When I decided to visit my mother at Lakeview Cemetery a few weeks ago, I thought about buying flowers.
“She wouldn’t want you to spend that kind of money. You know how she was,” said my wife Jan, as we drove towards Lakeview Cemetery.
Jan was right. My mother was frugal and would never pay money for such luxuries, choosing to grow flowers in her yard instead.
She was 101 years and was laid to rest next to my father on May 4th this year. Since my mother’s death, I learned to count the rows of headstones to find the family headstone. They are in row seven to the right of the entrance.
With my fingers, I feel the freshly engraved 2012 date beside her name. I do the traditional bowing three times, then clean up around the headstone, picking up loose leaves just as she did countless times for my father who passed away when I was in the sixth grade.
My early Christmas holidays were celebrated in Chinatown.
I was just a little boy and the old storefront space my family lived in on King Street did not have a fireplace. I wanted to believe in Santa Claus and his reindeer delivering presents to all the kids. The stories said he would climb down into the home through the chimney. I always wondered if Santa would make it to my living room with his gifts.
Sometimes my father would buy a Christmas tree. Having a tree was a treat in those days.
They were never a fancy trees like you’d see in department stores. The branches would be uneven, and shaped in random way, but it was a Christmas tree. A few lights and ornaments made it look colorful. It smelled like a tree and felt like one, too.
Often, we would open our Christmas presents and find handmade clothing inside. Mother’s seamstress skills were a large part of her laundry business and something she learned as a teenager in China.
With a family to support and medical bills for my allergy treatments to pay for, my mother ran a tight household. She sacrificed for her children, even when my father was still alive and losing money in the Chinatown gambling houses.
She liked to remind all the children: “If you are hungry, no one will know if you are wearing good clothes.”
Christmas also meant that the New Year was just around the corner. My mother would put tangerines and oranges in each room of the house to bring us good luck.
On New Year’s Day, she would roast a whole chicken, complete with the head and feet on it for ceremonies. The bird was put on a platter with barbecued pork, red envelopes filled with money and burning incense. The family would bow with our hands clasped together and say prayers for our ancestors in heaven.
After my father left us, my mother raised two teenage sons and two daughters. I was the youngest.
My mother ran a hand laundry in Seattle’s Chinatown. My father owned a restaurant at the time of his passing.
Like all immigrants pursuing the American dream, my mother saved her money and eventually had enough for a down payment for a house on Beacon Hill. Surrounded by white neighbors and four children who were becomimg more Americanized, our Christmas celebrations became more mainstream.
Staying with tradition, my mother would continue brewing exotic soups said to be essential for our good health. She washed her tired feet in a liquid from boiled roots. Insisting that we maintain our language, we were required to speak Chinese in the home.
My mother would remind us to always be frugal with money. She worked six days a week for 35 years cleaning, pressing and altering other people’s clothes to save money to raise her family, buy a home and eventually send her kids through college.
In her later years, my mother gave us socks as presents. Sometimes, they’d be irregulars with the Nike embroidered labels faintly visible. For the longest time, none of the grown-up kids would have to buy socks, thanks to her.
In recent years, my mother lived at the Kin On Health Care Center’s nursing home facility. Each December, the building would be decorated for Christmas. By the time the Chinese New Year came around, the lion dance groups would come to entertain the residents who huddled around them in their wheelchairs.
With her memory ravaged by Alzheimer’s, and recognition of her own children diminishing with each passing holiday, the family did it’s best to maintain a connection to our mother.
When I wrote about my mother’s hand laundry in Chinatown for the International Examiner a month before her death, I said someday my parents would be together again.
Now they are.