A Familiar Image - Printable Version

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RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-18

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One night, as usual as he was very unhappy and throwing a prolonged tantrum for hours on end, I tried to completely ignore him and decided to hit the sack early with the anticipation of the important tasks for work by early next morning.  I was just so tired of his temper tantrum.  He couldn’t stop yelling from the kitchen while coughing up his lung at the same time because of his asthma.  Then at roughly 3:00 am, suddenly a very loud sound of shattering glasses from the kitchen woke me up.  I quickly jumped out of the bed and rushed to the kitchen.  Sure enough, as I was so afraid to see, it was my father who smashed his teacup and ceramic bowl to the floor, and the shattered small pieces of ceramic were scattered all over the kitchen floor.  By the time I rushed into the kitchen with a sleepy head and barefooted, I accidentally stepped on some of those shattered ceramics and was bleeding.  This time I also got angry and yelled at him, “what are you doing!?!”  Needless to say, my father wouldn’t take that disrespectful loud voice from me, not like he could see me bleeding anyway, and chances are he probably wouldn’t care if I had told him so.  In turn, he got even louder, screaming and pounding the table repeatedly, “how dare you yelled at me!?!”
It was 3:00 am while the whole world was asleep, but I just couldn’t stop him from screaming and pounding the table.  In spite of how much I had tried explaining to him about other tenants sleeping downstairs, my father just didn’t care and carried on with his insanely uncontrollable temper tantrum.  Under such circumstances, I felt so helpless, and I was aware of the possibility that I might have to send him to a nursing home if I couldn’t make sense to him.  I even attempted to cover his mouth with my hand, but that didn’t work.  As I was helplessly frustrated, I slapped him and hoped that it could help awaken him from his madness.  My slap landed on his left cheek and it was relatively hard.  He was stupefied and quiet for a brief moment in disbelief that I hit him, but then he quickly resumed his tremendous anguish lashing out at me, not realizing that I was standing right in front of him.  As he was screaming very loud to plead for help, there was no one else around but only two of us.  Once again, I slapped him the second time, and the second time seemed to turn him completely silent, or more like speechless with total disbelief for what just happened.
My father was reaching near the end of his time after eight years we lived together.  I initially wanted to be there for him, mainly because I was the only one who was working from home.  In addition, among all my siblings, I was the only one who was already divorced.  There was no longer a spouse to be concerned about or to be consulted with for anything, especially for living with a difficult old man like my father.  Even so, as conveniently as it may seem for someone single and working from home with time to look after his elderly father, I had failed so miserably at times over the eight years of living with my father.  I failed to engage and maintain an interactive relationship with him, and I didn’t quite fulfill my responsibilities as a son to care for his elderly father.  One thing I will forever be regretted is that I hit my father, not once but twice!  I still feel guilty and so shameful for my irrational action afterward and confessed it to my mother the next day.  To say the least, the impeccable expectation of a good son was broken and my disrespectful action toward my father was a disgrace.  I already knew that it will soon be my turn to be treated the same way when I got to his age.  Perhaps it was a good thing that I don’t have a son and am very likely to be alone on my deathbed.
Living with my father was not easy to say nor to carry out for me at all, and I didn’t expect how bad it could turn out, especially when his mind was nearly gone completely during the very last year of his life.  Regardless of how carefully I  had tried to clean his room as often as I could find the time, any misplacing of his things in the process could easily trigger his anguish if he couldn't locate them again with his blinded eyes.  The whole apartment was always smelling like an unattended urinal.  He would insist to keep many plastic containers by his bed for his convenient usage as a urinal, but then oftentimes they accidentally got spilled on the floor or onto his bed when he tried to locate those filled containers with his hands.  For the last three years of his life, my father refused to take a bath or shower and only had one because I forced him.  It was an incredible experience for me just to give him a hot shower. (to be continued)

