On the day of my dad’s funeral, she examined our aching hearts. With the keen acumen of a seasoned diagnostician, she prescribed a potent medicine for us. She generously loaned us her sweet old dog, Pinot.
Pinot has been hard at work. She has tirelessly padded around the house after us, keeping us under her watchful eye. She is half toothless and elderly, yet she has bravely protected us from menacing squirrels and mailmen with her fearsome growls. She has cuddled up next to us whenever we’ve fallen still, and has lulled us to sleep with her old lady snoring. To fill the void after months of a harrowing round the clock caregiving routine for my dad, she imposed on us a new, gentler daily routine of walks, snacks, and belly rubs.
Tomorrow I’m heading back home after being away for more than two months. I’ll bring this old girl back to her own home too. We have been grateful to have the company of this fellow traveler, who helped us navigate a difficult stretch of this terrible journey.
In loving memory of my friend Yang, who was laid to rest today. May her beautiful soul rest in peace. (First posted March 15, 2020)
I’ve been trying to remember when we first met…Was it nine or ten years ago when you first moved to Charlottesville from Germany and our boys became friends at school? This is the earliest photo I can find of our two boys together.
They look like they could be brothers…
I think our boys were glad to have each other through their last years at elementary school. Being a non-white student in a rural community with little diversity can be hard. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for your son to go from a German school to an American one. Remember when you told me he never uttered a single word at school and I was shocked, because he never ceased talking at our house? I loved hearing his perfectly unique, lilting Chinese-German accent. Our boys are both sensitive dreamers, who have always marched to the beat of their own drums. Remember how we used to laugh and sigh about their shockingly messy backpacks? And to discover they both never knew what their homework assignments were, and that when they miraculously did manage to complete their homework assignments, they both scrupulously forgot to turn them in? Remember when my boy started to learn Chinese, and we talked about him going with your family to visit China one day? Remember how we discovered they both had a passion for music? We tried (as meddlesome parents are wont to do) to get them to play the piano together. We failed, of course.
I’ve been so glad for your friendship over the years. Like our boys, we have a lot of similarities…Maybe we look like we could be sisters? We both married academics from other countries, and followed them to Charlottesville. But you have always been braver and more resilient than I am. I don’t think I could have made the move from China to the U.S. to Germany and back to the U.S. again with three young children in tow. I have always appreciated and admired your open-hearted spirit. I have always loved hearing your generous laugh. Your friendship has been a treasure to me, especially during these last couple of years, which have been difficult for both us. Many of the things that used to bring me joy (like writing) have fallen by the wayside. I wanted to come visit you this week, but I worried about your health. You told me to stay at home, because you worried about mine. You said, “I have to keep you healthy. I like to read what you write to me.” And so this week I will write for you, my dear friend. More tomorrow…
We are currently in the midst of the few livable days of the year in Virginia. It’s glorious: not too hot, not too cold, and nary a mosquito in sight.
The garden has been waking up and the best part of every day this week (other than hammock time with Chloe and Gingersnap), has been the time I’ve spent outside yanking weeds out of my garden.
This morning my daughter was looking out the window at a whisky barrel planter on my deck, which holds a Golden Celebration rose. It’s a David Austin rose with extravagant, deep yellow blooms and an intoxicating scent of “wonderfully combined notes of Sauternes wine and strawberry.” At the moment, however, it just looks like bare, wiry stems.
“Oh, look Mama! There are beautiful flowers blooming in your planter,” my daughter exclaimed.
“Really?” I asked, trying to remember if I’d underplanted the rose with something else that I had forgotten about.
“Yes! They’re white, and lacy, and really pretty!”
I went over to the window to investigate…
Yep. Those are the same weeds I’ve been ruthlessly pulling out of my garden every morning. A good reminder that notions about what is beautiful and worthy are arbitrary constructs.
Joy and woe are woven fine, A clothing for the soul divine; Under every grief and pine Runs a joy with silken twine. It is right it should be so; Man was made for joy and woe; And when this we rightly know, Safely through the world we go.
William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence” 1863
I started this post back in May, but never got around to finishing it. It’s a complete mystery to me how four months have simultaneously dragged on and flown by so quickly…
The silver lining of the pandemic has been the time I’ve been able to spend with my family and in my garden.
I’ve loved looking out the window to see my boys helping their sister keep up her goalie skills.
Hard to tie your own laces when you’re wearing goalie gloves.
