Tag Archives: poor

Womenfolks

In the summer of 1996, just days before our plane took off for Rwanda, I bought a book called Womenfolks: Growning Up Down South by Shirley Abbott. This book became my guide to the women in my life.

It is a book filled with the stories of Southern women, poor Southern women. It comforted me in the days I spent, lonely in Kigali. Days I wished I could hear my own mother’s Southern drawl. I imagined my grandmother’s mother teaching her how to be motherly, how to garden and how to take care of her man.

These Appalachian women are my history. Some would argue that I could seek out another history … one where I was still from a poor family. One where a mother taught a daughter to garden or to take care of her man. Same story, different country.

My daughter asks about the history of the women in her life. She has been robbed of the stories my mother could have told her, so it is left up to me to relay them. The good, bad and funny.

She asks for them to be told and retold. So, I have started a journal to record the history that I feel is my history and hers. The history of the women in my life. 

Here’s my first entry about my grandmother, Viola:

“Viola worked at Bryant Town Motel, owned by the son of Ed, her youngest brother. She worked there cleaning rooms with her sister Beula. Beula was her best friend. 

In the early days before this job, women didn’t reveal their pregnancies until they began to show. When Viola and Beula were pregnant at the same time, one revealed to the other that she had missed her time, to which the other said, ‘Me, too!’ 

Viola was pregnant with my mother, and Beula was pregnant with her cousin, Tommy. (There is a sad story about Tommy’s death.) 

Viola and Beula cleaned rooms at the motel later in life, after jobs at Stokely’s, a canning plant in town. Viola’s husband had retired from Enka – a metal smithing plant. I still wonder why she worked at the motel. 

Her husband had bouts of abusive behavior. Was she happy to be away? She enjoyed hanging out in the motel rooms with her sister. 

In the summers when I visited, she would take me along. I was given a bag of Bugles from the vending machine, and I played with toys left by those whose brief stay had left them – unintentionally. I imagine the guests remembered them when they were too far away to retrieve them.  

I loved entering a room and looking under the bed … anticipating what surprise was awaiting my discovery.  

I spent my summers with my grandmother. They were filled with bean shelling, berry picking and canning. The large garden in the back gave my grandparents their food for the year. Only staples were bought at the grocery store on Fridays.  

My last summer as an only child, my parents and I left in the morning to return to Kansas. I remember crying hysterically as I looked out the back window of the car. I screamed, ‘My grandma, my grandma!! My grandma, my grandma!!’ as I reached for the glass of the back window. My tear-filled eyes watched my grandmother growing smaller and smaller.”

 

Wait … I’m Asian?

Take yourself back to the most memorable day in your life. Remember the elation? Remember the sheer joy you felt? Remember those who surrounded you?

This past weekend, my boy and I felt that feeling again. A couple of years ago, on a cold weekend (Aren’t most days cold in Wisconsin?), with the man away, I set out a Times Square 1000-piece puzzle.  I said to the boy, “If we put this puzzle together before your father returns on Monday, I will take you to Times Square.”

He worked diligently and completed it. So, last weekend in celebration of his journey into teenhood, we met up with our best friends from Virginia, Adrienne and her son, Nick. Our relationship with this family is like a favorite pair of pajamas … immediately comfortable.

Adrienne picked us up from our hotel in DC, and we set off to Gettysburg to pick up Nick from a school trip. 

As you may recall, Adrienne and I are both Korean. We both married Englishmen who studied at Cambridge University. Essentially being of the same genetic background, we often joke about Asian myths. Of course, the jokes this time were rooted in truth. It took us well over an hour to exit DC, despite having paper Google directions and two iPhones running Apple Maps and Google Maps. Adrienne describes this fiasco here in her own blog.

We arrived in Gettysburg at a small motel to pick up Nick. The lobby was simple with a small “Retail Therapy” shop. This shop did not put us at ease with its Confederate flags flying. Another reality … uneasiness in rural areas where few Asians live.

This uneasiness was quickly dispelled as we made our way to the Big Apple. We arrived in New York City and immediately, Adrienne and I began documenting the boy’s trip! We were fulfilling the next Asian myth … obnoxious camera-slinging mothers.

These boys are no strangers to this behavior. My boy carried his camera around as well, and eventually the boys captured us.

Adrienne also writes in more depth about our photographic obsessions in her blog. We continued to document our travels around the city that never sleeps.

 

 

Back in the days of my youth, I hated the references by others, mostly Caucasian, to those Asian myths … good at math, poor drivers, obnoxious camera carriers. 

 

Today, I relish these commonalities with my Asian friends, and I am comfortable in my own skin. I see the same things in my son and daughter.  Their love of paper, Asian design, Asian foods and Asian trinkets emphasizes my connection to them. 

 

New York City was the perfect place for me to connect with our friends, my son and our Asian side. In that vast city, we discovered Pearl River, Chinatown, and Uniqlo.  Asian myths … bring ’em on!