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-19

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While living with my father, seldomly have I ever had a date during that long span of eight years, except occasionally once in the blue moon when a woman is interested in someone like me. One time there was this nice lady who was also a divorcee. She was fully interested in my suggestion to meet up in the town where I live, Chicago – the truth was that I cannot manage to leave town without extensive planning for my father. We got to know each other online – through an online Vietnamese community called, Vietfun. It happened in my fifth year after the divorce. By that time, I was ready and interested in meeting someone, just not ready to start up a new family with my father's situation still in chaos. This type of life situation for a middle-aged man still living with his elderly father just does not fit well with a woman’s plan for her future, which I was quite aware of and fully understand the dilemma. Even so, I still enjoy the romantic parts of life if somehow a connection with someone is formed. However, with so many heavy pieces of baggage between my younger girls and living with an elderly father, I usually did not stand a chance to steal a woman’s heart, let alone try to impress her with anything I do not have. Thus, my original plan was to meet up with her somewhere for dinner and then perhaps give her a tour of my proud city of Chicago, and we did exactly that. Somehow the time always seemed to flow by too quickly whenever I was having a date with a nice lady.
The feedback of the whole outing was that she honestly liked Chicago pizza, and the personal tour of the city’s lakefront was meant to be as a sweet dessert or extra cheese. After the first day, her interest moved to something else the next day before she headed home. It was something that I have always been afraid to share, but she insisted to see where I live and what daily life consists of. Even though I realized that she came with good intentions and wanted to know more about me in person, I still did not want to show her my stinky apartment. In the end, I reluctantly gave in and took her home. Soon enough, as we were preparing a simple evening meal with Chinese water-fried dumplings, my father was snoring loudly from the slightly open door right next to the kitchen. We could hear his very loud snoring, but I told her that he would not be able to eavesdrop on our conversation.  Luckily that seemed to help ease her tension a little bit, at least until the next terrible thing happened when she excuses herself to use the bathroom, which I had intentionally cleaned the night before.  As I watched her stepping into the bathroom, my thought immediately wondered if it is still smelly in there, or if my father had used it before we came in. Sure enough, it was once again exactly what I was afraid to find out. My nice lady walked out of the bathroom five minutes later with a disgusting expression on her face, “Ewww..”  She quickly lifted one of her feet and pointed to the bottom of it, and asked, “do you know what this dark sticky thing is?” But then quickly she answered the question for me too, “I think it must be your dad’s poop.”
Well, as much as I still would like to think that we both had enjoyed a romantic date, she did not call me again after just that one romantic date.  An unhappy ending on a date was one of the usual things I could take without any resentment at all.  I sometimes got depressed or felt self-piteous for a while, but that was still a relief from the boring routines at home and work. During the seventh year ever since we lived together, my father’s health became deteriorating faster than before, with bladder cancer, worsened asthma condition, diabetes, etc. By the time the snowy Winter reached Chicago in 2007, he was just having his ninety-three-birthday cake, still very unhappy and moody as before, or even more.  Whenever I took him to a clinic for regular checkups, I would have to lead him by holding both of his hands and walking backward leading him through the corridors and into the exam rooms.  I would need to continuously encourage him to move forward following my voice during the whole movement. Even under such conditions, my father refused to use a wheelchair because that would make him look too old. Yeah, right, but that was his thing and the end of the discussion, period.  He still wanted to dress the way he used to and based on the imagination of how he used to look in his memory, a dress shirt, and pants, with a small woolen hat tilted to the side on his combed silver hairs. My father only dressed like he forever lives in the 1930s in Shanghai.
During that snowy winter of 2007 when my father fell on a stair and broke his hip bone, it was the last time he left home to the hospital. I had insisted and told him numerous times that he should not even attempt to walk out the door for any reason at all, especially from the backdoor that leads to the enclosed back porch with a small window looking out to the backyard. It was his favorite small corner with a rocking chair and a coffee table where he used to enjoy sitting there, either early in the morning or sometimes late at night. But he was so stubborn and did exactly what I told him not to do several times before. I realized that he just wanted to feel the fresh air and a little movement out to the back porch as an exercise sometimes. He obviously cannot see, so he could only feel his way with his hands. He was already familiar with all the door locks when he still could see, so that night he opened the double locks of the backdoor and felt his way out to the back porch and missed a step around the platform and fell onto the stair, and rolled down to the basement. His hip bone broke and his whole body was leaning on the basement’s doorframe that directly leads to the backyard. He cannot move or it will hurt him very badly if he moves. The winds from a lingering severe winter storm were pounding the wooden door in continuous waves after waves. The solidified tiny snowflakes sipped in through the doorframe and accumulatively outlined a white silhouette of his body, leaning halfway onto the door and the ground. It was how I found him at around 4:00 am after I felt a cold breeze blowing into my bedroom. In two or three steps and I already rushed to the kitchen. I immediately knew that something very wrong had already happened. The door in the back was wide open. (to be continued)

