My Chinese Grandfather

My grandfather is not the stereotypical cherry old fellow described in most fairy tales. In contrast, he is an individual of few words and expressions with an edge towards being anti-social. Whenever my mother speaks of him, she is often stoic. Moreover, my cousin also politely pays adage to him. It can be referred to as a difference between generations or the boundaries of time, but rarely makes it simple for anyone to talk to him, not even my grandmother. From the little that I understand about him, I recall that he previously served in the military.

I recall during one of my holidays; the whole extended family went back to our grandparents’ place. Even though everyone engaged in a siesta after a hearty meal, only my grandfather and I sat in the corridor. Therefore, I made an attempt to nonchalantly create small talk by asking whether he had previously served in the military; to which I had received a curt “yes”. Piqued by this line of conversation, I swayed my chair in his direction and asked him about the nature of military life. Although he often spoke with an air of stuffiness, his façade gradually faded away as we delved deeper into the conversation. As he turned to face me, his voice was thick with overtones of an accent and fluctuated with the swaying of his emotions as his hand gestured in harmonious synchronization. He explained about how he was drafted into the army, several events before my mother was born, people that have passed on, as well as individuals he stilled idolized. By some an act of happenstance, I had opened the gates of Grandpa’s stories while quietly (but duly) listening to what he had to say. When he spoke, I made sure not to interject and interrupt him. Just like the snapping of my fingers, four hours elapsed and we had talked for more than we had in the last decade or so. I had seen a softer side of him rarely shown to outsiders or even his family members.

 By the time it got to five, most of our family members had awoken from their slumber. In the midst of everything, my grandfather stepped out for a smoke, while I turned to read my novel. No one else had knowledge of our long-winded and honest talk that fateful afternoon, and I wanted things to remain that way.

Now and then, grandfather would try to share his past stories at the dining table, but my mom or uncle would always interject and change the subject with “this dish is marvelous” or such. Perhaps very few relatives dare to be so straight-forward with an elder like my grandpa. In this regard, very few have honestly cared to listen to his old time anecdotes, but never again have I seen my grandfather’s eyes light up amidst discussions. Arguably, my grandpa was just unwilling to share his cherished experience with people who had no interest in them. From his conduct, I had implicitly learned that my grandfather was an individual who valued his experiences above everything else and expected his listeners to be sincere and patient.

Most individuals around me have always told me that I am a very great listener. However, I have to pay tribute to that fateful afternoon chat for teaching me that a crucial step to building a close relationship with someone is to be a sincere and patient listener.

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