Lê Khắc Thanh Hoài







As soon as his maternal grandma comes into the house, hardly has a chance to sit down, the boy rushes over and thrusts an envelope into her palm.

“Hi, grandma. Happy Birthday to you. Hurry up, open the envelope, please.”

“Okay. Wait until I sit down, okay? Why such a hurry?”

“It’s my birthday present to you. I want you to open it right away.”

“Oh, you're something else. Let me rest for a minute and then I'll open it.”

“No. I want you to see it right now, immediately.”

“Okay...okay...I'm just kidding you. I'm looking now.”

His grandma hastens to open the envelope. Inside, she finds a brand new ten Euro note and a poem he wrote in his own handwriting. It is full of grammatical errors but so adorable. She reads it aloud. 

"My dear Grandma,
Your music's so noble and delicate
It's so divine
My grandma of Spring
I give you the white kisses
The blue kisses
The kisses with every color!

She reads the poem with tears welling up in her eyes. They hug and give each other the white kisses, the blue kisses, and the kisses with every color of love between grandma and her grand- child.

“Grandma. At least you'll have one true “fan” — that’s me. I could listen to that song of yours a hundred thousand times.” 

“Wow! My 'fan' likes just one of my songs?”

“Oh, no problem. I'm also your “fan fan fan'...”

How can life have such beautiful moments? And why can’t it contain only such happy moments instead of others that are despised and abhorred? Oh, it’s such an impermanent and ephemeral life, she says to herself and sits there, pondering. Hmm... Why did the boy give her money? He must have observed and understood that his maternal grandma is so poor, unlike his paternal side. He comes to her place every weekend and eats rice with chicken eggs, steamed vegetables, tofu, and soy sauce. He must be up to his nose with her food but is very cool about it, telling her, “Grandma, you can just feed me rice with butter or soy sauce or fish sauce. I'm not asking for anything else. No one cooks as well as you do.” It's funny that this hybrid — half European, half Asian - kid likes eating rice with butter, soy sauce or fish sauce (but since she’s a vegan, she doesn’t even have fish sauce for him).

“Have fun, grandma. You have ten Euros to spend on whatever you like on your birthday.”

The ten Euros the kid gives her is a lot to him. He either takes it from his piggy bank, or gets money from grandpa, and then turns around gives it to her as a birthday present. He once told her that at a visit to his paternal grandpa - knowing that he is rich - he asked his grandpa to “share a little money with my grandma.” Of course, his paternal grandpa would just smile but his grandma was touched. It’s amazing how kind-hearted and caring this little boy is.

“Yeah. You're right. This Sunday, you, Olivier, Myrtille, and I will go to the flea market. We'll only look for and buy any item that’s worth one Euro a piece. We'll end up with ten items. It’s a lot of stuff isn’t it?”


On Sunday, the four of them - grandma and her three kids - go to the flea market and poke around for things sold at one Euro. The kids are excited. Grandma, we should buy this. Wow! Grandma, we should take that. No, we only buy things grandma needs, not everything.

After circling the flea market a couple of times, they find a few items that their grandma can use in her kitchen. She doesn’t even spend all ten Euros. They go to the flea market every Sunday, not to buy anything, and just walk around. The kids find it fun when they hold a bunch of cheap goods, happily take them home as if they just won the lottery. That is how they spend their Sunday mornings.

“You see, thanks to Jeremie’s present that I can buy all these things. Thank you for your good heart. Listen, Buddha said if you know how to give, you'll get rich as a reward.”

“I know, grandma. I won't be a cheapie. I'll give you money often.”

“No...no... YOU give ME money? It’s not the way it should be.”

“It’s okay, grandma. Remember this, if later I have two million, your share will be one million. If I have four million, you'll have two...”

“No, no, too much...I don’t need that.”

“Definitely... Definitely.”

“But it doesn’t do you much good if you just give to the people you love. You'll have to give to people whom you hate or don’t know.”

“I'll try to do that. I want to be a generous person and reap the reward of being rich.”

