Story of the Painted Egg

This painted egg was recovered from the rubble of an elderly woman’s home which had collapsed during the 1994 Northridge, California earthquake. The woman was taken to the hospital for injuries and eventually released to live with family. Her granddaughter, me, found the egg and asked her grandmother about it one day in 1999. The elderly woman explained that this hand-painted egg had been given to her as a gift during her travels to the Orient as a young woman. I have recorded her story as follows:
“1963 was a wild year for me. I had just divorced my first husband and thought I would celebrate. So I decided to go on a trip with just a pack and some money I had received from the divorce. All through the war years, the culture of Japan and the Orient had fascinated me, despite the fact that the Japanese were the enemy. So, without telling anyone except my friend Hannah, I left!”
My grandmother has always been a quiet, introverted person my whole life. I could not believe she was telling me that she had just decided to leave! She said that she first met a young businessman named Zihao on the boat ride across the Pacific Ocean. He was Chinese but spoke English well.
“Zihao was quite the handsome stud. He was just a couple years younger than me, and we hit off a great friendship almost immediately. He said he liked my red hair.”
They reached Japan, where Zihao was meeting some business contacts. He invited my grandmother along for a tour of some of the most popular places. Together they saw Himeji Castle, Mt. Fuji, and the Imperial Palace, and many other beautiful sites besides.
“And when he said he had to go back to China, I decided ‘Why not? I’ll go along!’”
He brought her to his hometown, a small provincial community she called “Shitsu”. I have tried finding it, but the closest I came is “Shizhu”, a small valley community in the mountains west of Yehushan.
“It was beautiful. The mountains were unlike anything I’d seen, the quaint homes tucked away in and sheltered by the blue peaks. The leaves were changing colors for Fall, and I fell in love with the place.”
And with Zihao, it seems. She spent a couple months living in this remote village with him and his parents, even though he traveled most days to a larger city for work.
“One day I was standing outside staring at the beauty of the mountains. A young girl came up to me and asked me something, but all I understood was the word “gift”. She took my hand and led me to a porch down the road where she had set up some paints and simple white eggs. She showed me one of them, and I smiled at her and nodded. She got very excited and sat down and started painting one of the eggs. It took her about thirty minutes and that beautiful little egg is the result. I thanked her and offered money, but she would not take it. When I showed it to Zihao that day, he smiled at me and said, ‘It is beautiful, just like you.’ I kept it as a reminder of that adventure and the wonderful love I felt on my visit to China all those years ago, including my love for Zihao.”
I looked at the painted egg with wonder when she said this. The case was cracked and missing some pieces from the earthquake five years before, and I pointed that out to my grandmother. “Does the cracked case or missing wood detract from the beauty of what’s inside?” she asked me. “The egg is still intact and beautiful, even if the case isn’t.”
I’ve had it on display in my house since then, but I have no posterity to give it to. I hope whoever gets it will remember my grandmother’s experiences and words.

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