BY GERALD GAO - translated from Chinese to English
INTRODUCTION FROM THE AUTHOR
After thousands of years and many generations of accumulating wisdom and creation, countless traditions have been left. These traditions have been ingrained in my heart. It is something that is passed down, it is a belief, and it is a celebration. It’s the power that has fused the family together. April 21 is my father’s birthday. Because my mother accompanied my brother and me to the U.S. for our education, my father was alone in China managing his company. Our family had to live apart. My grandpa passed away last year. So, this year was a year of growth for our family. On my father’s birthday, I wrote this letter to him recalling the past and wishing him a happy life. I hope these traditions that I mention in this piece will continue to be passed on.
Happy birthday and stay healthy!
Today is your birthday, a special birthday. I have grown one year bigger; you have become one year older. No matter where we are, whether it be far away in the US or nearby in China, I can always hear your voice and your warmest wishes. In fact, today is a really special birthday, a special year as well. There is no family beside us here in the U.S. keeping us company, no cakes in a homey atmosphere. However, this family atmosphere has not changed whenever we talk to each other by phone. I would consider this year as a “change” for us.
I recall that Chinese New Year’s Eve, Feb. 19th, 2015. Although the day came later in the year than usual, it did not dampen the enthusiasm my brother and I had at all. A week earlier, my brother and I sat in Uncle Liu’s Audi A4 car, holding the red bags of fireworks tightly, as we had for eight years. The warm feeling flowed around me as I stared at the fireworks. I remember the words Uncle Liu said to us every year, “Stop staring! Tomorrow your dad will buy you bigger fireworks, and in a few years you will no longer be so fascinated by the fireworks.” I did not reply and wondered, “How could that happen？What can be compared to my beloved fireworks?” We arrived at the 29th floor, Grandpa’s apartment. I knew Grandpa would be sitting right beside the door, waiting to open it for us, as he did every day we came home. As always, as soon as I pressed the doorbell, Grandpa opened the door. Grandpa took the fireworks and said, “You buy this every year! As soon as we light them, they’ll be gone! Isn’t this the same as burning money?” Grandma would always be in the kitchen, busy preparing our delicious meal. When I walked in, Grandma would always walk out from the kitchen with small, light steps and say, “Dong Dong, you finally came back! Is there any good news today?” The delicious meal came out right after. At that moment, I felt like I was the happiest person in the world!
Dad! Do you still remember the pairs of Spring Festival Couplets (poetic couplets of calligraphy written with either black or gold ink onto red paper that express a fresh start in life and a new spring)? Remember the sticks of incense? The delicious fruit, the sounds of every kowtow (a Chinese custom involving kneeling and bowing with head to the ground in deep respect), the many blessing words we received, and the red envelopes (a Chinese New Year tradition in which parents, grandparents, and others gift kids a red envelope filled with money) that excited me? Of course, there was KFC, the special lunch we always had near New Year's Eve that has been one of our family traditions for nearly eight years. Every year, Dad, you would take us to Yamai (the old house we were living in) and our factory to paste the character of Fu (luck) onto the door. Every year, we ignited firecrackers in the factory. Mom would offer incense to Buddha. We always brewed a pot of jasmine tea with a fresh fragrance, and you would smoke a cigar. The exact same tradition was performed every year. After a 40-minute drive home, the lively atmosphere consisted of all 13 people, all loud and happy. Grandma was making dumplings with my aunts in the inner bedroom. Grandpa was talking about all kinds of things with my uncles on the living room sofa next to the tea desk. Cousin Lin was just hanging out and playing chess games with my brother and me. Nothing could be better than this, accompanied by the sound of firecrackers outside. When Grandma called out “Time for dumplings!”, the dumplings, right out of the first pot would be filled with gold and silver coins. We were waiting to see who would be the lucky ones biting into the coin-filled dumplings first. Among the laughter and happy conversations was the voice of Grandpa. “My Dong Dong! This is not called a festival, this is called the New Year atmosphere!”
When I heard my young voice from a video recording, I suddenly understood: I will never be able to go back. Time is gone, completely and forever. These scenes may never be seen again. "Maybe I did grow up!"
I just want to cherish the present, cherish every moment. Cherish the loved ones around me. This special birthday is also a year that has brought about many changes. I wrote this short letter to you to raise the memory of our family and wish you a future full of vitality and energy, and a happy mood to support our big family tree.
You are the tree of our family, Dad, do you remember? We love you ❤️