Black Rice


Back in late 1980’s, a time when I was much older and much less wise. I would make sure to visit my grandfather as often as I could.  At the time, he lived in a large three story house in San Francisco, my Grandmother had died in 1977 so unless someone needed a place to stay for a short while he lived alone.

My grandfather in his late 70’s, although extremely active and young at heart lived in a body you could tell had endured life’s trials and tribulation as a field worker and later Mariner. In my 20’s at the time, my grandfather didn’t look like the ‘big’ man of my youth; He had seemed to have shrunk, not frail, but worn; the elasticity of his skin lost to the salt of the sea, skin tan and leathered from the sun; broad shoulders now slighting dropping as if the years of carrying loads had fatigued them.

Coming from poor families, the Great Depression and World War Two my grandparents had to struggle and lived by the words of Benjamin Franklin “waste not, want not.” My grandparents were thrifty people who were ‘green’ long before the term was coined. Not a grain of food was wasted and everything found a second, third and even fourth use. Even in the 80’s this thriftiness was not lost to my grandfather.

It was often when my grandfather would greet us at his front door we would have to endure the pungent smell of raw garlic on his breath as we received and retuned hugs and kisses on each other’s cheeks; a custom still practiced today in our culture. He ate a number of raw garlic cloves each morning and sometimes afternoon to keep himself healthy and was always, without fail received to the “Oh grandpa, you’ve been eating Garlic again” comment to which he would always laugh.

After ascending the stars on this particular day, my Grandfather went to the kitchen where he was prior to our entrance while we deposited our things in the living room and putting our jackets in the hallway closet that doubles as a rice storage room; my grandparents kept several 50 pounds bags of rice in this closet for both their use and to sell.

At the time I was married to my benighted first wife who upon entering the kitchen looked at my grandfather sitting on a stool sorting through a bowl of uncooked rice and asked what he was doing. Without missing a beat my grandfather looked up at her and with a half struck smile and twinkle in his eye responded, “oh just removing the black rice.”  As we sat at the old rickety kitchen table that had been there since I was a child, my grandfather and I chatted. When the rice sorting was done, it was rinsed and placed on the stove to cook.  While the rice was cooking, he prepared the fish that would be our dinner that night.

We sat at the dinner table that night partaking of steamed rice and fish, I smiled as my then wife ate not one but two servings of the hot cooked white glutinous grains of rice knowing she would have gagged had she known the black rice removed to be what it was; mouse droppings.

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