the true stories
When I was a young buck gas-fitter I fell in love. The object of my affections later became the mother of my number one son. There were obstacles in our path, one of which was racial discrimination. My girlfriend was Chinese and I wasn't. Things were different in those days. My way was to meet her family and she was terrified at what might happen if I did.
I often said to her that if they met me, they would like me. One day, as chance would have it, I found myself working a job two blocks away from the girl's home. I didn't have my side-kick with me that day and I decided to introduce myself. I scrubbed off the worst of the cutting oil and grease from my mitts and smoothed my dirty boiler-suit and walked over.
I tapped on the door and it opened in less than a minute. A little boy said hello in the friendliest of tones and called his Ma. A woman came to the door and smiled. I introduced myself as her third daughter's boyfriend and she invited me in for tea.
We hit it off, speaking in Cantonglish and polished off a plate of cookies and several cups of tea. She told me to follow her instructions as to introducing myself to her husband and that it may take some time. I agreed. My fiancee was somewhat shocked and possibly angry at my move, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
Thus began a ten year relationship with one of the kindest and most gentle women I have ever known. Her name was Chun Ying which I came to understand meant Spring Moon. We became fast tea buddies and ninety percent of everything I know about Chinese culture came directly from her.
My interest in herbs, folklore and practical matters seemed to delight her, as I was young and didn't quite fit the mold for my generation. She had a deep love of flowers and houseplants and we chatted a lot about these things. She told me stories of Hon Woo Village in Canton as I had no interest in Hong Kong or any big cities for that matter.
If I stayed too long talking, she always said, “My-ko go home. Seep.”
She scolded me for drinking coffee at the same time as eating fruit and for letting the wind into my shirt. She warned me against too much cold food, too much hot food and bad fung soi in general. When at last I was introduced to the Ba and sat at the big table, Chun Ying kept my bowl loaded while I learned to deal with the chop-sticks.
After I married her daughter, we remained close and visited often with each other. Once I remember her telling me that she couldn't get some of her flowering plants in the house to make seeds. I came over with a soft paint brush and we went around the rooms on stools and took turns doing the absent bee's work, gathering pollen and shaking it on the stamens. It worked.
When my son was born, I asked Chun Ying to come to my apartment and perform the oldest traditional Southern Chinese ceremonies that she could remember. She appeared at the door on the proper day and hour according to her knowledge and we spent hours rolling boiled eggs across the boys brow and holding him up to the sun and moon and bathing him in the water that certain leaves had been boiled in. I know that his Cherokee ancestors would have done something similar had the knowledge not been shot up and run out of town.
I remember going to her workplace once. It was a sweat-shop laundry and my wife wanted to bring her some lunch. As we stood in the alley at the back door, two young supervisory punks inside watched her like hawks so she wouldn't stop work for any longer than it took to grab the little bag. Her oppressors were of the same tribe and this really ticked me off. She just said, “My-ko go home. Seep.”
Life went along its track and a day came a decade or so after meeting my mother-in-law that I parted ways with her daughter. She was very sad but we were able to stay close. When I had re-married and had just brought home my number two son, Chun Ying was hospitalized.
My new wife and I were eating dinner one evening and the baby was in a small basket on the table. Suddenly Miggy began to howl and cry with such vigor that he could not and would not be consoled. I thought of all the usual possibilities and ruled them out just as fast as they came. Then I felt it. The gentle presence of an old friend. It was then I knew Chun Ying had passed away.
I knew she had come to say good-bye to me and to say hello to my second son. What I felt as a warm tingly glow was a scary overwhelming perception of a stranger to the unfiltered sensibilities of a newborn. I picked up Mig and performed my own version of a Cherokee welcome dance in the living room while the supper got cold. The baby stopped crying within seconds and I said in my mind, “Thank you for everything Chun Ying, meet my new baby and my new wife. I promise to do my best for your grandson.” The next day or so I phoned and got confirmation that what I had suspected was true.
Today, I woke up at three AM and knew that I had to finally visit Chun Ying's grave. The days are getting late, my hair is silvering and my number one son is contemplating marriage. I had just had a big pow-wow with my son on the subject the day before and it was time to tell his Po-Po my thoughts on the prospective union.
I drove to the cemetery and parked fifty steps from the grave without ever having been there before. I brought her some flowers from my apartment yard that my wife had grown. I brought her a little bottle of Yunnan Pai Yao that she had given me over thirty years ago, in case I was ever shot or stabbed. I sat to tell her about her grandson and myself and thank her for all the boundless kindness she had shown this Texan. When I finished my second smoke, I heard her clear sweet voice in my head, “My-ko go home. Seep!”
I did as told and when I woke up I dressed up the picture I took of her grave and wrote this story.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.