Like millions around the world, I’ve become a huge fan of “Hamilton,” the musical. What I’ve been obsessing about lately is the final scene. After Alexander Hamilton’s death, in the finale, the entire cast comes together, explaining what happens to the remaining characters in the following years. The last line is a question, “Who tells your story?”
The line makes me grateful for the hours my mother and the late Audrey Leibold spent interviewing China Alley elders. Lately when I peruse their reports and numerous notes, many of which appear to be furiously hand written, another line from “Hamilton” plays in my mind: “ Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” Yet, I remember their need, their rush to get the elders’ stories on paper. I’m grateful to my mother and Audrey for taking so much of their time so that we still have first hand accounts of China Alley’s hey days. I’m grateful I still have parents who can tell me about the chronicles of our ancestors, and of their anecdotes of life in China Alley.
Actually the word grateful does not adequately express how I truly feel. I looked up the word in the thesaurus (online and in book form), and there just isn’t a word to describe my feelings.
Last month my father had a serious stroke. Early on in his hospitalization, he contracted pneumonia and we were told things weren’t looking good. My father was having seizures and was then placed on Comfort Care. He remained philosophical in his Yoda-esque way. He said, “All things must come to an end. All around there is life. When can I get a shave?” After a seizure filled day, he flat lined.
About three minutes later my father took a deep gasp. After a few puffs of breath, his heart started beating, steadily. I assumed my father was in a coma and I lay my head on his bed, waiting for more seizures. Two and a half hours later I felt like someone was looking at me. I looked up and my father was watching me, with clear eyes.
“Are you OK?”
“Are you in pain?”
“Do you know who I am?”
To make what seems like a long saga short, my father’s doctor reversed his Comfort Care order, something she hadn’t done since 2009. My brother, Damon, dubbed our father “Superman.” When the nurse asked my father his name, he responded, “Superman.”
There have been a plethora of emotions for me and for my family. I can’t even write about it all yet. My father has good and bad days. He’s had progress and relapses and there lies a challenging journey ahead of him. But for now, my father is still here, still answering my questions, still reminding me of his story. Still my dad.
Last week I scribbled the first draft of this column as I sat by my father’s hospital bed. I stopped writing for a moment and looked at his face. His eyes met mine and he smiled.
Because love is love.
Because family is family.
Because each of us has a story.
Because Dad knows.
Because the spirits of my great-grandfather and grandfather know.
I will continue to tell all of our stories, writing fast or slow I will memorialize each of our stories.
Family lore, as well as a 1958 Hanford Sentinel article, report that my great-grandfather served the first roasted pig ever cooked in Hanford. This delicacy was first served in the cellar dining room under my great-grandfather’s home on Visalia Street, before he built his noodle house on China Alley in 1883. I’ve roasted pigs, but sharing that recipe is for another day.
I’ve shared a recipe for Chinese Roast Pork Belly previously, but I have continued to improve on the crispiness of the skin each time I roast the pork. This is the piece of pork often seen in the windows of Chinese restaurants in Chinatowns. The meat is luscious and succulent, the skin crisp and crackling, just like that of a whole roasted pig. Chinese Roast Pork Belly is fairly easy to make. It’s also one of the first dishes I made with my father and so this is a recipe that is part of both of our stories.
Enjoy this delicious dish. Perhaps during a family dinner in the near future, you might ask about some detail of your family history…so you can tell their stories.