Small Creatures, part I

I saw her cross herself as I pulled away from Cau Huu’s curb. Forehead, sternum, left, right. I couldn’t blame her, James and Kevin were always into cars and racing, and all young men are pretty much alike, right? We made small talk in what little Vietnamese I could muster. I couldn’t help but smile, somewhat wryly, at how she kept muttering prayers under her breath, holding tight to the armrest when she wasn’t outlining the imaginary crucifix.

‘Drive slowly, okay?’ She plead in Vietnamese, ‘We’re not in any hurry.’ No wonder she wanted to leave so quickly, I’d barely finished my cup of Arizona Iced Tea.

The first thing that struck me as I entered Cau Huu’s, my mom’s second youngest brother, now a pastor of a Spirit-Filled church down near Anaheim, house was how small she looked. Her hair a uniform white bun, atop a tiny frame. They watched me eat a quick lunch, my aunt and uncle did, commenting on how ‘healthy’ I looked. It’d been awhile. We talked about the farm, about the future, and after some grandmaternal nagging, we were on the curb praying for a safe journey home.

Before Ong Ngoai (roughly like ‘maternal old man’ in Vietnamese, or Grandpa) died, my parents urged Ryan and me to sit down with them one afternoon and just talk. I’m so glad we did, but I also regret how reluctant I’d been, and the fact that I didn’t take any notes. A recorder would have been genius. This would be the most time I had ever spent with Ba Ngoai, mano-y-grammo. I was nervous. What would we talk about? 7+ hours is a long time. Why didn’t I take Vietnamese at Cal? Why didn’t I pay attention at Van Lang all those years? Why? I honestly had been looking forward to a long solo drive home. Sermons and Around the Well my only traveling companions. Instead I ‘seek’ed the whole way home. And you know what? It was okay. Pop music’s not bad if you’re in the right mindset. Really.

After he passed, some sort of mouthal (google reminds me the correct word is, ‘oral’) cancer that forced him to wear one of those SARS masks whenever we’d visit during those last months, Ba Ngoai seriously partied it up. Well, ‘party’ is perhaps the wrong word, but it’s no secret that, causal or no, grandma’s social life was revitalized post-’03. She took the bus and the BART. The Xe Do, ‘Red Car/Bus’ down to Southern California, by herself. My mom told me once that if she didn’t know where she was going, Ba Ngoai would sit at the BART station and look for someone who seemed ‘trustworthy’ (I’m going to guess this meant ‘knowledgeably Asian’) and pounce, getting directions to who knows where. It was also no secret that Ong Ngoai ruled his household like any good old-school immigrant father-figure should. He was always nice to us grandkids, but you know how you can just tell.

Cypress. Carson. Lawndale. Torrance (yes, I’m looking at a map). Inglewood. CC. Van Nuys. San Fernando. Grape Vine, etc.

I made sure not to get on 99, it was was pretty straight going from there on out. She asked if I knew how to handle cars. I lied a bit. She told me which of my uncles knew how to take care of a car, and which ones just liked to run them into the ground. I stopped and checked oil, mainly just to impress her.

‘Stop, let the engine cool down.’
‘Okay.’
‘Get gas’, in Vietnamese always.
‘It’s too expensive I’m just going to check the oil, do you want something to eat?’
‘No, let’s stop at a… McDonalds and get a… what are those? I’ve never ordered one before, I don’t know what they’re called.’ She cups her palms into an oval.
Generation gaps are sometimes shocking to behold.

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~ by justinhong on September 24, 2010.

One Response to “Small Creatures, part I”

  1. […] 6 10) This Didn’t Happen in Real Life, September 7 11) Let’s be honest, August 25 12) Small Creatures, part I; Interlude: Soft Shoulder; Small Creatures, part II; Small Creatures, part III, September 24 & […]

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