Feathers from Home and Other Family Heirlooms

After my father's funeral, I spent weeks sorting through my parents’ belongings in their apartment in Taiwan to decide what to keep and what to throw away. My aunt who came to help me found an ordinary object that turned out to be a precious heirloom given by A-tso (my great-grandmother) to my mother many years before I was born.

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I tried to reconcile this vision of A-tso as a fairy godmother to her granddaughters-in-law with the stern, hunched old lady I met the first time we went back to Taiwan after living in the States. I was nine years old the summer we visited on the way to Hong Kong, where my dad had been transferred for work. By then I was a thoroughly American kid who only spoke English and felt profoundly out of place in Taiwan.

My single encounter with A-tso was the most dramatic example of that. When we visited the compound—the home of several generations of the Loh family in Sanhsia, including A-tso—I was taken to an outdoor courtyard, where a tiny old lady was sitting on a stool. She wore a baggy black tunic and pants, and her thin hair was pulled back in a tight bun. Her feet were knobby and deformed from having been bound in her childhood."