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-19

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My father was hospitalized for roughly three months and needed to go through one surgery after another to replace his hip bone.  By this time, his health condition continued to deteriorate even further.  It was nearly impossible for him to recover from multiple surgeries.  My brothers and I took turns visiting him at the hospital as often as we could make time.  If my thought of living in a nursing home would kill him sooner, lying in bed every day at the hospital was torture before death for him.  He can’t stand the pains after surgeries and constantly needed to be injected with morphine, so he was pretty much sedated most of the time.  The sedated condition had helped him and for the nurses to care for him, or else he wouldn’t be calm or stop trying to resist. In two and half months, the hospital staff and nurses had gotten to know me and my father very well, “Mr. Ngo,” as to how they would call us.  I was the one for the hospital to call 24/7 if anything bad ever happened.  The first emergency call I received after the second week was at roughly 2:00 Am.  A nurse told me over the phone that I needed to be at the hospital to help calm my father down.  It was only a short drive, but getting there and being ready to deal with my father’s usual tantrum at two in the morning, was not something I could mentally be prepared for in advance.  By the time I arrived at his bed, I quickly learned that he had pulled out the flexible feeding tube that was placed through his abdomen and into his stomach.  It was a big mess all over his bed, and the nurses were quite concerned about the incident.  I was advised that his quality of life for him was quickly diminishing every day goes by.  Perhaps it was time to let him go.
In my mind, I believe my father had decently lived a good long life.  He died at the age of ninety-four, and he had been living in three different countries for decades, China, Vietnam, and America.  Maybe he had failed to recognize that as an incredible journey, but I believe it was still a remarkable way to experience life even if he couldn’t see that being fortunate.  There is always so much in life when we are still alive, but we don’t always recognize and enjoy the good parts of it.  Instead, we tend to focus more on the bad and the not-so-good sides of our daily life.  Life is indeed too short, and we can only live once.  Because of that, we tend to always wishfully want more, and for as long as we shall live, but can we be happy for what we got is the point of it all.  I still thought of my father from time to time and to this day. 

RE: A Familiar Image - LeThanhPhong - 2022-04-19

Hello  Dear Duy,

I appreciate your stories, and your writing skill very much. 

Thank you for sharing your life experiences.

By the way, why did your Dad lose his eye sight? Did he ever have a surgery for cataracts?  When we get older, most of us need to have this cataract operation.


RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-19

(2022-04-19, 07:49 PM)LeThanhPhong Wrote: Hello  Dear Duy,

I appreciate your stories, and your writing skill very much. 

Thank you for sharing your life experiences.

By the way, why did your Dad lose his eye sight? Did he ever have a surgery for cataracts?  When we get older, most of us need to have this cataract operation.



I am glad to see that you still could find such an unusual story enjoyable.  Thank you for the feedback!

Well, during his late 70s, the doctor had suggested several times that we should take him to have cataract surgery on both of his eyes, but my father was just too stubborn to listen.  He just simply refused to cooperate because he had always been very afraid of surgery.  By the time when he reached the age of mid-80s, his eyes and health condition has gotten so bad so quickly that the doctor was no longer recommended cataract surgery because chances are he won't be able to recover from it.  He still could see from one eye with blurry vision until it went away completely when he reached 92.

RE: A Familiar Image - LeThanhPhong - 2022-04-20

(2022-04-19, 11:41 PM)DuyVIII Wrote: Hi LTP,

I am glad to see that you still could find such an unusual story enjoyable.  Thank you for the feedback!

Well, during his late 70s, the doctor had suggested several times that we should take him to have cataract surgery on both of his eyes, but my father was just too stubborn to listen.  He just simply refused to cooperate because he had always been very afraid of surgery.  By the time when he reached the age of mid-80s, his eyes and health condition has gotten so bad so quickly that the doctor was no longer recommended cataract surgery because chances are he won't be able to recover from it.  He still could see from one eye with blurry vision until it went away completely when he reached 92.

Hi Duy,

Thank you for answering my question. 

I can understand why most of older Vietnamese people don't trust doctors and surgeries.  They don't understand that surgeries nowadays are no longer as risky as they were in the past.

Later on, they become depressed because their quality of life is gone.

You were a good son. I have a lot of respect to the ones who take care of their elders. It's not an easy job. You have my total empathy.

Take care of yourself while enjoying your adventures in Vietnam.

