Happy Mother’s Day
Happy Mothers Day!
I often think about legacy and carrying on the family name. For most of my life it had been 3 generations of women on my mother’s side, my grandmother, my mother and myself.I think on Mother’s Day it is fitting to pay homage as both my grandmother and my mom are such an integral part of our family’s history, survival and success.
I remember my maternal grandmother, Suzanne Liou, formerly Pan Fengxiao (泛鳳簫) before she married my grandfather, Liu Jipiao in 1932 as a determined, caring artistic and funny woman. In this past year of researching I’ve realized how hard it must have been for her to live the life history chose for her. Hailed as a “beauty”, quite the catch within her social circles and an artist in her own right, Pan Fengxiao’s marriage to Liu was a love match for her. She had a pampered life and it looked like it would be a pampered marriage as well. She married a brilliant, successful, connected artist/architect, had 3 homes built for her in China and my mother tells me that Liu even bought her a school which she could run. They entertained high officials and celebrities and traveled throughout China, hunting, hiking and sightseeing. They were married almost 10 years before having my mother, Gayook Liou in 1943. Fengxiao had several miscarriages, one being a son before my mother was born in Shanghai. Fengxiao had to remain bedridden for the full 9 month period in order to carry the baby to term.
In 1947 both my grandparent’s lives changed forever when they fled to the USA. From wealth to poverty in less than a 5 years, my grandmother was thrust into a life of survival where she had to learn English, take care of her daughter, when there had been maids and nannies, learn to cook, clean, earn a living, be self sufficient and take care of her family. Meanwhile my grandfather was struggling with the loss of his past life and the bitterness and despair that went with that. I think in some ways my grandmother saved my grandfather always boosting him up, encouraging him to return to his art, tirelessly working to feed the family. In a letter he wrote to friend near the end of his life he confessed that he would have never made it without her strength, perseverance and unwavering love for him.
I miss my grandmother. She was the laughter in the house when my grandfather was the silent patriarch. She taught me how to shuffle a card deck properly, played hide and seek with me and my brother, put us to bed and told us bedtime stories. She instilled in me the love of gardening when I used to follow her around the house watering all the plants and eating fresh vegetables from the garden. Once I caught her putting money under my pillow when I lost a tooth and I very seriously explained to her that was the tooth fairy’s job, not hers. She nodded her head and apologized and tucked me in. And when the money was under the pillow the next day she exclaimed how I must have been correct and what a clever girl I was!
When she died in 2001 I suddenly felt that I had to carry on her legacy as there were now only 2 generations of Liou woman left. Maybe bringing my grandfather’s story out into the world is the way to do it. I think she would have liked that.
And no Mother’s Day is complete without a shout out to my mother, Gayook (Liou) Wong. You can read her thoughts and feelings here on this site. She has also led a hard life with a father that wanted a son, was withdrawn and oftentimes bitter. She lived through bankruptcy and hunger at a young age. She led a Chinese life under her father’s roof and a western life outside her home. And yet she still managed to graduate from college, raise two amazing, beautiful, well adjusted children 😉 and get her Masters Degree in Social Work.
My research on Liu Jipiao’s life nearly coincided with her return from a year in Bali/Singapore when she was diagnosed with cancer. Through her treatment and and recovery our family has worked on this project. I believe the research has been important for her on so many levels. It has also has given our family purpose and focus other than the cancer, something to help us look beyond all the day to day struggles that sometimes come up.
I love my mom for her strength, stubbornness and tenacity to life. Without her this journey into the past would not be as rich and rewarding as it has been so far.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, grandmother and everyone out there who have been so kind and generous to us in our search for our family history and the struggles we have encountered along the way this past year and a half. Your contributions have been invaluable to all of us.