Reaching over, the parents handed steaming hot, half peeled sweet potatoes to their children. One for each. Their kids, actually, growing teenagers, grabbed the sweet potatoes with huge smiles and bit into them, steam hitting their faces.
“Wah! I really miss sweet potatoes!” I declared, watching that TV scene. It reminded me so much of my family. “Did you ever eat sweet potatoes with your parents growing up?” I nudged my husband.
“Huh? No,” he continued reading. He didn’t bother looking up from his book, sitting beside me as I watched a Kdrama.
“Ahhh… but I love sweet potatoes,” I sighed.
Growing up, Ba often toasted them in the oven, but he microwaved them too if we were short on time. He’d peel the top half for me, then hand it over piping hot, a napkin wrapped around the bottom. He rarely asked if we wanted any, he’d just toast them and automatically offer us one, as if that’s what dads innately do.
I never declined, always happy to receive. “Aw kun (thank you), Ba.”
Other days, Ba toasted plantains. They were already sweet, but tasted even better with a slightly burnt, caramelized top. He’d slice and toast a whole batch. My little sister and I pranced in and out of the kitchen, licking our sticky fingers and lips from the warm plantains.
Ba even gave us sugar cane; he grew it himself in our own American backyard. He chopped down a stalk, peeled it, then passed me a small chunk. “Here. Suck the juice, but don’t eat the stalk. It’s natural. Much better than the white stuff from the store.”
“Awkun, (thank you) Ba.”
~ ~ ~
A few days later, I continued watching this same Kdrama, Answer Me, 1988.
“Where did you go today?” Mom questioned her daughter, Duk Son.
In the background, the eldest daughter announced, “Oma (mom) is missing money from her wallet.”
Shocked, Duk Son answered, “Oma! I didn’t steal money from your wallet! How could Oma and Unni (older sister) accuse me?!”
“I didn’t accuse, I am just wondering…” Mom walked out.
Still upset, Duk Son shouted from her room, tears running down her face. “Oma! I wouldn’t steal from you! I wouldn’t! I didn’t and I never have!” she kicked her feet on the ground in frustration.
A moment later, Mom walked back in the room.
Duk Son looked up, still hurt, but didn’t argue back. She looked at her mom with an expression that said, I would never refuse food.
She took the sweet potato and bit into it, as her mom wiped the tears from her face.
Watching that particular scene, I had a flashback.
~ ~ ~
It was a hot afternoon, and Mak and I were in the midst of an hour long argument. She scolded me, and instead of being a respectful Asian daughter, I yelled back, rearing an ugly attitude (for which, I’m so ashamed of now). We argued into the evening, until our voices were hoarse, and the air sticky and heavy.
By dinner time, my stomach growled. Guess I’m going to starve…
Then, a voice pierced the silence.
“Rice is on the table!” Mak shouted, her voice carrying upstairs.
On the table, there was not just rice, but also two entrees to accompany the rice.
~ ~ ~
It finally dawned on me.
Ahh. So this is why I miss sweet potatoes.
Because it’s not about the sweet potatoes, really.
It’s through sweet potatoes (and plantains, and sugar cane, and rice…) that my parents have showed me they love me.
I don’t know why it took me a lifetime to figure that out.
(This is my 3rd post in my series on food & families. Check out We Don’t Say I Love You and Music from the Mortar.