RE: A Familiar Image - schi - 2022-04-20

... take it easy pal ... you had the happiest moment when bringing the favorite food for your family reunion ... you also had a deeply touched moment when your Pàpá admit that you're good son ... and last but not least your Pàpá was covered by a clear sight blanket ... everything is suitable in the traditional way of Vietnamese people rooted in Chinese ... so move on ... i think your Pàpá awkwardness is just because of his painful body ... his face showed that and the young Duy didn't recognize that ... the stressful situations cause elders to slap or caregivers slap ... that's why we need home supportive services ... nursing home is not bad ... it has some special activities for patients to enjoy ... i spent nighttime there with my Ma when she needed some special care to recover ... happy ending pal ... move on ... move on ... Grinning-face-with-smiling-eyes4 ...

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-20

(2022-04-20, 03:29 AM)schi Wrote: ... take it easy pal ... you had the happiest moment when bringing the favorite food for your family reunion ... you also had a deeply touched moment when your Pàpá admit that you're good son ... and last but not least your Pàpá was covered by a clear sight blanket ... everything is suitable in the traditional way of Vietnamese people rooted in Chinese ... so move on ... i think your Pàpá awkwardness is just because of his painful body ... his face showed that and the young Duy didn't recognize that ... the stressful situations cause elders to slap or caregivers slap ... that's why we need home supportive services ... nursing home is not bad ... it has some special activities for patients to enjoy ... i spent nighttime there with my Ma when she needed some special care to recover ... happy ending pal ... move on ... move on ... Grinning-face-with-smiling-eyes4 ...

Well, all that happened a long, long time ago.  So, yes, I had moved on.  It was just one of a few stories I didn't have the courage to type up before, even though the thought of it was in my mind for so many years.

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-22

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For some people, owning a brand new car and a parking garage is an essential part of daily life, while others would only rely on a bamboo weaved basket and a raincoat to go through their daily routines for an entire life.  I could go with either or, but I am not the type of person who needs to own a lot to feel happy, a little meaningful sentiment side of life is what I enjoy the most, especially now that I am a man at sixty-two.  There are things in life that would need an acquired taste to enjoy, and accomplishments are individually defined.
Growing up as a middle child in a family with four other siblings, not only that I became more independent quite early in comparison to other kids at my age, but I also learned to take on family responsibilities at a very early age.  For the reason why I had done so badly in school, I blamed all that on the ongoing instability of our family life and financial difficulty, which was also the result that we had constantly relocated to different cities based where my father held a job.  Ironically, in turn, the one thing I always have in me is a sense of responsibility for the family.  While my brother was away for high school, I was there to inhere chores.  Cooking and cleaning were the daily routines.  I was a very responsible kid, and some grown-up neighbors were fond of me for that.  “A good kid” as they called me.  Ultimately, my main goal then was to work so that I could earn a living and support myself.  In a way, it was the thought that I could at least earn to feed myself and ease the burden on my parents.  If anyone ever experience life in Vietnam during those early years when the communist regime newly took over South Vietnam and the new System of Budget Subsidies, the so-called “Thời Bao Cấp.” in Vietnamese.  One would remember what it was like to feed an extra mouth, especially for a boy with a huge appetite like me.  For me, I called it the period of starvation.  What I hated the most was the sounds that came from the stomach grinning when you are starved.  Oftentimes I had wished that I could find a job at any food serving stand or restaurant where it serves food, but that didn't happen.
One year after the Vietnam war ended, it was an initial time when I quickly became more mature and fully understood what survival truly meant.  In 1976, my decision to enroll in the government railroad workforce was the one shined light that had guided me through my entire journey to this point.  Working for the railroad had saved me and provided me the opportunity to experience society outside the isolated Chinese community.  It helped me to acquire the tested ability of endurance and determination to overcome many struggles afterward, going from being homeless for a period but non-stop to studying for a career, from being a butcher to becoming a professional accountant.  All that was truly the result of hard work and sacrifices.  Ultimately, it was still the family responsibility that I always wanted to fulfill, and my obligation was to be there for my parents if they ever needed me. 

