My grandmother is in her 90s and frail, but her mind is as sharp as ever. She came from one of the wealthiest families in China, and her family was decimated by the Communist revolution. Luckily, my grandmother escaped the brutality because she had just joined my grandfather in Taiwan. There she built a new life amid poverty. Her younger sisters, who were in China, bore the brunt of the revolution. Members of their family were executed, or worked to death, and they themselves barely survived the hard labor and famines. No one has asked any of these sisters for full details about their younger years for fear of dredging up negative emotions. But I feel my generation and the future generation should know what they survived, and who they were. Should I just let the past stay in the past and not trouble a frail, elderly woman, or is there a way I can broach this subject with my grandmother?
You’re right to be sensitive to the fact that your grandmother may not want to talk about the pain of the past, but it may well be she’s gotten the message that no one wants to hear it and so hasn’t burdened anyone with her stories. Please ask, not only for your family, but for history. Today’s very old people lived through tumultuous times, and we only have a sliver of time left to hear their first-person accounts. You sound like a loving and sensitive grandchild, so if you’re able to bring it up in person with your grandmother, just tell her what you’ve said here. That you know she witnessed epochal events, and you would like to capture her memories. If she agrees, set aside some time and decide how you’d like to record her words, then give her some prompts to get the stories flowing. Understand that her accounts may be scattered and disjunctive, but they will still be gems of insight into recent history. The very old sometimes become time travelers themselves—what they had for breakfast is hard to remember, but the events of that day when they were 10 years old is crystal clear.
I’m a 14-year-old girl and I’m trying to convince my mother to let me get a short haircut. My hair is past my shoulders and I almost never let it out of a ponytail. She won’t let me have it cut past her hair length, which is shoulder length. She’s paranoid about it because she had her hair cut into a pixie cut when she was pregnant with my two older sisters and hated it and thinks I’ll regret it as much as she did. I hate my hair long and I hate hot weather, which makes me all the more hateful toward my hair. She’s being unreasonable about this whole thing and my dad won’t help at all! What can I do to convince her to let me have my hair cut the way I want it, not how she wants it?
—It’s Just Hair
Hang in there, Hair, and start saving your babysitting money. In just a few years, you will be going to the stylist alone, and only you will be able to dictate the fate of your locks. I agree that summer is a great time to go shorter, but instead of tussling with your mother over a pixie cut, ask her to compromise. Sit down with her and look through this gallery of delightful bobs, and together pick out a couple that would be flattering on you. Let’s hope she sees that if she lets you get your hair off your back, she’ll get you off hers. As for your father, I imagine that a man with a wife and three daughters, when asked to arbitrate a hair-styling conflict, would rather locate the nearest demolition derby, get a seat in the stands, and enjoy some peace.
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