And Then She Was Gone
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She lived a life of poverty on a hillside in Sanxiang town, Guangdong Province, China. Verqun’s grandmother was stricken with dementia. I only met her once, on New Year’s Day. The family invited me to their home for dinner. When I saw the living conditions, I was humbled. I’ve seen poverty in my travels to Mexico, Ukraine, Africa, and even Los Angeles.
This was different. The house – nay, the shack was at the bottom of the hill. A path led upward into the vast orchard where they grew a variety of sub-tropical fruits. And there were chickens roaming the grounds, shared with the dogs and goats. The nearest neighbors raised pigs, and the Huang family often traded their spoils as needed.
But on this day, they prepared a feast. Verqun’s father concocted a banquet of chicken, pork, duck, fish, and vegetables in their makeshift kitchen. The occasional cat-sized rat and mammoth roach scurried across the floor in search of scraps that jumped out of the sizzling wok.
Everyone gathered in the “dining room” which transformed into a living room, laundry room, sewing room, and multi-purpose central space as required. There was conversation in Cantonese (which I could not comprehend), and laughter. There was happiness, and they expressed their honor that a foreigner would visit their home and share their special holiday meal. The bottle of Cabernet from the Western world that I brought to the table delighted their palates. Wine was hardly in their budget.
Before the sun disappeared that evening, I returned to my middle-class apartment in Zhongshan, all the while remembering the hospitality of this family who had so little but enjoyed so much.
Several months later, Verqun called to inform me that her grandmother was gone. But even with her limited ability to recall events, grandma had spoken often about the foreigner who dined in her home.