Remembering Aunt – A Revisit

After my return from Canada, one of my best friends mentioned that he and his girlfriend would be spending time in Toronto and I’d be welcomed to join them. So a week before we left, I went to a gift shop in Vermont that had all these touristy type of souvenirs. There would be a little cow here for my aunt.

The tough thing about finding the perfect cow is that this is a souvenir shop. So the name Vermont was embroidered on many if the items in the store. I found a very small cow I thought my aunt would enjoy. It was nothing too extravagant or fancy. The cow could easily fit inside the pocket of my jacket. I also bought a very tiny red bag that would be the cow’s vessel for the next few days because red is a very auspicious Chinese color.

We only stayed in Canada for a few days. I spent a day with my cousins, and on the last day I went to visit my aunt. My cousin was already with my aunt when my niece and I arrived. Aunt had already fallen asleep, and a bit of disappointment filled my chest as I stood there with the red bag and cow. We entered aunt’s room and my cousin nudged her (actually patted her arm with good force) saying, “妈,龙华到了!” I wanted to tell my cousin that it’s OK and she didn’t need to wake her up, but cousin pushed a remote that raised the be into a sitting position and poor aunt woke up confused. “Who are you?” she asked me. Nervously, I handed her the cow and she looked at it with more confusion. “What is this? Who are you?” In the moment, it’s quite sad that she didn’t recognize me. Even though I knew she wouldn’t recognize me, it’s difficult to grasp. You spend a lifetime knowing somebody, building memories and experiences and then suddenly all that is stripped from your mind. After explaining to her that it’s a cow (she said it’s not a cow), she still brought it under the blankets.

It felt rewarding to be able to give aunt the cow. When I was younger, aunt would bring me to McDonalds or Arbys to eat. She and uncle would also take me to the library and just go around Hamilton for fun. Since my name is “dragon” in Chinese, and she knows I like dragons, she would buy me these graphic dragon shirts that were very small on me. I always found it humorous that maybe in her eyes, I’m her younger brother’s youngest child and she had to buy me these very small clothes. I wore the shirts a few times, but honestly they were just too small.

A few days after I came back to the US, my cousin called to tell me aunt liked the cow. I’m not sure if my cousin just said this to bring me happiness or aunt really did like the cow. I’m not sure where my belief lies. Sometimes it’s comforting to believe an innocent fib than to drown in a dark truth.

I do feel though that somewhere my aunt recognizes me and knows I brought her a cow.

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The Little Prick

Some time after we had moved into our new home, my brother and I spent the afternoon at the neighborhood playground. The playground was on the other side of the our house, separated by our lawn and a row of trees.

We chased each other across the wooden planks. Sunlight beamed down on just the two of us, and for a brief moment darkness swallowed me as I passed through the tunnel slide. Rushing down the slide gave me such excitement that I had to try it again. And again. My brother watched as I ran up from wooden steps, down the slide and back up again. Through my excitement, I somehow missed his cautious words telling me to slow down. How could he put a limit to this fun? All he was doing was standing there to make sure I was safe; he should go down the slide! As I ran up the familiar steps, I tripped and my hands found the wooden planks. A sudden pain shot through my fingertip. It was so unbearable that I didn’t realize I had also skinned my palms.

My brother brought me home, and Mom asked my brother what happened to me. She sat me down on her lap in the dining room and took my finger in her soft hands. My brother had to bring her a pair of tweezers. These metal clippers had me squirm. Mom brought them to my fingers, and I made a fist. I didn’t know what she could be doing to my fingers. Did she not realize I just hurt my hand on the playground? How could she plan on hurting me any more than that? After some soothing words, I finally open my hands and Mom lightly squeezed the tip of my finger. I couldn’t stop crying as she pinched the tip of my finger with the pliers. Was this punishment for being careless on the playground? I promised her I wouldn’t do that ever again and cried harder. My cheeks were saturated. She kept telling me to keep an opened hand as she sunk the pliers deeper into my finger. How much further did she need to press? Through my blurry vision, I saw her pull the pliers away and comment on the tiny splinter of wood between the metallic teeth. The pain was no longer in my finger. I wiped my eyes and saw the sliver of wood. That splinter piece of wood caused all the pain?

