Had my parents had an easier time having children, I might well have been born in Augusta, Georgia. At the beginning of the Korean War, my father was 22 years old and got drafted into the Army. He did his basic at Fort Ord in Monterey, but before his induction he persuaded my mother who was then 20 to marry him. Many years ago I found a letter from my dad to my mom about how she had taken the bus to Fort Ord from my grandparents' house in Sacramento just to catch a possible glimpse of my dad.
After a four hour bus ride in the rain each way, she barely saw him or maybe didn't see him at all. She cried the whole bus ride back to Sacramento where she stayed with my grandparents, her new in laws. Dad's letter was consoling her, telling her how much he loved her, and how good it made him feel that she had taken that long ride even if they hadn't gotten to see one another. I had never doubted that my parents were in love with one another. This was just more proof. It's odd thinking about things like that now becaues my mother's now been married to my stepfather almost as long as she was married to my dad. A few years ago, she told me that she'd decided to be buried with my stepdad, not because she didn't want to be near my dad but because she didn't want her remains anywhere near the rest of his family.
My dad's family was too big and had too much money to stay completely happy for any length of time. He was the eldest son, but had either the good luck or the misfortune to be born with an easygoing personality. He believed that life's pleasures should be enjoyed. He loved to cook, to smoke cigars, and to share stories with anyone who cared to tell them. He died when I was twenty two and I loved the fact that it seemed that every one of my childhood friends would make a point for years after that of saying how nice my dad was.
When friends visited, it wasn't unusual for them to hang out with my parents as much if not more than they hung out with me. It struck me as perfectly normal that my father would find out what they liked to eat and cook it for them if they stayed for dinner. They only had to say they liked it on that first visit. It also seemed just the sort of thing that parents did for him to talk to them about whatever they were doing or wanted to do. He wasn't the sort of Dad who insisted on giving advice nor did he expect any of my friends to have particular kinds of answers about their plans. He was unfailingly positive with them and I realize now that he had a knack for making people feel good about themselves.
For whatever reason, my Dad never managed to do the same with his brothers and sisters and his parents. Whenever he spent time around them, he was different. There always seemed to be unwritten rules, it was never safe to relax, and I always had to put on my best face around my dad's side of the family particularly my grandparents.
Anyway, my mother spent the first couple months of her marriage living with his family while he served in the U.S. Army. My grandfather took to her immediately which naturally meant that my grandmother and at least half the family refused to do likewise. Towards the end of basic training at Fort Ord, someone came into my Dad's barracks and asked if anyone there knew how to type?
Unlike most Americans, I did not come from an especially gung-ho family. My Dad saw the opportunity and immediately raised his hand. Typing might have been a woman's work, but it got him to Camp Gordon Georgia instead of the snow-covered front lines of Korea shooting at native-Chinese forces from the other side of the Yalu River.
"How fast do you type soldier?"
"Private F*** insisted that he could type seventy two words a minute."
The first day in the forms office at Camp Gordon, the entire Army Signal Corps gathered round him to see this Chinese private with the pleasant demeanour type seventy two words a minute. At that point, Dad still typed with two fingers. He was bright though, so he picked up office skills quite quickly. As soon as he settled in, he sent for my mom and they began the "together" part of their married life in the married soldiers quarters there in Augusta, Georgia.
There was also a small Chinese community in Augusta. One day, my dad walked into a grocery store and the guy behind the counter, George Tom, happened to be his age. They started talking and within a day or two my dad was learning to shoot pool from a Chinese guy with a thick southern drawl. My parents became close friends with George and Ida Tom. It might have been the happiest time of my dad's life. For the next twenty years, he always referred to the Toms as his best friends even though he didn't see them for close to ten years after his return to California. Mom and Dad liked the circle of friends that they found in Augusta so much, they even gave some thought to staying there after his Army commitment ended. They didn't. My Dad decided that as an eldest son, he needed to return home to help his father with his many business interests even though he himself didn't much care about business.
My parents returned to California with a bunch of stories about George and Ida and the others. Every few months, my mother would make authentic southern fried chicken just the way she'd learned it from one of their Chinese friends in Augusta. Years later I visited the Toms in Augusta. Their kids had southern accents and worshipped the Allman Brothers. They had a band and there was a drum set in one of the back bedrooms. You haven't lived until you see a bunch of Chinese guys with southern drawls make like ZZ Top.
I mentioned a couple months ago that my stepson got married and that his wife had joined the army. After several bureacratic mishaps that I dare not recount, she finally got her assignment. For those several months, despite the fact that they were married my stepson and his wife were fifteen hundred miles apart for all but a handful of nights for the first two and a half months of their marriage. Naturally, when she got her first permanent assignment, she was sent to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. Their first home as a married couple will be in the married soldiers' quarters there. Ironicially, there was a point where it looked like she was going to be sent to Korea, one of those places where military families do not have the option of following.
My dad never met my wife or our daughter whom we named after him despite the gender thing. I don't know what he would have made of the fact that she isn't Chinese or that she came into our marriage with kids of her own. I'm definitely not sure what he would have made of some of the rough patches I've had with my stepson. Strangely enough, just before the word came that they were headed to Fort Gordon my stepson sent me an e-mail saying he wanted us to spend more time together. For whatever reason, I'm thinking my stepson and daughter in law winding up there is sort of a sign that the spirit of my mom and dad from early in their marriage is out there looking out for all of us. Augusta was a happy place for them. Sometimes I still wonder what would have happened had I wound up growing up there instead.
Labels: Chinese Sacramento Fort Gordon