Ethel Mae Tom and Sharlene Nani Tom
O'Hare International Airport - Chicago, IL (June 15, 1988)
That's my maternal grandmother (Ethel) holding a video camera on the left and my mother (Nani) trying to take a nap on the right. I took this picture of them at Chicago O'Hare 35 years ago while we were waiting to board our plane to Hawaii.
My maternal grandmother (who my cousins and I all called Mom Mom) had just bought a new video camera shortly before she, her husband (who we all called Pop Pop), my mother, and I left Pennsylvania to spend three weeks in Hawaii. Over the winter, I came across the tapes that she recorded while we were there. Some of them were in pretty rough shape with warping and static on the picture, so I digitized them before the tape could degrade any further and I uploaded them to a playlist on YouTube.
Watching these tapes 35 years later is a bittersweet experience for a number of reasons. Mom Mom was by far the person who I was the closest to on my mother's side of the family. We didn't see eye-to-eye on everything, but she was a pretty damn cool woman who didn't take crap from anybody and I always admired that about her. She was also the only person on that side of my family who was patient enough to give me a place to live when I going through rough times when I was a kid. I've come to learn as an adult that I am on the spectrum, but folks really didn't know how to handle that sort of thing in the mid to late 80's, and I can tell you first hand that just about everything that they tried made things much worse. Mom Mom's method was simple, but effective. We'd grab a couple of Nintendo controllers and she'd just sit and talk with me while we played video games. She passed away in 2005.
Mom Mom wasn't perfect, as anyone who knew her will attest, and one of the ways that has affected me in recent years is in my heritage. Her husband, who we all called Pop Pop, is half Hawaiian (his mother is from Oahu) and half Chinese (his father came from the Canton province in South China). When I was born, I was given a Hawaiian middle name, and I was raised to believe that I was Hawaiian. For the first 40+ years of my life, I had no reason to ever question this. That all changed when an Ancestry.com DNA Test showed that I don't have a drop of Hawaiian or Chinese heritage. At first, I thought it could be a mistake, so I had a second test done, this time with 23 And Me, but the results were the same. So, if you're wondering why I refer to Pop Pop as my grandmother's husband instead of calling him my grandfather, it's because he isn't my grandfather. I never knew my maternal grandfather. I learned not too long ago that I'm not alone in this discovery. I'm not very close at all with my mother's side of the family (for many reasons that I won't get into here), but I talked with two of my cousins who told me that my oldest uncle also had a DNA test and learned that he isn't Hawaiian or Chinese either... so that makes two out of my maternal grandmother's four children that were fathered by somebody else. I know that the socially acceptable thing to say here is that he's still my grandfather because he treated me like his grandson when I was growing up, and that's all well and good, but we've never been especially close. When I see Pop Pop on these videos from our trip to Hawaii, I don't think of him as any less of a grandfather to me, but I do feel like I am a fraud for proudly claiming a culture and a heritage that isn't really mine to claim.
There are a lot of other things that make this a period of my life that wasn't exactly sunshine and rainbows, but I'm not going to get into all of that here. I'll go through some of the things on these videos at some point. I can't imagine that anyone is going to want to spend six hours watching my old grainy home videos, but who knows. Maybe I'll be old and senile at some point and start digging through this blog trying to figure out who the hell I am. If that ever happens, hello "future me". Have fun following the breadcrumbs.