A Eulogy to My Grandfather

gs-nguyen-tu-mo

To my Grandfather, Nguyen Tu Mo:

The story that often gets told about me when I was one or two years old was how slowly I ate. My mother would come home from work in the evening to find my grandfather, my Ong Noi, patiently feeding me baby food. Except that wasn’t my dinner. I was still finishing up my lunch with Ong Noi offering me one slow spoonful after another. The ordeal of feeding me had started at noon.

But that was the kind of person Ong Noi was. He possessed an endless reservoir of patience and kindness. When I got sick in preschool and became a crying, vomit-covered mess, Ong Noi would come to pick me up and bring me home. Seeing his calm demeanor comforted me every time. And I never saw him get angry or exasperated even when he’d have to fetch me from the school bus terminal because I had gotten on the wrong bus for the 3rd time that week. He’d cheerfully arrive and take me by the hand and we’d walk to his car together.

In addition to being a good caretaker, Ong Noi was also a great teacher. My early civics lessons revolved around Ong Noi taking me to rallies protesting Vietnam’s communist government. I’d march around, hold signs and shout along with the protestors. There, I witnessed camaraderie from their united purpose, but I also saw heated moments from those who did not have the context to understand why Vietnam’s freedom meant so much to us. But Ong Noi, through that experience, taught me to stand firm for what I believed in and to put larger interests above myself. It’s a lesson that has stayed with me.

As I grew older, and my siblings, Oliver and Romie came into the world, Ong Noi was always there to help smooth over the rough times. When my mother fell ill, Ong Noi readily took all three of us in for a week. As worrying as the situation was, he still cheered us up by taking us to Mile Square Park, letting us walk around and feed the ducks and geese as they waddled over and honked at us. I remember sitting in the family room, watching his fingers deftly fly across the Nintendo controller as he played his favorite game, Dr. Mario. But most of all, I loved his stories of Vietnam and how he went from being a judge, to finally becoming a professor at Vietnam’s Dental School in Saigon.

When it came to life milestones, Ong Noi was always there to celebrate each one. He was there for all my graduations: high school, undergrad, and grad school. And on my end, I got to spend time with him, taking him to Tet Festivals or community anniversaries where he’d scurry around with the energy of a man 20 years younger to catch up with friends old and new. He was a good man, a wonderful teacher, and an amazing grandfather who approached life with a vigor and persistence that allowed him to do so much for everyone else, but also be with us grandkids every step of the way. A man who loved and cared deeply and was loved in return. A judge, dentist, professor, community leader, husband, father, but most importantly to me, my Ong Noi. May we treasure our memories of him and the lives of all he touched.

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