Mom gave me a hug and a kiss on the finger. My soul became warm and relaxed.

Jumping Timelines

Sorry that I haven’t kept up with the memoirs on a weekly basis as I had originally planned. I’ve been thinking about the memories I have left, and most of them are simply spurts of nostalgia. I’m not sure how I would feel posting a very short memory once a week, or just combining them all into one post. Today I’ll experiment with the latter.

We’d often visit our house in Williston when it was still under construction. It was completely bare naked back then, with the sunlight and wind blowing through the wooden frames and beams. Why would we move into this kind of house when all the walls were missing? We lived in a perfectly fine house that protected us from all the natural elements, and even allowed sunshine when we opened the blinds. My parents and siblings thought this house would be a great place to live. I explored the house on my own, my brother keeping an eye on me. I made my way to the second floor, to which I can’t remember how I made it that far. I feel like the stairs weren’t built; maybe my brother lifted me up to the second floor? Honestly I don’t know. At some point, I remembered panicking. Everyone started to leave, and I was still standing on the second floor without a way to get down. Maybe that is why I don’t remember the stairs being built? Somehow I got down, whether I jumped to the first floor (unlikely) or my brother lifted me down (more likely).

Eventually we moved into the new neighborhood. My third brother went to the local school. Some afternoons I’d returned home with Mom and see him watching cartoons like Looney Tunes or wrestling. I’m not entirely certain if wrestling was on the television, but I do remember Sergent Slaughter appearing on screen. Since he was a G.I. Joe, and my brother was a G.I. Joe fanatic, I remember his face quite well.

We made friends with the neighbors and their children. I think I became their friends through my brother because they all went to school together; I would be joining him in a few more years. One night, my brother and I went to a neighbor’s house. I think Mom came with us? Someone had to come with us; an eight year old and a four year old can’t wander around a neighborhood at night.

The funny thing is that the neighbors had two daughters. I may be very wrong on their gender, but I distinctly recall them both being girls. I’m not sure why I find that humorous either. Maybe it’s just because every time I recall this memory, the more odd it feels that they would be girls. We ended up in their room, the only light coming from the television. I found my way to the top bunk with a G.I. Joe action figure in hand. I’m not sure which one I had; it could have been Snake Eyes. This G.I. Joe had an accessorized sword, and silly me tried to get it into his hand. Only problem was I couldn’t see with just the television light and had to use my fingers to feel the handle of the sword and the hand of the action figure. That’s when I lost it. The little sword fell somewhere off the top bunk, or maybe it was just on the bed. I couldn’t get the words together to admit losing the sword and have the girls turn on the light. My brother might even scold me for being careless. We returned home with one less sword.

Halloween was a fun time. It’s interesting since the holiday is just a few weeks away. Back then I had the best Halloween costume: Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My sister, brother, and I were having dinner right before trick or treating. A knock on the door, followed by the laughter of children, interrupted our dinner. I wasn’t in costume yet, and my sister went out to give out candy. I wanted to join and also participate in the fun, but I just couldn’t get my costume on quickly enough.

I think that’s going to be it for this post. Enjoy!

No Fear! Big Brother is Here!

Sorry that it’s been so long since I last updated this blog. Been just…unmotivated to write. I don’t have any excuses since I’m the one who wanted to start this blog of memories. Perhaps it’s not knowing who my readers are, or some other hidden meaning that I don’t know about. Maybe laziness?

This memory steams back to the time we all lived in Essex Junction. This is the same house we lived in from a previous post.

This was a one story house with four rooms perhaps? Maybe five? I don’t really remember how many rooms this house had, and that may be from having not lived there for a long time.

