Last week was awesome, not just because I took vacation but because my sister Nancy and my parents both came from California to spend the week with us here in hot, humid, and rainy Orlando. Nancy came from Oakland a couple days before and met us in Amelia Island where I was a speaker at a conference. On Sunday we all drove back to Orlando and picked up my parents from the airport.
As Nancy and I headed to the airport to greet our parents who were coming in from Los Angeles, there was the usual anticipation for what goodies they will have brought us. Over all the years whenever my parents came to visit me, whether it’d be in Rochester MN during residency, Chicago during fellowship, and the 10 years in Kansas City, and now here in Orlando, they always came with suitcases filled with food. I mean A LOT OF FOOD!
I love sharing the story of when I came home from the hospital after giving birth to Claire, and within a few hours my parents arrived from LA, they came into the house immediately unpacking the crazy overweight suitcases full of so much food: there were the 7 organic free-range chickens with all the Chinese herbs that they plan to make special broth to “replenish” the needs of a women who is postpartum, frozen and wrapped in many layers of plastic; fresh/frozen bamboo; couple dozen fresh just baked (night before of that morning) pastries from Chinese bakeries filled with red bean paste (acquired test for you readers but an addiction for me), taro paste, and even BBQ pork; Chilean sea bass filets; sticky rice with shitaki mushrooms/pork wrapped in bamboo leaves, what Nancy calls “Chimales” (Chinese Tamales); and as much other Taiwanese cookies/pastries/peanut brittle from Taiwan as they have saved in their freezer so they can bring them for Dave, Claire and I to have instead of enjoying these goodies themselves. Yes, it’s all their fault that I held onto the baby weight for over a year after giving birth!
Even though Claire is now 8, I am 44 and no longer post-partum, my parent’s expression of love for me is ever so tenderly felt through their always intentional and generous action of bringing food for me. We haven’t seen my parents since last December. While they do not ever say “I love you” or hug when we first greet, even after over 6 months of not seeing one another, they love me through the food they bring, the cooking my father tireless does for us while visiting, and cleaning of our refrigerator and reorganizing of our pantry. This time just as always, as soon as my father walked through the door, the first 30 minutes involved unpacking 1 medium suitcase full of Taiwanese wedding cookies, walnut/carmel chewy candy, peanut brittle, crunchy buttery “egg-roll” pastry individually packed so Claire can bring them as a part of her daily school lunch, fresh “tempura” (not breading for fried shrimp but chewy fish paste chunks we use for soup), more Chimales and the sauce that goes with it, frozen scallion pancakes, frozen king mackerel filet, pineapple filled pastries, expensive Taiwanese tea leaves, etc…
As if that wasn’t enough. My father, who turned 70 this year, gave me what I have wanted: fruit trees in our yard. For years, I always loved visiting them in their home in Arcadia before they downsized this past year and sold their home. Dad had grown an amazing fruit orchard including mandarin oranges, lemons, guava, apples, plums, peaches, and kumquats. Claire grew up picking mandarin oranges with “A-Gong” (Chinese term for grandpa). Friday after Fourth of July, my father and I went to Home Depot, where he enthusiastically picked out the “best” guava, mandarin orange, and 2 lemon trees to plant in our yard for us. We walked around the perimeter of the house to make sure we picked the best spots. He proudly told me that if we save the pots and receipt, Home Depot will replace the plants/trees if any of them do not survive in the next year, not that we expect that to happen with his expertise of course.
The next day, on an early Sunday morning when we were already sticky from the humidity, Claire anxiously offered to help A-Gong with the tree planting. She told me that she wanted to get her hands “dirty” to help the microbiome in her gut (she had just read about microbiome in her ASK magazine) For a child who hates to get her hands dirty, I knew this would be special for all of us. I watched my 70-year old father get down on his hands and knees, digging holes into that porous Florida sand/dirt, creating a bed with Miracle Gro, then gently placing the tree into the hole, and meticulously mixing the sand/dirt/soil and securing the tree with a stick so it would grow “straight.” Dad was dripping with sweat and his hands and clothes were filled with dirt when we were done, yet the pride and joy on his face made me hold back the tears. He talked about how quickly the trees would grow, and how soon they should produce fruit. We both looked forward to their next visit when he can check on the progress of these trees that should produce for his little girl...his 44 year old little girl.
I must be getting more nostalgic as I age, and I can’t tell you how sad I feel that they are leaving to return to LA tomorrow. Every day until my parents return, Claire and I will check on our fruit trees, see and feel my parents’ unspoken love for me and my own family. As we continue to eat the foods they have brought and stocked in our freezer, that too will be a constant reminder of how much they care.