I was honored to learn today that my short story, “Your Grandmother, the War Criminal” will be appearing in a new anthology: Approaching Literature: Reading, Thinking, and Writing 4/e by Peter Schakel and Jack Ridl from Bedford/St. Martin’s/Macmillan.
The anthology will be coming out in September 2016!
“Your Grandmother, the War Criminal” is a story within a story. A grandmother is teaching her granddaughter how to fold origami cranes at the same time that she is telling the story of her own mother and their life together in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII. When I was writing this story, I liked the idea of a story about family history being embedded inside a lesson on how to do something. In my experience, this was how women passed down family stories–talking while their hands remained busy.
I remember my own paternal grandmother telling me about her mother in China as she was trying to teach me how to knit.
I had a weird plastic Barbie-brand knitting machine, which was supposed to create a knitted tube dress that would fit any Barbie doll. Nai-nai took one look at it and tsked, and quickly unraveled the hideous multi-colored tube. Instead she whipped two knitting needles and showed me how to cast on then knit a straight row.
“My mother taught me in China,” she said. “Now you try.”
I was able to knit only a few rows before I began dropping stitches. My rows were uneven, looking like hideous crooked teeth in a candy-colored mouth. The kit had come with a small skein of rainbow-colored yarn, which was all the rage in the flower-powered 70s, but not so attractive to think about now. I kept going, however, until I had a long, oddly twisted rainbow with a hole in the middle. I had no idea where the hole had come from.
Nai-nai took the needles from my hands, and rapidly undid my stitches then re-knitted the rows so that they were straight and even, the hole completely gone.
“How did you do that?” I asked. Her fingers had moved too fast for my eyes to follow. “That’s amazing!”
“No, no, no,” she said. “I’m no good. My mother could really knit. Long scarves, sweaters.” She gestured in the air, miming a garment she didn’t know the word for in English. “She could fix anything.”
And then, remembering, Nai-nai began to cry and she stopped knitting to wipe her eyes.
Thinking about her mother, who had died long ago, always made my grandmother cry.
I never really learned to knit well, I had neither the knack nor the patience, but I never forgot this moment, the way the story was knitted into the scarf.