Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 5:32:39 AM
My grandmother was an immigrant, a victim of Parkinson’s disease, and a bread flower sculptor. Her room always smelled like fresh-baked bread, soft as wet clay, with the faintest whisper of ginger clinging to the edges of all the furniture. When I was younger, I’d always shuffle quietly in for visits, with the scents and distinct Korean style of the room transporting me into a different realm, one I knew I should have been familiar with. As a second generation Korean, my grandmother’s room was like a magic castle filled with clues to my identity; I loved to explore the closet, and to try reading the books written in a language I could just barely understand. Her room was filled with Oriental beauty, but the most elegant things were my grandmother’s hands.
My grandmother’s hands always shook. There were slight tremors, and things like writing and making dumplings took longer for her than it did for others. I’d always thought it was a sign of age, and it wasn’t until much later that my mother explained to me the motor disorder that was Parkinson’s disease. However, despite the shaking and slowness, my grandmother’s hands were the strongest, the most precise, and the most beautiful things in the world when she sculpted her bread flowers. After mixing a combination of white bread and Elmer’s glue into clay, my grandmother would color and mold the clay into flower arrangements. She would take a small bit of clay, and fold and cut it to create anything from daisies to lilies. Pink roses were her favorite; she made dozens of clay wreathes with roses as the focus. She would even teach me how to make a few simple flowers, and use them in her arrangements. My small hands quivered almost as much as her experienced ones, as I stressed over making each flower perfect, so as not to ruin my grandmother’s arrangements.
My grandmother was a fighter. Despite her disease, she continued creating arrangements until the moment she died. Maybe the stubbornness was something she was forced to develop as an immigrant. After all, she did have to raise six children as a widow, in a country that spoke a language she couldn’t understand. Despite the struggles and poverty, she managed to send all her children to college, and all eventually found relative success. My uncles, aunt, and father love to remind us, the second generation, of the reason why we can live in comfortable homes; it all comes down to my grandmother, and her perseverance. Because of this, my hero is my grandmother. As weak as she seemed, reliant on her walker and always trembling as she was, my grandmother was stronger than anyone I know. Even though she’s gone now, the memory of her efforts and fighting spirit continue to linger; on the wall of my room hangs a clay flower arrangement, brightly colored and smelling slightly of fresh bread and ginger.