In Chinese, PoPo means maternal grandmother.
PoPo was the first Chinese word that I learned to say, followed by Gung Gung, the word for maternal grandfather. My Gung Gung passed away two years before I was born. My third Chinese word was likely learned off of a menu.
My PoPo raised five children and adored nine grandchildren. She called us Precious Heart. It was a term of endearment that melt into a single world, preciousheart, three syllables that I've never heard used by anyone else.
Every time my brother or I had a major school event, my PoPo would take the train and visit. We'd pick her up from the train station for our graduations from elementary school and middle school, and my brother's high school graduation last June. She visited for the various theme days that my school held, Grandparent's day in the first grade, Greek styled Olympics in the fourth.
She was most proud of our academic achievements, and would reward our positive report cards with small amounts of money that she'd send to us in hong bao, lucky red envelopes. More often than bills, we would receive coin money, a silver Susan B. Anthony clinking against a golden Sacagawea, or several half dollars. For Christmas of 1999 the present from her that I was allowed to open (my parents dealt with envelopes- they were (rightly) afraid that I would tear enclosed checks apart in my wrapping paper frenzy) was a thin green state quarter book. After that, whenever I visited her, she would give freshly minted quarters to me so that I could fill the book.
In these last few months, she spoke less and less. We'd talk every couple of days, but never for very long because it would tire her out. Most vividly, I remember a conversation that we had in January while I was in New York. I had finished my day of work in Brooklyn, and called her as I often did while I was walking to the subway. Because our conversations were short, if I dialed her number when I was passing the Vietnamese restaurant, I would be puckering my lips in my loud and childish way to kiss her goodbye by the time I got to the entrance to the subway. We talked for longer that day, and I walked up and down the street next to the subway a couple of times while I told her about my job. It was a pleasant type of cold, and the snow was beginning to melt and dampen the sidewalk with the fresh concrete type of smell. I made some mentions about college visiting, and she told me how she knew that I was a smart girl, and that I would be happy wherever I went. Then she said how she was proud of me. Proud of all of us.
And I think that's when I knew. My PoPo had lived a long and happy life. And she was ready for whatever came next.
That was one of the last conversations that I had with my PoPo. I saw her two times after that and I got to hold her hand and say my goodbyes. I kissed her on both cheeks and told her that I loved her. I wish that there was more that I could say, more that I could have said, but I doubt that there are ever words to make saying goodbye any easier.
She's been telling my aunts about seeing a black bird outside of her window for the past couple of days. It's friendly, she told them, a nice type of bird. She said that it was coming to take her to heaven.
My PoPo passed away yesterday afternoon. Tell me if you see any black birds.