Sunday, February 17, 2013

30. An exercise in parentheticals And maybe a story at the end.

30. No, not me.  This Wednesday, my little brother* Murg**, unbelievably, is turning "the big 3-0"***.

*He hasn't been shorter than me approximately since he started to walk.  At which time I was four and he was one.  I was a really short kid.

** Why do I call him that?  I don't remember the story  behind that at all, because I simply don't remember not calling him Murg.  Affectionately, of course.  And not because of any speech impediment, either.

*** Not that 30 is so very old.  In fact, I never get to angst about turning a certain age because I have to help Big Frog through those numbers years in advance of my hitting them, so they've lost their impact by the time it gets to me.  He, in turn, is waiting to turn 41**** because that means his sister will be 50. 

**** This June.

Anyways, there's not much of an age gap between us, so I don't remember much of the leadup to Murg's arrival, or his actual birth-and-homecoming.  What impacted three-year-old-me was that my PorPor (mom's mom) and aunt (mom's only sister) came to visit. 

I have a huge extended family, as my mom was number two of five and my dad was three of six.  There are a dozen first cousins on each side, and the tree keeps expanding with cousins-in-law and nieces and nephews*****.  But my immediate family, just  the three-turned-four of us, Mom, Dad, me, and Murg, were the only branch in Maryland.  In fact, it seemed to me growing up that every vacation we ever took was for a family reunion... because whether we drove north to Detroit or flew west to SanFran, all it took for nearly everyone to be together was for us to show up.

***** By genealogical reckoning, the classification is first cousins, once removed.  But for purposes of respect and relationship, if there's a generational age gap, it's "auntie".  My godkids call me auntie, too.  It's the family you build.  Similarly, I still call some of my parent's longtime friends auntie and uncle, except for the one who, once I was grown, told me that she didn't have sibs and her (ex-)husband didn't have sibs, and my brother and I were the only people in the entire world to call her auntie, and while she put up with it for my mom's sake when we were little, now that we were all adults, could I please just call her by her given name. 

I'm pretty sure this was the only time PorPor ever visited us in Maryland.  She wasn't much of a traveler******, and most of her kids and grands were right around her anyways.  Except for us. 

****** You know, aside from traveling alone, ostensibly by steamship, from Guangdong, China to Detroit to join her husband in the Beautiful Country (America), and she had to marry him again in the States because even though they were properly married in China, the paper identities under which they'd immigrated weren't married.  Perhaps it's better to say she'd about used up her quota of lifetime miles?

I remember going to the Inner Harbor with her and we all came home with marionettes.  Don't remember what mine was, but my aunt got a unicorn. 

I remember before she came, I had a "rice table" -- not a sandbox out back or pots and pans in the kitchen that I banged on, but a Tupperware sheetcake box half full of rice, and measuring cups and spoons and forks to dig around with.  A little zen garden, if you will.  But mom explained before she pieced everything back to their proper places in the kitchen that Chinese culture (meaning PorPor) valued food too much to see it as a plaything.  The rice table never came back after PorPor and my aunt flew home.  Maybe it was just a convenient reason?

I remember she brought Haw Flakes.  Are they still around?  I'm delighted to have a good asian grocery in Harrisburg, but Haw Flakes are not exactly something I look for.  If you're wondering what they are, mom found an english ingredients list on a multipack once... just one ingredient: haw.  What is haw?  I have no idea.  But Haw Flakes were pinkish, about the color of a pencil eraser.  Flat wafers in rolls the size of half a roll of lifesavers.  They were mostly a texture food to me; they didn't have much to offer taste-wise.  Only place we ever got them were PorPor's (or YenYen's, my dad's mom's) care packages. 

Speaking of grandparental care packages, I remember the herbal liniment they brewed up (Really, brewed is the right word.) and packaged into baby food jars.  If you opened up that jar, the smell would hit you in the face like a walloping punch, but boy did the liniment ever work.  My frequent sprained ankles were dosed up and healed right up... possibly to get away from the smell?  My GungGung (mom's dad) used to say that ithe stuff would get a railroad spike out of a board.  Don't know if that's fact or hyperbole, but I can tell you without a bit of exaggeration that we had a jar of liniment that went unused for awhile (healthy is good!) and the liniment ate through the metal jar lid.  Bubbled its way right through.  And we put that on our skin.  Eastern medicine.  Be careful what you ask for, but it works.

Well, happy birthday, Murg.  I don't remember your arrival but I can't deny you're here.  Here's to your next 30 and beyond.


  1. Cute post! Don't you just love little brothers, even when they grow up to be bigger than you and think they know SO much more than you?

  2. Never mind my comment on the later post about the Murg nickname. I'm catching up (and working my way backwards).

    And yes, haw flakes still exist!