Jon Moy is a freelance writer based in Detroit. He’s written about a lot of things, but mostly about fashion. He’s just happy to be here. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @moybien1212.
Every month or so, I take my grandma shopping. We hit up Costco, the Chinese grocery store, bakery, and wherever else she needs to go. I miss it. I miss her. With everything going on, it’s just not safe to take her, or to eat bbq pork buns in her kitchen while we plan our next meal and pretend that we aren’t quietly competing with one another through our gardens.
Thankfully, watching your elders shop and casually dispense cooking and cultural knowledge is a blessing I didn’t need a global pandemic to value. When you’re part of an immigrant diaspora, you understand almost innately what it’s like to be separated from loved ones. There are relatives you’ll never meet, relatives who, when the long dreamed of and talked about meeting takes place, remind you of just how American you are, how different you really are, how much about your family and yourself you have to learn. Learning about who you are and where you come from can be like untangling the ravels of a mystery, piecing together stories cobbled from offhand remarks and anecdotes sprinkled about dinners, and in my case, the time spent driving between Costcos and Chinese groceries. Oftentimes it’s a memory triggered by something in the window: cattails remind her of the times she had to eat them during the Japanese invasion of China, or how the machine guns from the planes sounded as they ran to hide in the bamboo forests along the mountains. I’ve found driving in the car with my dad and my grandma has provided more insight into their lives than any other technique. Once, driving to Chicago to visit relatives, my dad casually told me of the time his father, who died before we could meet, with no real explanation, asked him to join him on a trip to Cleveland for a funeral of a relative he had never met. I never have pushed for more details than my dad or my grandma offered at the time, to do so always seems like it would ruin the moment, or I run the risk of cutting the story short. I love hearing about the store my great grandfather ran in the village, selling peanuts and whiskey and everything in between. I love learning how to cook comfort foods, which soy sauce to buy, and what to look for when picking out the best beef tongue or chicken feet. But I also love learning that my grandma enjoys Marie Callender’s pot pies and those frozen hashbrowns from Trader Joe’s.
We all have someone we’re missing, someone we have can’t learn more about through the minutiae and mundane. If we’re lucky, our loved ones are just a video chat or phone call away and for now, that’s enough. It has to be enough. And if you can, donate time or funds to a group like Meals on Wheels, because community and family are all we have, before, and after this.