The second you walked into my Grandma Cora’s house you could smell the fragrance of onions, ginger, and garlic sautéing. She would swirl pancit noodles in her big pot and you could hear the music of the carrots and celery dancing as she added a splash of soy sauce.y
No matter what time of day – morning, noon, or night – Grandma always had something going in the kitchen.
Sometimes she would invite me to the table to roll Filipino lumpia with the aunties. We would scoop little portions of filling onto the egg roll wrappers. Tuck-flip-flip-roll. Tuck-flip-flip-roll.
Their fingers would fly, and I would try to keep up. I loved to listen to their stories of growing up in Hawaii and later raising their kids together in the Bay Area.
Grandma had a rice vending machine at her house. She would send me with a little bowl and tell me to press the button for one, two, or three cups of rice. Then she’d pull out the stool so I could climb up and dump it into the rice cooker. She’d measure the water using the first line on her index finger. Grandma made me sweet rice balls for snacks and twice-boiled rice when I was sick.
Somehow Grandma could make some rice and a package of chicken legs stretch to feed a multitude. There were always cousins, neighbors, and strangers showing up at the table like hungry baby birds eager for Grandma’s cooking.
Her hospitality was paramount.
Her family, including six kids, immigrated from the Philippines to the Hawaiian islands when she was a girl. Their Filipino culture blended in with the locals. They embodied the Hawaiian spirit of aloha that extended welcoming arms to all. They had a way of making strangers into family.
My grandma was also creative. When she wasn’t making art in the kitchen, you could find her crafting, sewing, or singing. She took up oil painting in her late fifties, and every inch of her home was covered in framed canvases. Her greatest delight was in painting fuchsia-colored hibiscus flowers and crashing ocean waves.
When I was a young teen, she encouraged me to pursue my creative interests. She would jump on a plane and fly across the country to see me perform in a piano or dance recital or to cheer on my brother at the theater. Her courage to try new things encouraged me as young person.
Grandma had a deep sense of adventure and loved to travel. She worked for thirty years for United Airlines so she could enjoy the privileges of exploring the world with reduced-cost airline tickets. She and my grandpa took trips to places like Australia, Italy, England, France, Spain, China, and the Philippines. She loved to eat food with the locals and make new friends.
During my senior year of college, my vivacious grandma had a sudden heart attack and went into a coma. I flew to California to be by her side in those days of quiet waiting. Despite the machines and the tubes, she was the picture of peace. I didn’t want to believe it at the time, but she was ready to meet her Savior.
We held her wrinkled artist hands and sang hymns and her favorite hula songs to her. She couldn’t speak, but she squeezed my hand whenever I would sing. I knew she heard me.
Those music notes were the last exchange of the heart we had.
I hope one day that people will reflect on my life and they will recognize these gifts of generous hospitality, courageous creativity, a sense of adventure, and deep faith. Grandma certainly planted the seeds.
The morning Grandma Cora soared to heaven, my hibiscus plant bloomed on my front porch in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I stepped outside on that brisk May morning of my college graduation, and I knew in my heart she was gone. The earth could not hold her anymore. The Master Gardener had called her home.
Some of you may spend this Mother’s Day without your mamas and grandmas. There are many of us who will taste the bittersweet of this holiday because we will miss them.
I am reminded of Timothy and how Paul attributed to him the legacy of faith passed on by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). Friends, let’s acknowledge our losses, but let’s also embrace the opportunity to live the legacy of the courageous women who have gone before us.
Aloha, Grandma Cora.
*I wrote a children’s picture book called Cora Cooks Pancit that celebrates Filipino cooking, culture, and Grandma’s legacy. You can find details here.
*This blog was originally published at www.incourage.me.
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