the cultural legacies of our elders

My achchi in a busy produce market, her face full of pleasant surprise. She is wearing a purple jacket and holding a breadfruit the size and shape of a green coconut. She’s standing in front a whole display of them, which she was clearly not expecting to see.

My achchi, or grandmother, passed away last weekend at 87 years old. She and I were 50 years and a couple weeks apart. Mourning a loved one in the age of coronavirus gives me a sense of how it must have felt before planes or trains existed. That said, I was lucky enough to see her on Zoom the final week before she passed away.

I’ve been thinking about her a lot this week. My grandparents live on through me and the rest of my family. We tell jokes like they did (though we also tell our own). Many of the things we do or don’t value have a connection to the things they did or didn’t value. Looking through old photos, I also recalled how much time we spent cooking and eating with each other.

I have a lot of memories of us spending time together while someone cooked. I remember my seeya scraping coconuts in the kitchen sink, which achchi turned into pol sambol. I found a photo of her eating a shabby birthday s’more I made for her in my college-era duplex. Another photo depicts her at my all-time favorite market in Atlanta. She’s clutching a breadfruit with obvious glee. She told me that day it had been so long since she had last seen one.

My grandparents were famous for throwing huge parties on New Year’s Eve. Dozens of friends would come over with dishes of Sri Lankan curries. We would set out a huge platter of spiced yellow rice. We’d gorge on short eats till midnight: fried mackerel cutlets, samosa-like patties, and more. At midnight, we’d sing auld lang syne and hug our loved ones before getting down to a 12:30 AM dinner.

With three of my grandparents now gone, I am reflecting on all the ways in which they aren’t. We cook parripu using my achchi’s recipe. When we don’t want to do something, we say “we’ll see…” like she used to. My family and I will tell each other the stories we remember and the good times we shared until we, too, are someone else’s fond memories.