Manual Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge: A Journey to My Daughters Birthplace in China

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They have always been studying.

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As dusk fell, hundreds of parents, blankets and pillows in hand, filed into a gym to stake out their territory, jostling for spots near the bleachers. They washed their faces and brushed their teeth in nearby locker rooms. The gym echoed with a cacophony of dialects from across China, and many parents struggled to understand one another.

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Yang Luping, an English teacher from rural China, reminded her daughter that soon she would have to learn to do her own laundry now that she was in college. When her daughter was young, she bought her Barbie dolls to encourage her studies.

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She sent her to boarding school and washed her clothes every weekend when she came home. For many parents, having a front-row seat at move-in provided an opportunity to set a few rules. Ding, the farmer, said she worried about how her son, Mr. Yang, would fare in a city with so many skyscrapers and distractions. He came down with fevers frequently as a child.

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And he sometimes seemed addicted to his cellphone, she said, playing games and devouring sci-fi novels. After the more than hour journey by train and bus from their hometown in Hubei Province to the tents in Tianjin, Ms.

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Ding offered some advice. No video games. No lazy friends.

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And no romantic relationships. Her depression and other hardships left us with a cold home and little attention. But the void left by our lack of a happy home was filled exponentially by our Grandparents and their home on the river. The minute we passed into St. Mary's County knowing our grandparent's home was near, our anticipation became unbearable.

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  • The final approach to their house was going down the "turtle road" where Maryland snapping turtles and terrapins were often seen sauntering across. Lui and Anne Granados were married for sixty-five years when Lui died at the age of He was a Spanish immigrant and she the Mayor's daughter. They lived there well into their sixties until Granddaddy retired.

    Shortly after his retirement they finished building their dream house on the water in St. Mary's County, named the house after their home-town Riverdale and moved there permanently. Their six children my mother, Anita is the second oldest in the striped dress below spawned thirty children between them.

    Being a part of the Granados clan is an indescribable blessing. A sixth generation has been born and there are more than of us today. Nothing can replace the memories I have of spending summers with my cousins, endless hours on the beach, the smell of steamed crabs, watching the oyster boats coming in from the Bay, chilly evenings fishing on the pier with my brothers and uncles, and crabbing in the morning before the sun came up.

    There was always room for one or two more in the car, around the table, in the boat - whatever. Whatever I missed at home, I found double at my grandparents, and those blessings that most take for granted are magnified in my memory as priceless experiences, treasured and remembered. I miss my grandmother terribly and think of her almost every day I miss her putting us to bed and saying our prayers with us. I often slept in the childhood bed of my mother under a large picture window that overlooked the river.

    In the summer we'd fall asleep to sound of the waves lapping on the shore and the occasional hum of a boat in the channel. My grandfather, though often grumpy who wouldn't be with 10 to 30 kids running around never neglected to hug and kiss us when we visited and always had a story.

    Though his version of the blue willow legend had some errors and the proper name for the vine in his yard was a "porcelain vine" not china vine, he never failed to entertain us and burn his words and stories into our memories. My daughter recently told me it was time to get some new plates, as some of the blue willow were chipped and we'd had them for years.

    The thought of getting rid of them made me shudder.

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    I don't know if life at Grandma's was so good - or if it just seemed so good because life at home was so bad. In some small way perhaps I identified with the young Chinese girl on the plate being sacrificed by her parent over trivial fluff that mattered little in life when considering love and happiness as worthy goals to strive for.

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    • There were many times I sat at my window wishing I could sail away to grandma's house and be safe and loved, where life seemed normal, consistent, and I was always welcome. The plates remind me of that place in my childhood. I'm nearly fifty now and I have five grandchildren of my own. We don't live on the river, but within a few miles of several rivers and the Tangier Sound.