Recent Posts for the 'Essays (Ellen Sue Says)' Category

My Cherished Chopsticks: A Father’s Legacy by Helen Luu

Saturday, June 20th, 2020

Helen Luu is a member of the Creative Writing Class I attend, now virtually. Her story about her father seemed too beautiful not to post it for Father’s Day. Thank you, Helen.


Background Information

Chopsticks are the major eating utensils in Chinese culture. Chinese people use them instead of forks and knives. They are made from wood, plastic, stainless steel, silver or ivory.  Some Chinese people use ivory chopsticks as their personal eating utensils at home or in a restaurant, but I keep mine as my treasure. Indeed, they are my late father’s legacy, given to me in 1971 when our family was living in Vietnam.

Traditionally, Chinese people do not celebrate birthdays until they reach age 60. They will have an extraordinary celebration to mark this major milestone. Then, after age 60, some Chinese people celebrate their birthday every year, every five years, or every10 years.

Since your age is counted only by the year, no matter what day or month you were born, you are considered to be one year old on the day you were born. The day and the month are not counted; thus, our birth certificates show only the year you were born. Since a person’s day of birth is not celebrated yearly, no one really knows the exact day of his or her birth.

Strictly speaking, birthdays are very important to Chinese people, because they are used for matrimonial purposes. If their birthdays do not conjugate with each other, then the marriage is called off. Also, birthdays are used for burials. If a person is buried on a bad day or at the wrong time, his or her spirit will jeopardize his or her family’s harmony. Moreover, parents do not tell their young children’s exact birthdays to protect from being cast an evil spell by a shaman. Of course, most Chinese people seldom practice in this manner in the current century.

Last Supper with my Father

The Chinese status in Vietnam, where I had lived, had not been stable or safe for more than 15 years during the Vietnam War. My father was able to foresee the current dangerous situation from his earlier experiences, when China became Communist in 1949. Thus, he gradually sent his eight children abroad after the major outbreak of the Tet War. I was the last one to leave the country when I was 21 years old.

I vividly remembered my last supper with my father in the fall of 1971. After dinner, he and I were sitting on the long, leather sofa in our living room. Our servant brought us light tea. My father went over the necessary items with me, providing me with all the information I needed, including who I should contact and stay with in Taiwan.

Afterward, he showed me a long, brightly flowered fabric bag. There was a fabric knot at one end. I carefully loosened the knot. I slid the bag all the way to the bottom and saw a pair of milky colored, ivory chopsticks. I pulled them out. I was so impressed to see my Chinese given name and exact birthday with the day, the month, and the time beautifully engraved on them in a bright red color. This was the first time I learned the exact day of my birth.

What a brilliant thought my father had! I was told each of my siblings had his or her own pair. I will never, ever forget my Chinese cultural or my true birthday. My lips were trembling. My throat was clogged with a thousand words. I just looked at him as my eyes filled with tears. My father was also wordless, but he gave me a gracious smile. Unfortunately, my beloved father was assassinated by a Viet Cong soldier only one week after I left. He had just turned 49. I was traumatized by the news. I never, ever thought it would be my last supper with my father.

My Father’s Legacy & Unexpected Gifts

As 51 years have gone by, the brightly flowered fabric bag has gradually faded. There is a hole at the bottom of the bag. But, the color of the ivory chopsticks stays milky. The luster of the red ink remains the same. Whenever I look at them, I imagine my late father’s countenance deeply imprinted on them.

Moreover, my mother passed away at 92 in 2015. When I cleaned up her apartment, I found my late father’s ivory chopsticks and hers with their names and birthdays inscribed exactly the same way as mine, in the same kind of fabric bag, in her jewelry drawer. My siblings let me keep them since I was the one who took care of our mother’s health. Now I have three pairs of ivory chopsticks as my family treasure all these years. (See photo above of the three pairs of chopsticks.)






D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy Beach/CrazyDayze Poem

Saturday, June 6th, 2020

For the past 10 days I have been mulling over the whole “megillah” of these past few months and especially this last week. (The whole megillah means the entirety of something, especially something that is an entanglement of intricate arrangements or a long, complicated story. The whole megillah is an American idiom taken from Yiddish. Source: Grammarly). COVID, the death of George Floyd, the demonstrations and looting, my grandson’s proximity to the looting, and then the tornado-like storm. Just too much, so I had a minor meltdown and finally put it on paper.

It seems coincidental that my writing came at 2 a.m. this morning, as I prepared to write something about D-Day and ended up with Crazy Dayze. I am mourning the death of all the soldiers who died on that day, because they died to keep evil from succeeding , and so long as we still have hate and bigotry and ignore the heating of Mother Earth, what was the point?


Crazy Dayze by ellensue

June 6, 2020


I feel the pain from Mother Earth.

Will she survive? What’s her life worth?

I can hear her loudly crying!

All the birds and bees are dying…

The world is caught in a viral scourge.

Why haven’t we felt the sudden urge

to scream & yell & stamp our feet?

There’s a connection to the rising heat.

We’re brought down on bended knee;

one man’s death caused needlessly.

A life snuffed out from another’s hate.

We’ve lost our souls. Is it too late…

to heal the wounds of planet Earth —

land & sea, what’s our life worth,

without compassion for ev’ry soul;

what do we need to make us whole?

My head’s spinning from all the signs:

A path of destruction from our designs.

Let’s be clear about this distinction:

The Death of Death means our extinction!

We need to see all life is precious,

And rage & hate can be infectious.

Each of us must look inside

to harness bigotry and false pride.

Please listen to our Mother’s cry  —

pay attention; you’ll hear her sigh.

Earth’s her home, her sacred place.

We’re here together: the human race.

Forget our differences; they won’t matter.

House on fire!* Our ashes will scatter.

And then our lives will cease to be.

Is that in store for you and me?

Wake up! Don’t fall asleep!

We’ve got promises to keep:

eliminate pollution & pesticides.

We’re killing the land where she resides.

Is it too late? I’m not so sure.

But doing nothing I cannot endure.

Follow the ways of love and healing;

address the pain we all are feeling.

I cannot sleep to dream of peace.

Words are just a brief release.

But if one person heeds this rhyme,

then healing starts — is there time?

Suggested Readings:+

*Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis, by Greta Thunberg and her family. Penguin Books, 2017.

Companion Books: Green Living Handbook (2008) & Low Carbon Diet (2006) by David Gershon. Empowerment Institute.

+ I will be reviewing all three in a future posting.