I don’t know where this picture was taken– I don’t recognize the
bougainvillea or hibiscus from any place we have ever lived– but the note
written on the back of the print in my Dad’s handwriting puts the timing of
this so that I am about 10 months old.
Dad is standing next to us, but I’m being held by my paternal Grandfather,
who died in 1997. I haven’t written very much about him online because he
had already been gone for a while by the time I started blogging.
If the first man I ever loved was my Daddy, then a close second behind him
was Grandpa, or Gong-Gong (公公), as we called him. I grew up really only
knowing one grandfather as my grandparents on Mom’s side were almost always
Outside of my parents, my Grandpa was my first family member to move from
Taiwan to the United States. The way the story was told to me, my father
was going to graduate school at Syracuse, where my Mom had joined him for
at least one miserable winter. When Dad was done in New York, they packed
up the car and drove across the country to sunny Southern California and
never left. I think Grandpa was on this cross country trip, though I could
be off on the details here.
When they got to L.A., Mom, Dad, Grandpa (and later Uncle Peter) lived for
about a year in an apartment on Rampart Boulevard, maybe a block or two
away from the Original Tommy Burger location. They would occasionally walk
to get Tommy Burgers, in their minds as their definition of "quintessential
American food." To this day, whenever we bring my Mom a Tommy Burger, it
brings her memories of their earliest days in their new lives.
It was in this Rampart apartment that I grew in my Mommy’s belly (on
saltines and Tommy Burgers?!) and when it became apparent to the mean
landlady that the family was about to expand, she threatened to evict
everyone because they didn’t allow babies in their building.
What she didn’t know is that my parents had already been shopping for a new
place to live and they were in the process of pouring all their savings
into buying their first property in the U.S., in the San Gabriel Valley–
before the masses of Asians arrived. They closed escrow on the day I was I
born and moved that week.
This building was my first home and where my earliest memories were made.
Later, when my Dad’s work took him to Orange County, my immediate family
moved, but my Grandparents (and various other family members) stayed.
Rather than playing with neighborhood kids, my childhood memories involved
weekly drives from OC to SGV to spend time with my grandparents. Now that
I’m older and understand how far away OC really is in traffic, I’m
impressed that my parents made that drive numerous times a week to check on
my Grandparents. The building remains in the family today and is still
considered our family’s "home base."
I don’t really know what life was like for my Grandparents in Taiwan,
although I have heard bits and pieces. I kno that my grandfather came from
a very wealthy family and stood to inherit a great fortune as the oldest
son, but he was never into that sort of thing and rejected living off the
family’s riches, choosing to live a simple and humble life with my Grandma,
instead. Although I know they had some difficult times, this self-reliance
and independent spirit is something they gifted us without even knowing it.
By not caring about material things, Grandpa lived kind of a happy-go-lucky
life. In fact, I’d say that his main goal in life was enjoying it! I wish
I was more like him in this way! Whenever I think of him, he is always
laughing and enjoying himself.
By the time my Grandpa moved here, he would have been in his early 50s (so
young!). He was a handsome, active, and athletic man– passionate about
sports, especially rugby and golf, and he enjoyed living near multiple golf
courses and driving ranges. Later in life, he became an avid baseball and
basketball fan, adopting the Dodgers and Lakers as his home teams, even
taking the bus (to Inglewood!) to watch games.
He was gregarious and had many friends. His friends were always visiting,
taking him out, drinking, and golfing with him. On special occasions like
New Year’s, he’d drink until he’d get red, happy, and sing to Japanese enka
songs on TV. He was no stranger to the kitchen and had a passion for
He was also a smoker (pipes and cigars were preferred, but cigarettes were
more convenient) and so my earliest memories of being with him were going
out for "walks" with him, me in one arm and the smokes in his other hand.
My Mom hated that he smoked in my proximity– he’d literally blow smoke in
my face and laugh because he thought the faces I made were funny! More
than once, my grabby little hands did get burned, but those were different
times back then, and I know he did these things without malice. As a kid,
I used to help my Grandpa prepare his pipes, clean them with pipe cleaners
and stuff the tobacco inside. I’m no fan of smoke these days, but I’d be
lying if I didn’t admit that I still love the smell of tobacco in a cigar
box because it reminds me of being close to Grandpa.
My father had a deep respect for his own father and in many ways, a typical
Asian father-son relationship. They did not talk about emotions or say
things like "I love you," but the love was always there in the things they
did and sacrificed for each other. One of my father’s greatest sources of
pride was giving his parents a good life, which he did, here in America.
My father was an incredibly devoted son and I’m grateful for his example as
I think about how I try to take care of my Mom and give her the life of
enjoyment she deserves for taking care of all of us for so many years.
So on this Father’s Day, I am thinking of my Grandpa, Tony Wang and his
son/my Dad, Yensan Wang. I love and honor you both.
(A bonus "Happy Father’s Day" to my Bro, who is now the father of my two