Christmas Eve was Herald to a Bad Break

Life is full of irony, isn’t it? The holidays are supposed to be a time of joyous celebration. Well, my holidays were of no such things, to say the least. True, I do not celebrate Christmas, but I still got a few gifts. Some dress shirts, a J. Crew tie and a bottle of Issey Miyake cologne. Great gifts; I like them all, especially the cologne. I’ve been meaning to buy it for a while now. It has this light citrus smell to it. But in light of another present, it all seems so … futile.

Santa Claus was generous enough to deliver his gift for my entire family early this year. It came in the wee morning of Christmas Eve (at 3 a.m. actually, as opposed to later that night). Not a thing was stirring, not even a mouse, when the phone call ruptured the silence.

I stumbled to bed only an hour before my uncle called. Brrrng! Brrrng! My eyes popped open. Brrrng! Brrrng! My mother picked up the phone. A few minutes later, I could hear her hang it up.

My father woke me up in the morning to inform me of Santa’s gift. But he didn’t have to. I’m no fool – I knew exactly what the news was. The entire family, for almost a year, knew this present would eventually arrive . And like a lump of black coal, none of us were anxious to get it.

It doesn’t take a fourth-year English Literature with an emphasis in Asian-American works to ascertain that there was a death in the family. My paternal grandfather passed away Christmas Eve.

He was a whopping 92, almost 93. He had been sick for almost a year, in and out of the hospital a couple of times. This time, his kidneys failed him. He left behind a slew of daughters and sons, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

My two brothers and I were his, as the Vietnamese saying goes, “”cream nugget,”” or “”cream-filled center.”” Vietnamese pastries are often filled with a sweet paste or cream, and what the idiom basically means is that my siblings and I were his favorite grandchildren.

We came to the United States when we were very young and were able to make the most of it: We are, more or less, successful in our lives. We went, or in my case still go, to prestigious schools and have, in my brothers’ cases, thriving careers. If you were Asian, or at least Vietnamese, you would understand the importance of this to grandparents.

Despite this bestowal of pride on the three of us, we were never close with him. I do not have a lot of memories of interaction between my grandfather and myself. I do distinctly remember one, though. Bear with me as I retell it.

When I was younger, my family would often drive from Sacramento to San Jose to visit my grandparents at my uncle’s house. This time we were spending the weekend there, so I lugged along my box of G.I. Joe figures. It was morning. I remember it being cold. I brought out my box to the living room. My grandfather sat down next to me and picked up one of the figures, probably wondering to himself what the hell I was playing with and why the figures were so damned ugly. I proceeded to explain to him the figure’s name (I think it was Hydro-Viper) and what weapons he had and what he could do. He picked up another one and I again told him about that figure.

As I had mentioned, we were not particularly close. As sad as I am over his death, I didn’t find myself grieving at his funeral. I am more sorry for my grandmother than for myself. It wouldn’t be a lie to say that practically everyone was sniffling when my grandmother, tottering on her cane, slowly approached the casket to light an incense stick and to view her husband of 70 years for a final time.

I don’t know why I’m writing all this. There isn’t a real point to this column. Maybe it’s more of a catharsis for me. Or perhaps it’s an opportunity to better cope with the irony of this past holiday season. Well, it’s not working.

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