One day, my brother from the old country called to report that father was sick. Barely 24 hours later, he called back to let me know that he passed away. Together with my brother in Portland, and sister in L.A., we went back to bury my father in the island of our childhood. My grieving mother had just turned 75.
A few months later, my mother left my brother’s house in the city and went to lived for good in the island. She took over running my father’s poultry business and started talking about building a new house. We were all dismayed. We all thought she was going to immigrate to the United States and lived with us. As the oldest sibling, I was tasked with convincing her to change her mind.
“Ma, why do you need to build a new house?” I asked gently.
“Why – I have so many things in different places,” she replied. “I have some furniture from your grandfather’s house, some stuff in your brother’s house, here, there ….,” she paused. “I’d like all my things in my very own house.”
“What stuff?” I asked.
“Oh, plates, gifts, those things inside the china cabinet at the rented house in the city,” she replied.
“But those are mostly plastic items, aren’t they? I asked.
“What do you mean plastic?” her voice went up a notch. “Those were gifts for my wedding, plates and platters I bought through the years, souvenirs,” she added heatedly, displeasure unmistakable in the tone of her voice. “Don’t worry; I’m not going to ask you for money to build this house,” she added testily.
“Well, it’s not that - how big is this house you’re planning to build?” I asked.
“I’m thinking a normal size house with five bedrooms,” she replied curtly.
“Isn’t that a bit too big for you? We don’t want you getting lost in your own house,” I joked.
“That is so you have a place to stay when you all come down to visit,” she explained simply
I thought that it would be really hard for all three of us working in the United States to coordinate our vacations and visits all the time. I pointed out that even if we wanted to, we could not afford to visit with our families every year; that it would not make sense to build a large house for that purpose alone.
But my mother was adamant. Her mind was made up that all her children should be under one roof whenever we visit. It does not matter if the visits occurred every five years. The house would be there, our rooms would be waiting for us.
“We’ve talked previously about your coming to live with us,” I reminded her. “So when can I file a petition for you?” I asked.
“Later,” she replied.
“How much later?” I persisted.
“When I finished building my house,” she answered
Three years later, she still would not let us file a petition for her. Her house was filled with my grandparents’ furniture - tables, rocking chair and beds, my grandmother’s shell collection, my father’s clothes and old shoes, her wedding gifts and all sorts of useless brick a brack that she had stored inside the warehouse built behind the large house. We talked to her often on the telephone but I’ve stopped asking when she wanted to come lived with us. She seemed happier there with her things and her memories.