Maxine Mei-Fung Chung chats her phenomenal grandmother

This guest post is written by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung, author of What Women Want

This guest post is written by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung, author of What Women Want. 

Every Saturday night my grandmother, Constance; invited women to her home to talk and eat food. Makeshift chairs were transformed from fruit crates, tables hoisted and raised from cardboard boxes. Sometimes a cotton sheet was thrown over the makeshift furniture if Constance, or Connie, as she preferred, was feeling particularly, bougie. My grandmother Connie was a phenomenal woman. She was perhaps, alongside the fierce and graceful Maya Angelou, the original Phenomenal Woman—at least in my world, anyway.

These Saturday Night Women came and went in droves. And more women followed. Most of them seeing off deaths, divorces, Thatcherism, births of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, celebrations and victories. As our community grew, the women would spill out into the back yard where cigars and cigarettes were smoked. Their conversations ranged from politics to the latest fashions; love to heartbreak; fine literature to bingo and working life to a life that was longed for, dreamed of. An avid reader of memoir and a storming believer of the tarot, it was not unusual to watch my grandmother discussing enthusiastically all things clairvoyance while sharing her most recent read. In listening to her, one might think she’d known the person described in the latest non-fiction narrative she’d invested and this, I believe, was just one of her many talents. My grandmother wanted to know people, well. She wanted to understand them, deeply. I believe any person would have been blessed had Connie known them, be it in real life or through her reading of them because she was an advocate. A generous and warmhearted woman who would rise other women.

At times it was a stretch for some of the women to get on board with my grandmother’s passion for clairvoyance, but this difference rarely punctured the things that kept the women united, aligned. In solidarity.

So you’re a non-believer, Constance would shrug, that’s okay. Our difference is the glue that keeps these Saturday nights alive! Difference had no place with my grandmother’s fear. She believed in a future of love, humanity and liberation—as do I.

Perhaps I ought to have been at the local church disco or hanging out, smoking, drinking or listening to Neneh’s Cherry’s Buffalo Stance with teenagers my own age, or practicing my first kiss on the back of my hand but these women; these women had me transfixed. Their energy gave me life. I wanted to be no place more than in my grandmother’s house on Saturday night. A house she set in order and flung open the door so women could talk, laugh, learn, dance, smoke and be together. When I watched with fizzing curiosity the women’s animated rebellions, tears, tenderness and joy I was unaware these Saturday nights would be the very thing to jettison me towards a love of conversation and learning with and for other women. Every Saturday night was International Women’s Night.

Not a woman to do things by half, my grandmother travelled the world aged seventy-three. Until then, she had collected travel brochures and postcards of all the places she longed to visit. Desire, she taught me, exists in us from the cradle to the grave.

Read on for Maxine’s non-fiction recommendations. What Women Want is out now.
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