Saturday, March 29, 2014

Early Years in Aberdeen

Untitled

The time my father arrived in Aberdeen was 1951. He didn’t want his sons grow up to be gang members in SF Chinatown. He had been one and decided he rather chase the American dream in a small town on the West Coast. Hank, his first son in America was born in a taxi on the way to the hospital. That’s why Hank was always in a hurry all his life. My father worked for his Uncle Benny at the Canton Café. My dad was the strongest and so he had to stay after closing time to clean the stoves and the grill, while the other cooks were taking a shower. Benny otherwise overworked my dad and my dad had one kind after another for several years. Though my dad complained about his low wages, Benny would say to others, “He’s got so many kids hanging onto him like grapes on a vine, where is he going to go?” And so one Christmas they had a dinner party at the café and my dad had to cook all the steaks. Benny picked out the smallest one and gave it to my dad. My father handed it over to the waitress and walked out into the night.

He then worked at Ocean Shores Inn and later at the Smoke Shop Café owned by the Aberdeen Mayor Walt Failor. That’s when I arrived from China in 1960. We lived in the Aberdeen housing projects. Then there were 9 of us in a small three-bedroom duplex. Then my dad worked for Sally in Montesano. She was the madam of a whorehouse. I helped my dad with kitchen work at the China Doll Café, the cover for the house of ill repute. The real business was upstairs. I was confused at age 14, and got more confused when the cops started coming in because the girls were in trouble. When the madam was run out of town, she stayed with us at our housing project on Oak Street for a week or two until she came up with the money to pay the sheriff in order to leave town. She claimed to be giving work to troubled girls who could not otherwise find work. And she gave me a tape recorder that was hardly used. Years later I figured out that she was taping and blackmailing her “johns.” It was OK to run a clean house of prostitution if she paid off the mayor and the sheriff. But it was not OK to blackmail people. She was always telling me to ask the old lonely men to give me quarters for the juke box on slow Sundays. She told me her favorite fruit was blueberries. I went out to the foothills of the Olympics to pick a pint of it for her and I put it in the walk-in fridge for her. She never ate a single one.

Sally was always saying it is too cold in here or it is too hot in here. My dad tells me she is on too much drugs. After Sally left town, somehow my father got all the restaurant equipment and managed to transport them 10 miles to Aberdeen and started his own little Hong Kong Café right there on Simpson Avenue. He put his sons to work and when we made a go of it, his Uncle Benny finally came to visit us, and my parents cannot show ingratitude and they were solicitous to Benny about his health. I knew what to do though. I brought Benny his cup of obligatory tea. I asked, “Does grandfather Benny need some sugar in his tea?” I knew full well he had diabetes though.


1 comment:

  1. It's a beautiful piece, Koon. I would love to read more like these from you.

    ReplyDelete