My Great Grandmother's Tomb
The July air hangs limp and sweltering. Hills roll on like endless waves, disappearing into the morning mist. There is no civilization the eye can see, a bleak contrast from the bustling cities of Qian Zhou. A sea of wildflowers dot the landscape. In front of me, my mother and grandmother stand, head bowed. A slab of plain gray stone has been erected here, here of all places, amongst the overgrown grass near an unknown village in China.
My great grandmother’s tomb. And three generations of daughters pray before her. As I close my eyes, I wonder, does she know, does my great-grandmother know how far her legacy has come? That her daughter has left these lonely hills, that her granddaughter has stepped onto foreign soil, and that her great-granddaughter now speaks a new language with more ease than she does her native tongue? A gentle breeze ruffles my hair and ripples the grass. Looking down at the valley below, I can still make out the tiny, scattered cement houses of the hamlet my grandmother lived in. Rows upon rows of orange trees border the houses, the sole method of livelihood for my grand-uncle and his children. I cannot help but wonder; if my grandmother had not strained to study under the flickering light of candles in her youth, and if my mother had not been so determined to make the two-mile trek to her school every day. I could very well be tending to those trees at this moment. I might have lived and died in this hamlet - and claimed an unmarked slab of plain stone amongst the rolling hills.
I look once more at the weather-worn grave and try to imagine my great-grandmother’s life; her struggles in Mao Ze Dong’s China; her hopes, her fears. I cannot even begin to comprehend them. Even as I reach to touch her grave-marker, I realize my life exists thousands of miles away in a world that would be as alien to her as this one is to me. She, along with my grandmother and mother have worked tirelessly to forge a path that has gradually expanded across oceans and land. And now they have come full circle in bringing me.
The air smells of rich incense and smoke. Fruits and flowers, offerings to my great-grandmother’s spirit, surround her tombstone. The paper from the remnants of firecrackers lit minutes before look like crushed rose petals in the grass. I look ahead. A single framed picture of my great-grandmother smiles wanly back at me from in front of her tombstone.
I think I have her eyes.