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.
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.)