I have moved in and out of many houses throughout the years, but none of them were as important to me as the house in which I grew up. I must admit that this house, although enormous, was neither the nicest nor the most comfortable house, yet my nostalgic nature has propelled me to treasure that house above all others. Having parted it for almost ten years, some details of the house are out of my grasp. The memory of the house now stands as a symbol of my childhood. It is the only place that I remember nothing but pure happiness, suffused with youthful innocence and carefree laughter that would never fade.
The front yard of the house was a vacant space with a large concrete sink conspicuously imposed in one corner. Grandma used to stand upon the red brick pavement in front of this sink every morning; cleaning vegetables for meals, washing clothes from the day before, or scrubbing pots and bowls in soapy water. When grandma was doing her chores at the sink, I would stagger into the yard with my little green wooden chair dragging behind, set it a few feet from grandma, sit down and watch her hands maneuver among the items with fascinated eyes. Every now and then, along the clanks of hardware, some bubbles struggled free of gravity and rose into the air. That was when I would routinely utter an excited yelp and kick back my chair to chase the bubbles, which reflected sunlight more colorfully than crystal balls in the cheerful crisp mornings. If I were lucky, grandma would give me a little basin with water and a few drops of dish soap in which to play with.
The procedure was always the same: I lowered my face almost to the surface of the water, intently stared at the spreading yellow solution without a blink, as if to hurry the process. As soon as the solution faded into the water, I shoved my hands into the basin and gave the water a fanatic stir, laughing, panting, as shiny bubbles magically foamed in the entire basin. Most of the time, I could scoop up the bubbles with both hands and blow at them as hard as I could. The aftermath was predictable, bubbles were everywhere: in the air, on the ground and over my face. At this point, grandma would turn around to look at me with feigned solemnity. After helping me wipe soap away from my face, she retreated into the house to prepare lunch, while I sat alone in the yard, watching bubbles pop in a hurried manner. The refreshing lemony scent of the soap lingered in the air long after the bubbles were gone.
Around noon, the hunger pain in my stomach and the delicious smell of food from kitchen attracted each other like opposite sides of a magnet. Without knowing, I was already tripping over the tall threshold that led to the living room. The living room was the dominant structure of this ancient house. It was profusely furnished with mahogany antiques that had carvings of dragons, phoenixes and other traditional Chinese symbols on it signifying its venerable history. The room itself was equally old; the whitewash on the walls was starting to peel, the red paint on the wooden doors appeared rather flaky. I would usually stop at the giant gate of the living room to peel off a few flakes of paint from its already-marred surface. But the need to go to the kitchen appeared more urgent to me at that moment. The kitchen was a moderately sized cubicle positioned at the rear of the living room. Squares of tidy white tiles covered its lower half of walls and floor.
The kitchen counter and the stoves were lined up against the inner side of the wall. It seemed to me that grandma always had something cooking on the stoves, thus constantly diffusing the house with a faint yet pleasant aroma. The counter was home to a large collection of kitchen utensils; from plain enamel bowls to elegant porcelain plates, from iron woks to stainless steel pots, all of which had found their righteous place on the counter and lined up haughtily. The most repulsive piece was the pressure cooker, but for some reason grandma loved to use it. I remember countless times when I watched in awe at this strange apparatus restlessly ejecting streams of white vapor from a revolving black knob, while making incessant hissing sounds, loud and repelling, as if foretelling some imminent danger.
Lunch was held at the little round table placed in the center of the kitchen. Usually, grandma would be at the table as I entered the room, kitting, strings of wool ascending tirelessly out of a basket near her feet as she skillfully transformed them into garments. While I climbed into a chair next to her, she would lay down her needlework atop the colorful balls of wool and start transporting plates of food to the table under my anticipatory watch.
As soon as my bowl of rice arrived, I would launch a ravenous attack into the foods; chopsticks clicked hungrily amongst the different dishes as I mounted palatable delicacies on top of my steamed rice. In contrast, grandma ate her meal with suaveness; she had told me rules like “don’t eat with your mouth open” “don’t make noises when you eat”, but they were luckily never enforced (at least not then). “Slow down,” she would say benignly, watching me munch on my mouthful. I would mumble something in reply, but kept on devouring my favorites. Despite all these, my avarice still had its payback on me, I was never able to finish all the foods I hoarded in my bowl, thus by the end of each meal, I could find myself begging for grandma’s pardon.
“I’m so full.” I whined, meanwhile searching for traces of relent on grandma’s face.
“You shouldn’t waste food, the farmers worked hard for those.” Grandma said sternly.
“I won’t next time, I promise.”
“Alright then, just go take your nap.”
Upon the hearing of this “acquittal”, I slipped out of my customized tall chair at once and started to scurry to the master bedroom, which was located on the left side of the living room, a few feet from the dinning table. Once inside the bedroom, I immediately approached the “main attraction” – an old 18-inch colored TV that was placed on a tarnished cabinet. With great eagerness, I reached my arms upward and stretched my body to its fullest extent; my fingertips fumbled among a row of smooth buttons. Finally, I felt the round indent I was looking for and pressed it laboriously. Loud voices from the TV suddenly filled the entire room; I slouched heavily into grandma’s oversized bed with relief and gasped for air, as if I had finished racing with a neighboring kid. But a minute later, I was already comfortably reclining against the bedrail and enjoying the exuberant cartoons. I would stare for a long time at this little black box with uttermost attention until sleepiness prevailed. The images were no more than blobs of colors and the voices were reduced into a vague humming sound as I slowly drifted into a deep sleep.
When I woke up again, the fierce afternoon sunlight has softened into a tinge of warm orange. I could hear noises in the living room as my parents and grandpa returned from work. With a sudden jolt, I swung myself out of bed and wobbled hastily into the living room. There, everyone was already seated around the large dining table. Still a bit hazy from sleep, I found myself a spot between my parents, snuggled against them obsequiously in order to receive trinkets they have brought me. Dinner soon ensued; I played with my new toys heartily as the adults chatted and joked, occasionally laughing along with them at some jokes that I could not then comprehend. Congenial happiness was written on everyone’s face, which shined brightly under the white florescent light…
The house has vanished among the tides of city’s reconstruction, but the reminiscence I have of it will never fade. I envisioned my mind as a vast coastal beach; passing time would hide pieces of my memories like fine sands over beautiful shell. Although they can be temporarily out of my reach, I knew they were out there, somewhere hidden, and waiting for a tide to reveal them to their righteous owner.