A grandmother teaches her family to deal with difficult memories in a unique way — by pickling them in jars.
“1000–Year–Old Ghosts” appears in the new anthology Pen America Best Debut Short Stories 2017.
School is back in session and I find myself struggling to manage my love for literature and my hectic schedule. Fortunately, there’s always podcasts to help create a bridge for my love of books. In particular I’ve been listening to the podcast LeVar Burton Reads, which is where I discovered this amazing tale of family tradition, the pursuit to blend into the American melting pot, and the desire to uncover who you are by discovering where you come from.
“1,000-Year-Old Ghosts” is narrated by a Chinese-American character named Katie. Katie’s grandmother, Popo, has a unique way of dealing with unpleasant memories: she pickles them. She passes this tradition to Katie, which leads to conflict with her mother, Anne. This story tells of three generations of women and how they deal with turmoil, loss, and pain.
What I enjoyed most about this story is how Popo and Katie literally and figuratively bottle up their emotions by pickling their emotions. While it’s not the healthiest coping method, it works for them… sort of. Like many unhealthy coping mechanisms, Katie finds herself obsessively ridding herself of her bad memories. The story itself is multi-layered and as you read, you catch glimpses of memories that have long since been “pickled.” This layering technique gives the reader insight into Popo’s past and what may have contributed to the start of her pickling tradition.
I introduced this short story to my students this week and when I was finished, they all agreed on how much they enjoyed it and was surprised that it resonated with them. Of course, I had to omit two small lines because it’s high school students and sometimes they can’t be mature enough to handle remarks about panties or a girl who loses her virginity. Regardless, I think their reactions only solidified my view of the story and its value as a literary source for readers of various ages, genders, and racial backgrounds. It’s a beautiful and touching story about how you find yourself when you come to accept even the bad.
If you have the opportunity to check out the podcast or read this story, please leave me a comment about your view on it.