"Mukashi Shanghai ni sunde imashita."
(I) used to live in Shanghai long ago.
My grandmother went to high school. This is very unusual for her age, and it shows that she was from a well-off family. Her father was friends with the Indian poet Tagor. After graduation, she married my grandfather in an arranged marriage (probably sounds familiar to the Asians among us). Grandfather's work took the family to Shanghai, which was occupied by Japan back then. She had a Chinese housekeeper who taught her to cook Chinese recipies. I make vegetable stir-fry quite frequently. I think it's all connected; I learned to cook from my mother, who learned to cook from my grandmother, who learned to cook Chinese from her housekeeper.
When Japan lost the war, the resident Japanese made a mad dash for the harbor so that they could board ships bound for Japan before (understandably) vengeful Chinese had something to say. My mother was all of seven months old at the time. Her survival of the journey back to Japan is something of a family legend.
They'd lost everything. I am not exactly sure how it came to be so when my grandfather was alive and well at the time, but my grandmother was the breadwinner for the family of six. At one time, she worked as a washwoman in one of the American bases in Tokyo. They were looking for someone younger and tuberculosis free (Streptomycin cured her tuberculosis, but left her deaf in one ear), but unlike any of the other applicants, she spoke English (she'd studied it in high school) so they took her. My mother was one of the only people in her class whose mother could help her with her English homework.
When my youngest sister was born in the US, she flew over to help my mother take care of me and my younger brother while she recovered. Again, she wrangled the local supermarkets and elementary school pick-ups with her English skills and her general savvy.
That's how we remember my grandmother. That beautiful woman has been gone for a while (the end stages of Alzheimer's left her staring at the ceiling. She had to be fed through a hole in her stomach), and we all miss her, but that's just the way nature works, I guess. So when she finally left us this past Tuesday, no one seemed that sad. And that doesn't make us bad people. It just means that the way she has been the past year or so is not the way we remember her. Which, I think, is how my grandmother would like it.