Mai Hương was the firstborn in my family of seven siblings. Unlike the rest of the siblings being one year apart, she was two years apart from the 2nd child. My dad was away at war. He retired from the military when Hạnh was born. Mai Hương grew up predominantly with my aunt Kít and my maternal grandparents’ family. I called my aunt Kít “Bác” Kit. Bác means aunt, my mom’s older sister.
Ok, I want to take you on a quick sidetrack of the Vietnamese language. There are different versions of uncles and aunts in Vietnamese. In this article, I may refer to one aunt with a Vietnamese word and then another aunt with another Vietnamese word. I am not making those words up, honest.
Vietnamese has a family hierarchy and there is a special label for maternal and fraternal sides to differentiate the level of hierarchy. An example, there is a Vietnamese word for an aunt who is older than my mom and there is a different word for an aunt who is younger than my mom. There is a totally different word for aunt for my dad’s side as well. I can go on and on about each label for uncles, cousins, etc but I prefer not to. It gets confusing and boring.
When Mai Hương was born, my dad was away at war and my mom was living with her parents. Working from home, Bác Kít was able to help care for Mai Hương while my mom was working as an office temp. As time passed, both Bác Kít and Mai Hương grew fonder to one another. It was hard to keep the two apart.
Bác Kít was single. She lived with my maternal grandparents and helped them run their family Bánh Ướt factory.
When my family moved away to a different home, my mom did not have the heart to pry Mai Hương from Bác Kít’s loving care. My dad was adamant that Mai Hương should be home with her own family. However, when he took her home everyone at my maternal grandparents’ home and Mai Hương were miserable.
My mom was torn between family obligations and the love for her child. In the end, she swallowed her own wants and followed family obligations. She wanted peace within her family. My mom allowed Mai Hương to live with Bác Kít and my maternal grandparents. This scenario is common in Vietnam. The children often ended up living and growing up with the grandparents while the parents were struggling to make ends meet for the family in another city.
We moved to a new home located not too far from our maternal grandparents’ home. Every weekend, we visited Mai Hương.