On this particular day, my brother J and I were running around the house fighting imaginary foes. When G.I. Joes and Ninja Turtles have an active part in your life, your imagination just frees itself. We carried these toy walkie-talkies with us, branded with a G.I. Joe logo on the front. As we ran through the hallway of our one floor house, we made sure to avoid bothering our biggest brother, who sat cross-legged on the floor watching a Chinese movie or T.V. show. We were being chased by something terrifying, and J ran into one of the bedrooms and quickly disappeared under the blankets. I guess that was enough to realize the danger was real, and J wasn’t big enough to protect me from the monsters. I turned around, ran back into the living room, and my big brother gave a groan as I landed in his lap. I huddled against him, and he just tried calming me down while keeping focus on the T.V. Nothing could overcome the biggest brother. Well, maybe our dad, but at this moment my biggest brother was the strongest man alive.

Then, from out of nowhere, a disembodied voice called me by name from my lap. What kind of monster knows me by name? J and I must be dealing with some crazy monster, and he was alone in the bedroom under the covers.

After my biggest brother calmed me down, I found my walkie-talkie on the rug and the voice still calling my name. I answered back with some hesitation and a familiar voice replied back. J asked me to return to the bedroom. For the rest of the day, I just stayed with my biggest brother.

Remembering Aunt

Last week, I went to visit my relatives in Toronto. It had been about 7 years since I last gave them a visit. One of the biggest reasons for me to visit was for my aunt, who is my blood relative there. She is my father’s oldest sister.

Back in December, her husband passed away, and her children have been visiting her every day in the nursing home. I didn’t realize how much has changed since December, even in these last 7 years.

Before I visited my aunt, my cousin brought me to pay respects to my uncle. His ashes were stored in a temple known at 佛光山 (Foguang Shan). A sign outside the prayer room asked you only take one joss stick (essentially an incense stick). Seeing as today I’m not only here alone and representing my other brothers back in China, I took three.

We did not stay at the temple for very long. My cousin brought me to the nursing home to visit my aunt. Right before we had left the temple, though, my nice and nephew (well, in Chinese culture they refer to me as uncle, but they are first cousin once removed) explained to me that my aunt may not remember me, and not to take offense.

Hearing those words were very mind opening.  My Chinese pronunciation isn’t great, so I became concerned that not only would my aunt not recognize me but wouldn’t even be able to understand me.

We arrived at the first floor of the nursing home. Pamphlets and hand written letters written in both English and Chinese were pinned to the wall. We took the elevator up, to the fifth floor I think, and walked into the dining room.

In the far end of the room sat my other cousin, who’s attention was on her mother. My cousin and I sat down, and my aunt’s first question was, “Who are you?” My cousin replied, “I’m your son!” You could feel the weight of his heart against his warm smile as he asked his sister if aunt was eating. Aunt didn’t eat; she only spat out the food. Then aunt’s attention turned to me and she asked the same question.

I replied with my name: “我是龙华. 华仔.” It was clear that neither name (well, 华仔 is more of a nickname) had any familiarity to her ears. She repeated back the name to me, and I smiled back.

My aunt would periodically ask who I was, and I’d tell her I’m her nephew from the US. I drove 7 hours to see her. I told her I have brothers in China, to which she replies, “龙华, you love me so much! Your brothers don’t love me!” It’s both funny and sad at the same time to hear this reaction. I explained to her that for me, it’s very easy to drive, but for my brothers it’s too far. She soon forgot, and I would remind her my name and that she’s my aunt and I’m her nephew. I would tell her she would make pork chops and buy me dim sum.

My cousin (her daughter) told me that some mornings, she will take her outside on the patio and my aunt loves seeing this cow statue. It’s one of those abstract statues where a bunch of silver metallic pieces are arranged in such a way that forms a cow shape.

A few days later, I got my brother on a video chat to speak with my aunt. It was quite a bitter sweet moment. My aunt couldn’t remember my brother. I told aunt that he is in our hometown back in China, and sometimes aunt would remember little by little.

