Remnants of Her Love

By Ai Inthavong Lopez

As I burst through the door after school, an aroma of delicious Laotian scents would wrap me in a warm hug. Inside, my parents would be whipping up dinner after long hours at the beef packing plant. Dad tackled the cooking while Mom spread out the newspaper for our feast on the floor. Our spread usually featured a mouthwatering meat dish, rice, a spicy salty salad, soup made from scraps of bones and vegetables, and a pungent dip. Gathered on the floor, in a time of no cell phones, but focusing on each other’s company and the background hum of a Thai soap opera on TV. 

These are the memories that are rooted in me. 

No matter which table I sit at, I remember that floor and the newspaper. I recall the lectures and the wisdom imparted to me there. I remember the Fridays when we were treated to McDonald’s because it was payday. I remember how she always made it feel like home, regardless of where we lived. Whether it was a small one-bedroom apartment amidst newly arrived refugees or a three-bedroom house on one of the nicer streets in the neighborhood, my mom made it home.

She had a fondness for thrift stores and garage sales. She relished watermelon purchased from roadside stands in the summer, biscuits and gravy, and a generous amount of sugar in her phở. She was quiet and reserved, yet she could sting like a bee if I stepped out of line.


Living without her has compelled me to cherish these memories, the times she pursued me, the lessons learned from a mother’s love, and the hope she harbored for my life, which she carried with her into the next eternity.

Mother’s Day has become a time to visit her ashes at the temporary niche in the Buddhist temple. 

I no longer hear her playful complaints about the flowers we brought or the money we spent on gifts. Instead, I spend the day reflecting on her enduring goodness that continues to live within me.

Ai’s mother praying. (Photo courtesy of Ai Lopez)

Her beauty is mirrored in my own. The kindness and forgiveness she embodied are evident in my actions and those of my children. Her unparalleled loyalty was the bond that held our family together, and cherishing every memory of her honors the woman who was our guiding light.

With each roll of homemade noodles, her voice echoes in my mind. A glimpse of the antique crystal punch bowl, I recall her triumphant smile over the garage sale find. The sight of my daughter, adorned in one of her traditional dresses for graduation pictures, leaves me breathless with its beauty. That 27-year-old rice cooker she gave me when I first left home and her crab apple tree are treasures of which I can’t ever let go. 

Photos courtesy of Ai Lopez

My mother was a woman of humility, never yearning for the spotlight or lavish possessions. Her table was a place of inclusion, her home a sanctuary for my friends in need of maternal warmth, her heart open to those who welcomed her into theirs. 

Within me resides a fragment of her. I often ponder how frequently she looked upon me and saw her own reflection. I wonder if she will carry the memory of me into the next life and recognize me. 

Go sit on the floor. Go sit at that table. Close your eyes and take a deep breath and feel that. That. Through all the heartache that life brings with loss, is a hint of joy and hope that where you are, as you are, is where you are supposed to be because of a mother’s love or an elder’s love. Someday, one day soon, life will be changing your story and the narrative. Let those remnants of the woman that you call Mom, linger a little while longer so you can appreciate the beauty and the depth of the pieces that remain. 

I am a remnant of my mother. 

I am what remains of her.

Header Image: Ai and her mother. (Photo courtesy of Ai)

Ai Inthavong Lopez is a mother to four and a Lovey to three grandbabies from the Texas Panhandle. At 10 months old, Ai arrived in the US after fleeing Laos in 1981. She is an advocate for formerly incarcerated immigrants, refugees, and their families.