Family Meal, Chinese New Year, by Charlie Grosso

The entire city is covered in flashes of red and gold, a new winter coat in pale pink with a hood trimmed in white faux-fur, fire crackers and endless games of hide and go seek are the predominate memories I have of Chinese New Years.

It used to be my favorite time of the year.

All my aunts and uncles would return home from far away cities and bring my cousins back with them. We would all gather at my grandparents house for New Years Eve dinner before the winter holiday season officially starts and we are excused from school. The sense of excitement would be overwhelming; everyone is home, everyone is here. There are special treats, rice cakes with adzuki beans, fermented rice balls with black sesame fillings, spring rolls and egg dumplings, hot pot with every kind of vegetables and meats and us kids wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves other than to jump on the couch in excitement.

There would be red envelopes of money given to us by relatives and family friends. The loot could be substantial in some years. I hoarded away an impressive little nest egg (for a child) from all the years of red envelope money.

We would gather around the huge round dinning room table. The table always seems to big for during regular weekend visits and too small on New Years Eve with four uncles, four aunts, two cousins, three grandparents and us. The lazy-susan laden with everything we could possibly think of, we turn it around and around delicately fearing a quick spin would spill the scolding hot soup onto someone’s lap. All of us don’t really fit around the table but we make do and try not throw an elbow in another’s rice bowl when reaching over for a slice of pork.

Every year, Dad would treat us to a giant box of fireworks. We would go into the alley, lit up the night sky, eagerly let our ancestors know we are ready to be done with the old and more than ready for the new.

Chinese New Year used to a very special time of the year.

I rarely make it home for the holiday these days.

Everyone is already at grandparents when mom and I arrived late afternoon. Our arrival barely causes a stir and the only person grandpa is eager to see is the new baby, his first great grandchild.

There are more of us now but also less. Nasty words and ill-expressed intentions drove a particular branch of the family tree away and their ghosts hang around the brothers and sisters of our family.

Roy sneaks out onto the balcony for a cigarette and I take the opportunity to step out with him to see how he is. Roy, my childhood counter part, my partner in crime is now a father and the distance between us could not be wider if we tried. We use to eat off of each other’s plate, he would eat the parts I didn’t like (egg yoke) and I would make his rejects disappear (pork fat). I ask how he is. Living and getting by he says. I’m not as free and unburdened as you. I swallow my reply and say nothing.

The oversized round dining table with the lazy-suzan has been discarded years ago. A smaller more everyday friendly oval table has replaced it and we are broken up into two groups, some of us eating at the coffee table while others at the dinning table with grandpa and grandma. No one says much of anything. The room is filled with noise but not care.

After dinner, my younger cousin Jo pulls out her phone and show me photos from her life. The firework has started outside. It’s getting louder and louder.

“Roy, what do you say next year we go find some fire crackers and have some fun?”

“I don’t know where to buy them.”

“Come on. I’m sure we can figure it out.”

“I know where to get them.” Jo volunteers.

“See. There. Jo knows where. What do you say?”

“No. I’m too old. I’m not interested.”

“…”

Maybe it is true that you can’t ever go home. You certainly can’t go looking for history. It will never be the way you remembered it.