After that day, I told my nephew I wanted to buy aunt a cow stuffed animal. We drove around the whole day, going from toy store to toy store, but Toronto is not cow country. There were horses, and spotted dogs, and pigs and every farm animal you could find but no cows. Maybe cows are super popular and got sold out?

I did find a plush ow the other day. Right in a wooden box found within the Apple Cider Mill gift shop in Vermont. Cow country. Hopefully I can go back, buy the cow, and mail it to my aunt. Though it might be better to present it to her in person, I’m really not sure how much longer she has, but I’m glad to have been able to visit her again.

Countdown to the green light

One sunny afternoon in Essex, my mom and I stopped on at Grand Union to buy groceries. This was way back in the day when Grand Union, Ames, and one other store I can’t remember took the place what is now Lowes.

Just Mom and I in the front seat. There’s something special when it’s just the two of us. As we sat there waiting for the light to turn green, I reached up and changed the angle of the rear view mirror. Pretending to drive means I have to be able to see the cars behind me, right? Well Mom changed the mirror back so she could see, so I just looked at the mirror from the visor above my seat. A man in a pickup track waited behind us, and I tried turning around to get a better view. My eyes barely made it over the seat; I probably only saw the top of the window of the backseat. I sat back down, waiting for the light to change green.

“5…4…3…2…”

But I never got to 1. What happened stopped my thoughts as our car spun into the three way intersection. I don’t remember how many times our car spun. Everything was just a blur, but when we finally stopped I felt a tinge of guilt. Why did I have to change the rear view mirror? What if I hadn’t tried to see the driver behind us?

Mom was very dazed and confused. She was trying to be strong and brave, but she couldn’t communicate with the other drivers as they ran to our car. I was too young and scared to say a word. But my mom was strong and brave. She was also smart. She removed a cap from her head and pointed at the logo stitched to the hat: the phone number and address to our restaurant about a mile down the road.

We sat in the car with traffic stopped all around us. I couldn’t remember who else was involved. Maybe there was a police officer directing traffic. We must have sat there for a long time. My sister came running down the road, wearing the same hat as my mother. My heart felt relieved.

Who is your super hero?

Looking back, I have very few memories of my dad. He was always working hard for the family. I have a few pictures of him and I together in the same photo. There is a family photo where I am sitting on my dad’s lap. I used to wonder why I sat on his lap. Why not sit on my mom’s lap? My brother sat on her lap, but not me. For some reason, I felt that I should be sitting on my mom’s lap.

One strong memory I have is that my dad smoked. It’s not a negative memory; it’s just difficult for me to remember him from my childhood. I don’t think he was a heavy smoker, but I remember he liked to smoke. Maybe from working so hard in restaurant he needed to relax. Could be that this was just something he carried over from China.

My brother and I are only 4 years apart in age, and we didn’t like that he smoked. One time during a road trip, we all stopped at a convenience store. There was a cigarette box key chain with a single cigarette poking out the box, and if you pressed it down, the voice box within the key chain would cough a few times followed by something against smoking. I thought it was a great key chain, but of course my dad couldn’t understand the message.

It’s tough trying to remember what kind of father you had when you were so little. I have many pictures of him and myself: birthday parties, dinners, him and my mom. I even have a family movie with him in it, however it’s scary to realize that these real events from the past cannot be found within my memory. I don’t remember whose birthday we are celebrating, but there is a cake in the photo. In another photo, he holds my arm to keep me balanced as I stand in a chair to get in the photo frame. We are all chiming our drinking glasses. Our home video shows us all enjoying a dim sum meal in Boston. Maybe as I continue with this blog, I will be able to recall more memories of my father.

Rock beats scissor. Scissor scares you into the bathtub.

I’ve spent some trying to recall some memories of my sister. I know she was a very loving sister. She took me shopping a lot. She actually bought us a Super Nintendo when it first came out. We started with Super Mario World. I was pretty little then, maybe around four? One of my biggest regrets was giving it to my cousins when I got older.

