I suppose it was time. After all it has been 19 months since his death. The other day I arrived home and most of Dad’s shoes were lining the hallway, the remaining pairs waiting in the laundry room.
“I’m donating Dad’s shoes,” Mom called out to me. “Going to start on his clothes next.”
I slowly walked down the hallway, stopping now and then to pick up one of the shoes. There were so many of them, evidence of a well-lived and long life. I started to become a little emotional, tears threatening to come. I picked up one of the shoes, and my mind floated into the past. I wondered if Dad had worn it when he danced with me.
And there I was, a young girl in my family’s old Chinese Pagoda restaurant’s Brocade Room, where large parties and banquets were served. Many nights after we finished our dinner, or if the evening was slow and the Brocade Room was empty, Dad pushed a table or two aside and moved chairs. He created a small space and taught me how to dance relying on the restaurant’s background music as our orchestra. Over a period of time in the Brocade room, Dad taught me how to waltz, fox trot, and tango. It might have been a generational thing – back in the day, people knew how to dance – but Dad had a little education in the art of dance. While attending the University of Southern California, Dad’s major was international relations but he studied ballroom dancing as well.
I felt stuck in a memory – in the Brocade room, the elevator music in my ears, my hands in Dad’s, my gaze on the floor, the aromas of curry tomato and fried wonton wafting around us, trying so hard to follow Dad’s steps without stepping on his shoes.
Near tears, I shook my head, returned to the present, returned the shoe to its place in the hallway.
It was time.
Still, the “My life in the Chinese Pagoda” movie continued to play in my mind. Other scenes and vignettes were stirred later, when Laura, a friend, commented on my column that concluded with a recipe for matrimony vine soup. Laura had worked in the Chinese Pagoda, and had a handful of relatives who worked in the front and back houses of the Chinese Pagoda and the Imperial Dynasty restaurants. “You wrote about soup,” she said. “Do you remember that soup that was served in the Pagoda?”
Do I ever. I will never forget the aroma emanating from the huge steaming woks as the winter melon soup simmered before the meal service began. We served a small cup of soup as a starter for “Pagoda Dinners,” accompanied by a small plate of three crispy deep-fried wonton with sweet and sour sauce drizzled on top.
An ancient food of China, winter melon (“doang gwa”) is considered nutritious and to be extremely beneficial to the body. The melons range in color from pale to dark green and are somewhat shaped somewhat like an oblong watermelon, and they have a white coating on the skin that looks like a light sprinkling of snow. When cooked, the flesh becomes translucent and tender.
Winter melons are served in stir-fry dishes, and are commonly prepared as a soup for weekday meals. There is a fancy pants version of winter melon soup that is often served during celebratory banquets. This soup is a spectacular display in which the melon is carved to form a bowl. Melon slices and numerous specialty ingredients are added to a richly flavored broth, which is then steamed and served in the melon bowl itself.
Winter melon is available year-round in Asian grocery stores, and sometimes in specialty produce markets, and at farmers markets. This week I’m sharing two recipes for winter melon – a quick stir-fry and a homestyle soup.
I will always miss dancing with Dad, but I’m consoled, even happy, that someone else will make good use of his shoes. I hope at least one pair finds itself dancing into a Chinese restaurant and resting underneath a table laden with a large tureen filled with winter melon soup.