For more than two years now since I came back to live the old life because of the pandemic, these days I mainly work more to pay for rent, food, and occasional rental car.  This isn’t the lifestyle I want to relive at the age of sixty-two, but it is what it is to carry on.  Even though I still live by one paycheck at a time, the feeling is quite the opposite.  Somehow I always have this feeling that I have gained much more in life than the cash that paid for my labor, and this is counting from the starting wages as a young railroad worker to the recent years of working part-time.  Ultimately, fulfilling the responsibilities of a divorced father was my most priority, to keep the promise that I would care for my parents was second, and learning how to write my stories was lined up third.  As I am learning to write this part of the story today, I believe I had somewhat accomplished my priorities one and two. (to be continued)

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-23

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By the end of the first year when my divorce was already settled, I was still very depressed and had to resign from most of my service contracts.  It was just right before the holiday season that year, but I had no choice because I just couldn’t focus to do the job that I was contracted to perform anymore.  A few days before the Christmas time that year, I took the girls to go shop for their second WII remote control, their only Christmas gift from me.  It was also the one last weekend that the girls stayed over with me before they go home for the holidays.  The idea was to have another remote control so that they could play some games together and at the same time.  I thought it was quite little and simple as it is.  As we were walking through aisles of video games at a Target store, I heard Connie saying to Grace, her little sister, “don’t even think about looking at those games!”  She had only one thing in mind and went straight there.  I, on the other hand, holding Grace’s hand and following Connie’s lead, started wondering if my last payment to the credit card had been mailed out on time.  While we were still in the car on the way to Target, I learned from Connie that the WII remote control would cost roughly $80 - $90.  From there I knew that I do not have enough cash and must use the little line of credit available from my credit card for the purchase.

As Grace and I turned into another aisle, Connie was already there and quickly raised her hand, waving with a box in her hand and cheerfully as she shouted out to me, “it’s $80, Daddy!”  Such a happy girl, she probably still remembered my mentioning not to get one if it costs more than $100.  On the other hand, Grace did not seem to care as much about the remote control and still browsing through the colorful WII boxes of games displayed on the shields.  Seeing Connie was so happy as she was trying to tell Grace about the games that they could play with two remote controls once they got home, I wanted to get it even more than she does.  As we reached the cashier’s counter, I was getting more nervous about the remaining line of credit from my credit card.  I can feel that my palms were wet.  While the cashier was staring at the monitor and waiting for my credit card’s approval, I can almost hear my heart beating faster and I lightly closed my eyes for a brief moment.  Finally, “It did not go through, Sir.” The cashier politely and quietly said.  I can feel that my face started to turn warm, and I can feel Connie and Grace standing right behind me were probably nervous about it too.  I then asked if she could try for a lower amount, and quickly fish out the only $70 from my wallet.  The cashier kindly tried again for $40, and then once again for $20, but it still did not go through.  At that very moment as I was thinking about what to do next, suddenly Connie reached over my shoulder from behind and said, “Here, take this $20 will be enough, Daddy.”
Walking out of Target, I was still a little speechless from what just happened in there.  “I saved the day, didn’t I, Daddy?”  She smiled.  “Yes, you certainly did!”  I replied.  “But where did you get the money from anyway?”  I was still wondering as I was not expecting it.  It turned out that Connie has been saving up all the money offerings for her birthdays and holidays over the years.  “I have money…”  She proudly replied.  On the way to drop them home that night, Connie insisted to stop by an ice cream parlor to get Grace an ice cream corn, because she did not quite get what she was more interested in.  But, in the end, the little one was even happier than her older sister as she indulged in the two scopes of ice cream corn.  I apologized to Connie for the incident at Target, as I thought that I might have embarrassed her there.  But she said, “These things do happen, Daddy.., especially when you’re least expected..”  Once again, I was speechless.  I certainly do not remember saying anything like that when I was 14.  Connie gave me a big hug that night as I drop them home, and said that she loves me.  “I love you” is a thing that she would not say easily anymore as she got older.
After dropping off the girls, it was just a short drive home. With the anticipation of spending the holidays alone with my senile old man at home, I could not help myself from the emotion.  I needed to stop the car for a moment and ponder over Connie’s words and how she expressed her caring gesture earlier. For the first time since I had become a father, I questioned myself about how well I have been doing as a parent.  I was nearly in tears, and once again, feeling a bit lost in the emotion.  Upon reaching home that night, I wanted to quickly bury my weakest emotion at the moment in the sound of music, and there I came across this one song called “Season Of Loneliness”.  Very little that I know, I found myself even more emotional and touched by the simple expression in its words, “Suddenly the treetops tipped stamens, how could I have not felt it?”  A moment later as I was reorganizing Grace’s drawings from the night before, I came across her hand-made Christmas card colored in crayons, and a note in her scratchy handwriting:
“Dear daddy,
Please take care of piggy for me, Thanks!
Well, did you take care of her huh huh huh?
I miss you and if you read this, I am already happy.
Ps:  have something for piggy!”

