To remember you on the day you left us, I went to the place where you worked for a dozen years, six nights a week (sometimes seven), for eight to ten hours a day. You would come home reeking of food, oil, smoke. You did this because you had two kids to feed, a mom working in a Chinatown sweatshop, two mortgages left behind by your ex-husband.
It’s a tacky place now and probably was then, too. But when I was twelve, I thought it was cool that you worked there. The food tasted good and my friends were impressed that you waited tables at an exotic, expensive restaurant. Their parents worked at boring office jobs or stayed at home taking care of them. Your co-workers would tell me how hard you worked and how lucky I was to have you. The praise made me proud, but the impact of those words wouldn’t hit me until many years later.
Partly, it was your fault: you never let on how hard the job was, or how precarious our situation in life. Whenever we asked for money, you just gave it to us. You never told us that it meant doing an extra shift or losing your only day off. You never stopped working, even when things got better. You met a new husband, you sent two kids to expensive university, you found another home. You waited tables at other restaurants until, finally, you got to open a few of your own. Then you worked even harder.
Even at the end, you kept working, fighting even when it would have been easier to let go. It surprised everyone – except us. We knew you would never stop.
Thank you, Mom.蔡美麗 1947-2006
(Mt Fuji Steak House, West Orange, NJ)