Since I’ve been back on Guam these past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandparents.
I lived with my Grandma Shannon in Santa Rita, where she has a lush garden full of tropical flowers. Whenever I walked around the garden, I was always drawn to the red and pink ginger flowers, for their interesting shape and vibrant hues.
My grandpa Jose Babauta painted the pink gingers into a collage of tropical leaves and flowers that wrap me up in childhood memories growing up surrounded by the jungle. When my cousin and I visited one of the earliest exhibitions at the new Guam Museum, we found another small sketch that looked similar to these flowers in the corner of his art on display.
When my Grandpa Larry (my mom’s dad) was sick in the hospital before he passed away earlier this year, my grandma gave me a bouquet with these gingers to bring to him. When he was at his weakest, these flowers brought him joy. I’ll never forget how these flowers and the thoughtful gesture gave him the biggest smile.
The red gingers remind me of the lipstick my Apong (Grandma Rolita) used to wear. Flowers remind me of her softness. One of my favorite memories of Apong when I was little: I bumped my head crawling around under a table, and she got down under there with me and rubbed my head softly where it hurt. But these gingers are also tough, like her.
These flowers aren’t indigenous to Guam, but they grow everywhere around the world (including here and the Philippines, where my maternal grandparents are from). Just like my four grandparents, these flowers thrived in new places, even if it wasn’t their original home. They give me hope that when I go to new places and take on new challenges, I can be just as resilient and grow like they did.
My two grandparents, Grandma Shannon and Grandpa Larry, took care of me and taught me so much while I was on Guam away from my parents. Every day, I text my grandma asking for her help with my job (reporting in the same newsroom where she used to work). I look at the photo of my grandpa I keep on my desk, whenever I’m stressed and need encouragement. When I drive by Pigo Cemetery, or a bingo hall, I think about my other grandparents, whom I wish I’d gotten to know better while they were still alive.
I keep them all close, near my left hand — with one leaf to represent each of them carrying and protecting me, wherever I go.