(to be continued)

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-23

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Thinking back to the time when Connie and Graces were born, my ex-wife and I had a very tough time deciding who will babysit the girls, and we fought over it for some time.  In the end, I was the one to give in.  Besides, I didn’t believe that I could go against my ex-wife and her mother’s will on that matter.  It wasn’t much of a choice, to begin with, because we could only choose between my mother or my mother-in-law.  Anyone else besides them two would be more like a suicidal decision to make.  I decided to go with my mother-in-law both times because it would help to make my life easier, and my ex-wife quickly agreed to it, of course.  It was a compromised choice that I made for a monthly payment of $600.  My mother-in-law was quite happy, but my mother was not.  To help solve my mother’s jealousy, I also gave her $200 a month for not having to babysit my kids, and that continued for the next ten years.  It was something I could afford and more than happy that I could breathe easier afterward.  Typical Asian family dilemma.  However, that was only the beginning of long lingering family problems that lasted twelve years of my marriage.
I could easily point out a few family matters that happened and I should have managed them better, or if my mother and mother-in-law were friends instead of hating each other so much, perhaps the end result could have been much different.  Having to go through a broken marriage once before, the real impact of it on me was more negative and strong.  I didn’t even consider going through another marriage life ever since.  Once was enough for me, and I didn’t want to put my kids through the difficult situation of dealing with the step-parents.  The good thing was that their mother didn’t remarry either, and I have always thought of her as a great mother to the girls.  Whenever a marriage is broken, it usually hurts more than one person, but it didn’t have to be very hurtful, or hate, or forever.  That was the part that I had learned from my ex-wife and my kids.  Even with a broken marriage, we still maintain good parental relationships with the girls.
Years later when the girls were already grown up and Connie was already in her third year of college, my original plan was to move back and live with my mother there. When my mother suffered a stroke, it was just two years before my father passed away, and I had once believed that she would be the first one to go.  It didn’t turn out that way, but she was clearly at the weakest point in her life.  She was in her mid-seventies then.  I wanted to spend more time with her, and perhaps get to know more about her.  It was also an idea that I could at least try out a different life while spending a few years with my mother when she is still alive.  The stroke had since changed my mother’s personality and the quality of life quite a bit.  She didn’t walk again and had to go through nearly two years of physical therapy.  By the time she was slightly recovered and being to walk slowly with a cane, she immediately wanted to travel to Vietnam again. 
One day in January 2000, after dropping off my mother at the airport for her usual trip to Vietnam, I was on my way home and stopped by a convenience store intended to pick up a pack of cigarettes.  The problem was that I only have a twenty dollars bill left in my pocket, and I forgot to bring my wallet with me when I left home.  At that very moment, I was very indecisive about getting the cigarettes or getting a good meal to go for dinner.  In the end, the craving taste of a cigarette took advantage of me rather too easily.  I ended up going home with a mindset to cook a big meal for dinner instead.  After searching through whatever was left there in the refrigerator, by now I was kneeling on the kitchen floor while trying to open up a fifty-pounder bag of jasmine rice by untying those very stubborn stitched strings.  I must have laughed about it at some points while doing just that and thinking about my mother the whole time.
Well, for that time roughly a couple of weeks before my mother left for Vietnam, I took her to go shopping at an Asian grocery store.  I needed to get some rice, and she insisted that I must get a fifty-pounder bag, instead of those usual smaller twenty-five-pound bags that I normally get.  She believed that I will need it if the world comes to a complete halt when the clock ticked past the last seconds of 1999, just like rumors had it.  As for me, I just didn’t like to buy too much of anything, and also the thought of carrying that much heavier bags to the car, so I said, “nhưng má theo đạo ông bà mà sao cũng tịn những chuyện đó?” - we usually conversed in Vietnamese unless we were talking to my father.”  She didn’t like that attitude of mine and insisted, “kệ tao!”  In other words, "I'll decide that!"  I already knew that she wanted to get it for me before she leaves for Vietnam again, but it wasn’t for me to say anything about it at all.  Those were the moments when I can’t stand being with my mother.  Occasionally we ended up with big arguments, but then, like always, I felt guilty and came back to her again afterward.  Yet, it was my idea to be living with her for a few years. (to continue again)

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-24

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My mother was born in China and only came to Vietnam when she was two years old, tagging along with my grandma to meet up with my grandpa in Hoi An, and then several more children were born in Vietnam, who were my uncles and aunts.  To earn a living while the children were young, my maternal grandma used to sell her homemade fresh tofu at the local open markets, and sometimes at more than one location.  Every day starting from dawn to dusk, she usually sat on a small homemade wooden stool, right in the middle of the wet floor with puddles of water around, and her tofu was carefully stacked up in a large aluminum basin filled with water. She would have another large bucket containing more tofu set behind her.  On the very good days, she might be able to sell them all, or most of them, and then she would be home earlier to cook for the young children.  On the not-so-good days, she would have to carry all the remaining tofu to another open market nearby and try to sell them for half price, which did not always work.  My maternal grandparents originally settled down n Hoi An for years before they moved to Da Nang as their final destination, and they had lived there until the day they died and were buried there.