If only this garden didn’t require an annual flesh sacrifice to oozing poison ivy rashes…
“I want to hold your hand…”
Gingersnap, the naughtiest pup on the face of the planet, has destroyed every single rug in the house, has eaten three pairs of earbuds and my son’s retainer, routinely makes unspeakable messes all over the house, and is generally a bumptious bully to our longsuffering older dog, Chloe.And yet…
she’s the apple of my eye, and I’m completely, irrationally besotted with her.
Chloe, on the other hand, is so over her.
This is how you graduate from high school in a pandemic:
Life goes on with birthday celebrations…
A trip to the beach…
It was fabulous at the Outer Banks…until I got viciously attacked by a stingray and had blood gushing like a geyser from my foot!
A trip to Sugar Hollow
Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park
Saying goodbye to our son was hard. He is so excited to be embarking upon his college career. We wish the circumstances weren’t so strange…
We’ve been learning my parents’ favorite old hymns, and making recordings for them…My mom ruined this particular song for me for all of eternity by saying she wanted us to sing it at her funeral. Thanks, Mom.
During the pandemic, my daughter launched a wildly successful matchmaking service…for snails. It happened quite by accident. She found her first snail, christened him Seamus, and created a bachelor’s pad for him. But social distancing was hard on Seamus. He seemed to be pining away. My daughter was on the verge of letting him go when we found a friend for him in the garden. Seamus the snail perked right up. Sparks flew. One thing led to another. And then this happened…
Historians have been encouraging students to keep a diary of their lives during the pandemic. When I suggested that my daughter start one, she gazed up at the ceiling for a few moments before replying in a voice riven with weariness: “What would I write? ‘Today I played NBA2K and scored 34 points for the Toronto Raptors.’ Enthralling material.”
Here’s a photo diary of what she’s ACTUALLY been up to…
Everyone’s been taking turns making dinner and hurting their brains trying to figure out how to accommodate this family’s radically different dietary preferences/requirements. Welcome to my world, people!!!
Playing board games with the family. We’ve all been getting routinely crushed by the triumphant-looking gentleman to the left.
Preparing for the apocalypse:
to get us through the tough times…
She has NOT been traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard to play soccer, but she HAS been participating in video chats and video compilations with her teammates.
(In case you’re wondering, that valuable roll of toilet paper was not sacrificed for the video).
Walking the pups
Playing badminton in the backyard
and wiffle ball…
Transforming Gingersnap into a future agility champ:
To be continued…tomorrow’s diary entry will reveal her biggest project to date.
According to my mother, the only reason she ever regretted not teaching us Korean was that we could never appreciate my dad’s sermons. I grew up hearing my dad preach every Sunday, but never understanding a word. As you might imagine, Sunday mornings were a kind of mild torture for me. I would zone out through the sermon and the endless prayers, (so very many prayers!). My only relief came whenever it would be time to sing a hymn. I knew every hymn we sang, because I’d been singing them with my family my whole life.
My mother’s fondest fantasy was that we would be the Korean Von Trapps. She even went so far as to make us matching purple crushed velvet pantsuits out of entirely unsuitable heavy curtain fabric. In her fanciful vision, we would trudge together in velvet splendor through some alpine landscape singing in close harmony not Edelweiss or Do-Re-Mi, but Amazing Grace and What a Friend We Have in Jesus! The closest we ever came to fulfilling my mom’s most cherished dream was during church services. My dad never remembered to turn off his microphone, and his booming voice would fill the chapel. My mother would sing the alto part to my dad’s melody in her beautiful and powerful voice. My siblings and I would play supporting roles, singing in English while the rest of the congregation sang in Korean.
For me, my inability to speak Korean was never more painful than when my grandparents came to visit us. I felt acutely that they were bitterly disappointed that we couldn’t communicate with them. On one of their occasional visits, my grandfather took his customary guest turn at the pulpit and suddenly broke out into song in the middle of his sermon. His rich a cappella voice reverberated around the small chapel and roused me from my usual Sunday morning reverie. I knew the song he was singing, because I’d sung it with my own family hundreds of times. Higher Ground connects me to my childhood, and always makes me think of my father and grandfather.
Dad at the pulpit in 1984
My grandpa at the pulpit in 1984
My father preaching at my grandfather’s church in Korea.
When my friend told me she’d been doing quarantine hymn sings with her in-laws over FaceTime, I knew my parents would love this idea, and I knew Higher Ground was one of the songs we had to sing. My husband and kids learned the hymn and we made this recording for my parents:
It was such a joy to work on this song with my family. Now if only I knew how to sew! I’m sure I could rustle up some old curtains we don’t need anymore…