Last Friday, my Ong Noi, my paternal grandfather, passed away. He lived to over a 102. Simply amazing. He was my last living grandparent, and though he lived across the world, he always felt close. Partly because Ong Noi loved to travel, and would often visit us when we were kids, or we’d meet him in Paris. Recently, he settled in Saigon and five years ago, Ben and I were lucky to spend time with him during our trip to Vietnam. The other part is that Ong Noi had an incredible memory and was so good at keeping in touch. Every year, even up until last year, he sent me “Joyeux Anniversaire” e-mails (in all caps, size 24 font) for my birthday and for our wedding anniversary. He loved receiving news about our lives, and looking back through my email this week, it makes me sad to think how I could have written more.
My Ong Noi was an amazing person. A doctor by profession, Dr. Duong Cam Chuong, and a talented artist, something he discovered later on in life. He became well-known in the art community in France and Vietnam with his works displayed everywhere. I simply love seeing his paintings in everyone’s homes, including ours.
As someone who is very sentimental, nostalgic, and appreciates a good scrapbook, I especially admired how he documented everything about his life starting from the age of 40, with photos and notes. When we visited him in Saigon, we were lucky to go through a few of these albums. We saw photos of when he was handsomely young, my dad and his siblings as kids, times when he visited us, even the note when Ben and I got married. I wish I could get my hands on just one now.
In honor of his love of recounting stories, I want to share a few memories I have:
When Ong Noi visited us, he’d always travel with his canvas and paints. He sketched us in chalk as quickly as possible while we played in front of him. We took him places, like Great Falls or to where our new house was being built, where he sat and painted for hours.
He always stayed in my room. I would clean it furiously before he arrived and loved the drawings he’d leave on my desk and the smell of his cologne everywhere.
We always threw a big party for all his friends. Honestly, this stressed out my mom quite a bit to put on the perfect party. I remember making hundreds of skewers of meat.
Chippy reminded me of this one: he could write upside down and mirrored!
One time, I think in 2001, Cookie, Chippy, and I were coming over for dinner at his apartment in Paris. We were wondering what he would cook. He wasn’t there when we arrived, but then we saw him, coming down the cobblestone street, carrying a roast chicken. “Poulet,” he shrugged. I loved the shrug.
I had blogged about my visit with him in Saigon: https://meannie.wordpress.com/2009/01/16/saigon-day-1/
One last cute moment: at some point we talked about his recent 97th birthday, and he shrugs (the shrug!), “Oh, it’s no big thing”. But then, he has a realization and says “In a few years I’ll be 100. Wow.” Yes, yes he will.
Upon turning 100, this is what he had emailed to me:
En effet, on a fete il y a deux jours, mon centieme anniversaire de naissance . Le centaire c’est magnifique parce que c’est rare, mais pas tellement important, puis que je continue a vivre ma vieillesse, avec toutes les emotions de l’age qui d’ailleurs a son exotisme comme tous les ages de la vie, tels l’enfance, la dolescence…
I know eventually he had to pass. But as my sister Cookie said when she told us the news, he somehow felt eternal.