On this day ninety-five years ago my grandmother was born in the old Reading Hospital in PA. Just last year, I heard her recount the story of that day, how her mother (my great-grandmother) had a Christmas chicken she planned to prepare, but she ended up heading in to the hospital on Christmas Day instead. She also mentioned that she and her mother ended up staying in the hospital for almost a month, and because of that experience, my great-grandmother birthed her next two children at home, at the very farm that has been in our family since the 1850’s and where we spent many of her birthdays together since. December 26th is also the day that, on her ninetieth birthday, five years ago, my first daughter arrived. My grandma was the second person we called after she was born. Anthony was the first person, although technically that call started before she was born… He watched the whole thing over FaceTime as he made his way to us (you can read more about that here). Because of their shared birthday, we gave Noelani her name as a middle name.
Last year we celebrated the day together at the farm. In recent years, my grandma’s short term memory started to decline. She was still sharp as a tack when it came to her older memories… she could recount memories shearing sheep with her father as a child, and the names of our ancestors who first settled in America after arriving in Philadelphia on the Pheonix in the 1700s, and the name of a boy with polio who she took care of as a nurse in the 1940s. December 26, 2018 was a most perfect day celebrating grandma and Noe’s birthday on the farm. Memory was so important to grandma, even as hers was slipping away at the end, and I am forever grateful for the many memories we shared with her on the farm, many of which we compiled into a book that we gave her that day. Every time we visited the farm after that day, she would go through the book with us and we’d laugh at all good times we had as a family over the years. Now that book sits on a shelf in our living room.
Photos from December 26, 2018 at the farm
This birthday is bittersweet for so many reasons. For one, Noelani turns five-years-old today. Something about that age feels like a shift, from being my baby into finding her own independence and resilience. But perhaps more than anything, this year is bittersweet because it is the first birthday of her life that we are celebrating without her great-grandma, who we lost over the summer. I am glad that Noelani shared a small time of her life with her great-grandma. I hope that she carries those memories with her always, and in fact, it was actually Noe’s idea to build an ofrenda in her honor when we were in Mexico for Dia de los Muertos this year. Memory was so important to grandma, even right up until the end. I am so fortunate to have so many great memories of grandma and the farm, and I’m lucky to have been able to string together this video that pretty much sums up how I hope to always remember December 26th with grandma on the farm: time spent with family listening to stories of genealogy and history, baking treats, visiting the cows at the barn, walking down the lane and through the fields, ringing the dinner bell, listening to grandma play melodies on the baby grand, and sitting around the table sharing laughter, meals and special occasions together.a last birthday together on the farm from Katrina Chin Loy on Vimeo.
This year, my sister-in-law gifted us this beautiful handmade art piece she made of grandma. It sits on our mantle to remind us of what an extraordinary woman she was, and although she is no longer with us, every year on December 26th we will celebrate Noe’s birthday and her memory, which is what she probably hoped for us to do all along.