Her name is “O.”
Most days she feels a tremendous gap of time and space between herself and her children. She is the Old Generation. The kids were the first to see comforts and have opportunities she only imagined for them when she took the necessary risks and traveled half the world to start a new life. Most days she tries to fit in. Most days she can pretend she’s American and live for the little pleasures that her citizenship entail. But most days too, she remembers her mother and the country she left behind.
O remembers her mother the way some people envision heaven. They talk about heaven like they’ve been there before, and someday they’ll go back; and heaven will be unchanged yet somehow better because you’ve missed it so much. Her mother died in the night when she was 14, and O spent the rest of her life feeling the loss. She knows regret and wasted time so profoundly that she tastes them in her morning tea. Once a brilliant student who could do higher math in her head, she dropped out of school for a while and fell behind. Nothing seemed to relieve the loneliness, not even years later, when she married an educated man who swore to keep her safe and give her the world.
Her daughter grew up feeling O’s loss too. Some days it seemed as if the daughter herself reminded O of her tragedy. O tried to teach her the things her mother stressed when she was alive. To her dismay, her perfect baby girl grew into a tomboy, mischievous and, at times, reckless. It didn’t matter that it was only the culture gap that made her seem deviant. The lessons turned forceful and heart-breaking. So it seemed to the daughter that O never learned tenderness or compassion from her mother, which were the things O talked of the most when she recalled her. But there was to come a time when finally, O and her daughter saw one another for what they really are, and that there was as much likeness in their relationship as there had been between O and her mother.
So O stopped focusing on making her daughter perfect and tries instead to help her remember the past, though she sometimes thinks it’s useless. After all, they still argue about the same old things. She crochets blankets and scarves to give her daughter, hoping she will keep them and always have something by which to remember her. Of her own mother, she has very little tangible memories. All that is left of her – one aged photograph somehow salvaged during the migration – sits on the mantle, a part of the family shrine. What O wants more than anything is for her daughter to carry on the traditions of their ancestors and never have to regret time wasted when she is gone.
Every day, O remembers her mother in prayer. But every once in a while, everyday things will make a particular memory especially sharp, like when it rains.
Driving down a busy highway in the town in which she has been transplanted, O watches the raindrops falling against the windows. Her daughter is driving and turns on the windshield wipers. She looks over at her mother and cannot see her face; but she knows something is wrong. O has gone to a place only she remembers vividly, like turning on the television and watching her memories on replay. Her daughter says nothing. O puts her hand against the glass gently, as if trying to feel the rain through it.
“When it rains like this, I miss my mom,” says O.
Her English has been getting better, but her accent is still thick, unmindful of the twenty-odd years she has lived in America. Her daughter stays quiet, letting her mother find the words she knows are hard to gather.
“When it rained, we all used to come inside after playing,” O continues. “My mom would have a warm pot of jok on the fire. There was one room, and the fire in the middle would make the whole place warm. We hurried to gather around her and get dry, and she would serve us each a bowl of jok. I miss my mom…”
She trails off, and her daughter is speechless. She wants to speak, maybe say something to comfort her mother, but she is stunned by O’s rare display of the ability to convey her feelings. O’s daughter hears the simple words like poetry, again and again. Then she realizes that the memory gives as much joy as pain, and there is nothing to be said in comfort.
When it rains, O remembers her mother. And now her daughter remembers too. Her brilliant mother, her courageous mother, hiding behind adult education courses and feeling, on most days, confused and unsure of herself… she doesn’t realize it yet, but she is the reason her daughter will never forget.