Wow! How can he be such an adorable kid? She looks at his face. Two deep and cute dimples on the boy’s cheeks are a sign of a wealthy person. “He’s gorgeous. Girls will fall heads over heels for him.” That is not what she wants for him. She just wants him to become a monk. “Girls only bring you grief, my dear,” she thinks to herself.

“Hey, how do you know that I'm poor?”

“Nobody has to tell me...I can see it.”

“What do you see?”

“I see that you don’t have a house like my paternal grandparents’. There's not a lot of funiture in your house. You always picked up stuff that people put out on the streets. I see that you made many things with your own hands like a carpenter. However, you are not a good carpenter, so all the chests and shelves you built can fall apart anytime. I fear that someday they would crash down on us grand kids' heads. Let me see what else is there? Yes, your car has no air conditioning. You never go on vacation. And what else? Oh, I heard the grownups say you always must make payment arrangement on everything you buy. You have debts.”

“You are so smart, my child.”

“It’s not that hard. I see and hear things...”

“Okay. You're good. So long as we are happy together, I am happy. I like the fact that when you come to me, you like it here and feel relaxed. I'll never let you go hungry, you'll always have enough food to eat, feel content and at home here. I'll always care for you, protect you, and love you to the max.”

“Yes, my dearest grandma. I'll love you to the max, too.”

The boy's words surely make her heart melt. She has been taking care of him since the time he was born. Her daughter was pregnant while still in school and mom had to help so she could continue her education. She became a grandmother at roughly the age of forty-five. With the child in her arms, her acquaintances thought it was hers, so she had to clarify: “Look. Really, I'm not lying. This is my grandchild.” People would look at her, still skeptical.


Her children come and take their kids home on Sunday night. That's how her week normally ends. Her birthday falls on this week, so all her children and grandchildren stay a bit longer to celebrate. She had told them she just wanted their presence, not the gifts, nor the feast. (Actually, her children don’t drink, and most are dedicated vegans just as she is.) Because of that, when they come, she must cook the vegetarian dishes for them. They just bring a store-bought cake, or she buys her own birthday’s cake. She takes care of everything. They simply show up and eat.

The boy wants her to prepare the “bot loc”, a delicacy he and his mom both like, but she feels a bit tired and tells them she doesn’t have the flour and the wrappers. Then the boy, resignedly, says, “Oh, that’s okay. Grandma, when you cook, you put all your love into your cooking; for us, everything you cook is so delicious. You can cook whatever you want.”

How touching and astounding! It’s rare for a twelve-year-old kid to say such profound and mature words. She is happy when her children and grandchildren gather around her, siblings support one another, and they love her to the max. What else does she need? One of her friends liked to say, “I think you must be the happiest person on earth. Your children and grandchildren gather around you, and they love each other. Money doesn’t bring happiness; money means nothing...”

Of course, that friend is right, to a point. For that person is one that she owes money to, who is filthy rich and a spinster, and even though close to seventy, still looking in vain for a life companion. As says the adage: “One with money has no luck with love.”

She’s not poor. This is just an unlucky phase in her life. She had spent a lot of her savings to help her children establish their business that ended up in bankruptcy and in debts, which she must pay back. In her, they have a person to lean on, who gives them immense love without reservation. When they are jobless, or loveless, or sick, they come home to her like wounded birds seeking their mother’s nest to be nurtured and consoled. Then, with their boosted up and healed, they leave. She is always a nest full of warmth and love.

Her little living room holds thirteen people - her and her children, their spouses, and their children. All sit on the floor. For more than a decade, she has not received any guest or entertained friends in her living room, so it has no furniture except for a ground- hugging table - Japanese style - and a rug. Everyone sits on a cushion.

Her living room is where she meditates or peruses the sutras. The Buddha's and ancestral altars are at the center. There are also old, faded pictures that show the faces and the parts of a life that have never receded from her mind and soul. Her children and grand children feel the same way. Looking at the pictures, they would chuckle and exclaim.

“Wow, grandpa has such a kind face. Grandma looks so beautiful. Our great grandparents have such noble mannerism.”