On one hand, my grandma had spent nearly her entire life selling tofu and occasionally salted lemons to support a whole family living with six children.  On the other hand, my grandma was more like a snob when he was young and later became an opium addict for most of his life.  He was the reason why the family had always been so poor and inhered down to his next generation.  My mother loved my grandma so much for she had endured and still always been there to care for her children.  It was the reason why my mother insisted to be buried alongside her mother in Vietnam when she died.  I noticed she would never introduce herself as Vietnamese, but she always proudly says that she is originally from Vietnam to anyone who ever asked where she came from.  It probably had a lot to do with where my grandma came from and where she was buried.  My mother was quite fluent in multiple Chinese dialects, but Vietnamese is the one language that she uses much more frequently, except for when she talks to her parents or my father who had always struggled or refused to learn.  Vietnamese is the most common language in our family, except none we had attended a Vietnamese school before.  Mother has always been spoken to all of us in Vietnamese, and pretty much the same as to all her siblings and other close relatives of a very large family circle.  Sometimes in our conversations, I often heard her randomly saying things in many different rhymed phrases or idioms in Chinese or Vietnamese, and there I was, trying to understand the meaning of those phrases while struggling to figure out how she can remember them, but then she couldn’t get past the interview for the American citizenship exam for many years, in either of those languages, Chinese or Vietnamese.
For the following years, after my mother suffered a relatively severe stroke, she had to depend on only one arm and one leg to move around the house.  Because of such physical condition, she hardly went out of the house again other than the routine doctor checkups, which hindered her quality of life quite negatively and impacted her moods and other aspects of her mental condition as well.  From there I suddenly became the one in the family to spend more time with her and be attentive to her medical needs.  I gradually became more and more familiar with my mother’s preferences in all of her multiple languages.  On the day when we went to a new clinic for her eyes exam, I handed her the admission paper to sign.  After she took about a few minutes to complete her signature, it suddenly prompted my curiosity as I was wondering why it took her that long just to put on a signature, not only that but it also looked very scratchy.  As I was thinking about it, perhaps there was also something wrong with that functional arm as well, but she insisted that the arm was fine.  She then told me that she hardly ever had to write in Vietnamese for anything all her life, with the only exception of putting her signature down on paper occasionally.  I was simply dumbstruck upon hearing that my mother can’t write in Vietnamese.  But how can that be possible when she had always been the only one who handled all the paper-works for the family in all those years when we were in Vietnam.  It turned out that she can only read Vietnamese and rather slowly but not comprehensively, and she can’t write more than her name and the names of her children. That alone was not only a complete shock to me, but it also says very well how little I knew about my mother, and what had she been through all her life.
One afternoon I rushed home just to get a file of documents that I forgot to take along earlier that morning. Somehow this tends to happen more often than before as I became older and more forgetful.  Occasional and seasonal changes in contracts also meant more work and paper files that I need to be mindful of.  What I usually would have done in those incidents is quickly come in the house, locate the file, and then head out immediately, but that wasn’t the case on that afternoon.  As I walked in the door, the first thing that immediately hit me was the smell of pan-fried fish, and then I noticed the very nice and familiar sounds of a Chinese song coming directly from my mother’s bedroom.  I can’t even say if that was something I would like to come home to or expected in the middle of a day, but it somehow felt strangely nice and homey, something quite different.  I quickly put down the keys and head straight to the kitchen knowing that it must be my mother cooking again. As I walked into the kitchen, there she was, still busy trying to turn over the two pan-frying fishes on the stove with her only functional hand. I didn’t try to help or stop her. I was just standing there watching her bey cause I also wanted to know how well she can manage to be home alone when I am not around.  And as I was standing there, there was the realization finally confirmed for me at that very moment, and that is for me to admit that she was right; Vietnam was the only place where my mother belongs and lived the last days of her life there. (to be continued)

