to give to us her gift of unconditional love.
PS: Thank you to the many people who've helped my family and I assist and care for Lao Lao. There are too many to thank individually but you know who you are!