One time, she was driving my brother and I back from the mall, at least that’s I’m guessing. Where else would we be traveling from on the interstate back to the restaurant? I remember she was driving, and my brother and I were both sitting in the car having fun playing with the windshield wipers. Thinking back, this was a very dangerous thing to play with in the car. Watching the windshield wiper fluid splatter across the windshield had a magical effect. Eventually, my sister realized the safety concern behind this and she had to stop us from continuously pushing the button. I was quite disappointed.

One time she was helping me take a bath. This was kinda scary, and I guess funny at the same time. Apparently I didn’t want to get into the bathtub, even though I was already naked. She mimicked these scissors with her fingers, and that terrified me. Terrified me enough to get into the tub. What else was she gonna snip? I had an overactive imagination as a four year old.

Hmm it’s kind of difficult to remember what my childhood was like with her. It seems like smaller memories right now. I do have one special memory, in a way, of her, but I’ll share that one later on. For tonight, these two memories will have to do.

Playtime with my big brother

My older brother really like G.I. Joe. I’m talking about the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero from the 80s. While he liked the action hero Joe, I was more into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What can I say? I was like 3 years old and he was around 7. Turtles who eat pizza and use ninja swords were much cooler than G.I.’s shooting guns (I actually liked watching the G.I. Joe movies when I became his age, like G.I. Joe: The Movie and The Revenge of Cobra mini-series).

The cool thing about my brother was when we played games with his G.I. Joe and Cobra action figures. We had this fun way of making all the action figures fight each other by piling them all together and kinda tossing them like fried rice in a large wok. Except we’d use our hands to toss them about, not spatulas and tongs. The crazy rattling noise of the plastic soldiers mashing together got me really excited. After about 30 seconds of this non-stop tossing, the battle was pretty much over. I can’t really remember how my Ninja Turtles were involved with the frenzy; maybe they sat these games out since the Ninja Turtle action figures were much bigger then the little Joe’s.

We also had our own little secret, and I’m not sure if our parents or older siblings ever found out. Since we didn’t have any toy buildings or other structures for our Joe’s to hide in, we would bring in sticks from outside into the bedrooms. He would construct these elaborate stick houses for the G.I. Joe’s and we would use those as either defense walls or some kind of fortitude between Cobra and G.I. Joe. Afterwards, instead of throwing the sticks back outside, we would hide them under the bed. Obviously, our parents and older siblings could see the twigs and branches sticking out, so what’s the solution? Place pillows all around the base of the bed frame to hide the sticks. No one would suspect a thing.

The monster in the paper bag

Which memories do you decide to write first? As hard as you try to retrace your memories, there isn’t a valid way to catalogue your memories in chronological order. Tonight’s memory isn’t anything too spectacular, but it’s one of my earliest memories of my mom.

I was around 3-years old at the time. We hadn’t moved out of our Essex home. From the outside, it wasn’t anything spectacular. A one car garage on the right, stairs led up to the front door. It was a small house for 7 people, and for me this was my first home.

On this day, my mom and I went to a local seafood store that was down the road from us. I really didn’t like walking. Mainly because my stubby legs and tiny feet could only cover so much ground. I also just wanted to be carried by my mom.

We walked home from the seafood store with Mom carrying a large paper bag. I must have been a very energetic child because at one point, we had to stop along a stonewall so Mom could catch her breath. Mom needed both hands to carry the paper bag, and I wanted her to carry me instead. Or at least play with me. Or hold my hand. That’s when the paper bag moved. Something was still alive inside. I no longer wanted Mom to carry me. I just fixated my eyes on this large package Mom held, and before I could even think of what lurked inside, a red claw tore through the paper like nothing! I must have gone crazy because a second claw followed! Both claws waved around the air, each held down tightly with blue rubber bands. My mom was carrying a monster. She must have been so brave. I don’t think I wanted my mom to carry me next to such a beast.