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-04-30

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Her last trip to Vietnam was in 2011.  I didn’t think it would be the last time that I was with my mother.  On the morning when her flight was scheduled, we both of us woke up a little early to prepare for her trip.  My anticipation on that morning was just basically to see her off again for another trip to Vietnam and then perhaps go on with my daily routine afterward as usual.  Except, that one time didn’t feel like many other times before it when I just see off and then left like I always do. For some strange reason, I felt more than just a casual goodbye to her that morning, and I didn’t know what it was exactly that made me linger from a distance, just to watch her in the wheelchair being pushed through the security gate and then gradually going farther into a walkway.  I was just wondering if she might still need me for whatever reasons. Until she completely disappeared into another walkway, I aimlessly walked back to the car, but I didn’t just drive away to go on with my day. My mind was still occupied with the image of my mother in a wheelchair, and alone.  I knew that I will be seeing her again in a few months, and I knew that she will be just fine, which is exactly what I always thought.  Just as I was getting close to an office where I was scheduled to work that day, suddenly I had this strong urge to call and see if she already boarded the plane.  When she answered the phone, I can tell from her reaction that she was kind of startled a little to hear my voice.  She didn’t expect that I would call her just for that, which I, myself, don’t even remember if I ever have done that before either, but I called because I was still thinking of her the whole time. 

Before we left for the airport that morning, I had my usual cup of morning coffee, and she had her regular oatmeal for breakfast. As we were sitting quietly at the kitchen table while the sky was still dark, her favorite songs were softly playing in her room, and we were kind of waiting for the right time to walk out the door. This time I happen to be the one who broke the silence, and quietly I asked what she will think of the idea if I ever decide to move back to Vietnam and live there with her for a few years. Her immediate reaction was seemingly concerned and quickly asked me why, and what about the girls, Connie and Grace, my kids. I told her that I have been planning to retire early so that I can have more time to do the things I prefer to do for the rest of my life, or perhaps not necessary to retire completely but at least to do something different, and still working part-time while I am there. My mother seemed concerned, but she only said, “mi muốn làm chi thì làm!”.  In other words, suit yourself!  As the matter of fact at that point in life for both of us, she already knew that I would be the only one in the family who may be able to do that.  It was meant to be for her and me.  After my mother left that day, it must be the first time in my adulthood that I was longing to see my mother come home soon, but that didn’t happen.  She didn’t come home again.

Like so many immigrants and refugees in the world now resettled in another country, my parents were also the people who had refuged to other countries for survival, but their ordeal didn’t just happen once but twice, and their resettlements were very far in between from the first to a second time.  All the ups and downs that all refugees must endure while living on foreign soil, overcoming the cultural conflicts, and starting a new life with a new set of must acquired linguistic skills, it was all parts of a daring choice that they made in their quest for freedom and a better living.  Like all good things in life, their quest for a better life always comes with costs, personal sacrifices, and determination.  After having a chance of my own to experience the hardships and struggles of a refugee who must adapt and assimilate into a foreign society,  I finally understood what my parents had gone through in their lifetime.  Having to live a life as a refugee as we now had learned and experienced it for ourselves, nothing was too small of an accomplishment to achieve with every little step moving toward a brand-new life in a completely unknown society.  For my parents, it was not just a one-time thing, but twice!

RE: A Familiar Image - schi - 2022-05-01

... Oh my ... your Màmá dialect is just like my Grandma's ... your Màmá was in Đà Nẵng and my Grandma was in Huế but her original is from Hải Dương ...

RE: A Familiar Image - DuyVIII - 2022-05-01

LTP and Schi,

I would like to say thank you for finding the time to follow my very ordinary stories.  This type of ordinary story is not for everyone to read and enjoy, especially when I had no choice but to post it in English here.  Unfortunately, I could only rely on my limited knowledge of English to relate my stories because it was the only language I had spent decades acquiring, a lot more years than what I had spent time learning Chinese and Vietnamese combined.

I will try to type up a few more stories if I could get to them, even without knowing whether or not they will be interesting for a few readers like you.  There are purposes for me to type up the stories.  First of all, it is important for me to remember them, and what is more certain than typing them out.  Old memories, good or bad, will fade away with time, and then for good.  Secondly, it will also be a great source of family stories for the children to read if they are ever interested to know.  If an ordinary story could help to indulge a moment of relaxation and reflection, I would love to be the one who wrote that story.  I also realize that it is still a long way for me to get there, or quite possibly never at all.  But what else would be more interesting than doing something meaningful in the senior years?

Again, thanks!