Dale Says

June 21, 2012

Greeting People with a Smile

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 11:02 am

Peter Chang was in my memoir writing class, and he turned out to be one of my favorite students. He’s in his 70’s and was a college professor in Shanghai before he immigrated to the U.S. where his inadequate language skills forced him to change professions. He worked the rest of his career as a bookkeeper in a Chinatown business.

Peter always called me “Mr. Dale” and told me I was a “very good teacher,” which was a high compliment coming from the professor. He also told me that because of his language problems, he only understood “20-25%” of what I was teaching in the classes, so I slowed down my lectures and went over the material with Peter individually after the other students left the classroom.

It turns out that Peter had already written his memoirs, and he gave me an autographed copy as a gift during the final class. It’s something I will always treasure.

Peter’s memoirs trace his career in China, his family, his travels, and the good and bad experiences he had after immigrating to the U.S. There are some touching chapters. The one titled “Greeting People with a Smile” points out some of the differences in culture Peter experienced in the U.S.

“When I first arrived in U.S., there were only a few cars parked in the residential districts, and pedestrians were even fewer. One day I met a stranger on the street. He smiled and greeted me friendly with “good morning!’ and ‘hello!’ I had learned these greetings well before I came here. However, when confronted by the westerner, I became nervous and didn’t know what to do. I could only make a nod and hasten to pass by. When days went on, I realized that I had been impolite. Since I had now immigrated to U.S., I should follow the local customs and respect other people with manners. But as new immigrants, we had many problems to solve; problems like finding jobs, finding places to live, and getting our children in school. Those are heavy burdens, and I realized it would be difficult to immediately greet people with a smile or communicate with strangers. But we were now in this country to stay, so we needed to learn and to adapt the American customs and traditions. Greeting people with a smiling face was only one of them.

I did learn to smile at strangers, and I discovered that a smile is really a miracle medicine. It has cured headaches for me and lightened my life, and I have now learned to greet people with a smile. When you smile, the good fortune follows!”

June 18, 2012

Cousin Walt

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 10:00 am

The man we knew as Cousin Walt has been gone a little over year now, and his little home has been cleared out, re-sold, and another family is now living there. All that remains of Walt is memories. He left many of those, mostly good, and he is missed by many friends. Every once in a while one of them approaches me and asks about Walt.

Walt was a third-generation San Franciscan, a fact of which he was very proud, a long-time and edicated Mason, avid world traveler, and ardent fan of the San Francisco 49ers. He was also an only child and a homebody, who never moved out of his parents’ home. He remained in their house after his father died, and he took care of his mother when she got sick. He met and got engaged to a lovely woman, but he wouldn’t marry her until his mother died, and then he moved his new bride into his parents’ home.

Walt was very involved in the Masons, and he left all of his money to them when he died, a fact that says a lot about Walt. He liked what he liked, and he believed what he belived, and he was not open to new ideas or new interests. He was a bigot, and he was irascible, but we liked him and we helped him through his final days. He had no family, you see, so he relied on us to make decisions for him and help him. He refused to go to a hospital or nursing home, even though he was basically an invalid those last weeks, and we had to force the little bit of outside help he had on him. But he was able to fend for himself for the most part up until the end, and he was able to die in his beloved home, instead of a hospital. We should all be so fortunate.

Now, I think of Walt once in a while. When I do, I generally think what a shame it was that he didn’t use his energy and his money to help people, rather than squirreling it away and then leaving it all to an organization that doesn’t really need it. There’s a lesson there for all of us.

June 11, 2012

Well, How Nice!

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 11:20 am

I walked Bea home to her apartment last Friday after lunch at the neighborhood center. Bea is 84, lives alone, and walks several blocks each day to have a hot meal at the center. She always arrives wheeling a small cart that is loaded with her things; including groceries, an extra jacket, and who knows what else. Bea always sits in the same place for lunch, and no one else dares sit in her chair. She doesn’t talk much, but instead eats her lunch and heads home.

Bea is single and has never been married. She worked her whole adult life and supported herself, and now she survives on the little in her savings, social security, and the meals at the center. She’s spunky, independent, and eccentric. The other people at lunch (and the volunteers) are a little afraid of her, and she will bark at anyone who dares cross her.

Last Friday, Bea arrived at lunch with a rolled-up tissue stuffed in her nose. She has been having nose bleeds for several days and she has a hard time getting them to stop. I walked her home to make sure she got there safely. We took it slow and had to stop several times for Bea to rest on the way to her apartment. She lives on the third floor of a run-down apartment in a cul-de-sac in the North Beach area of San Francisco. There’s no elevator in Bea’s apartment, so she climbs the three sets of stairs, dragging her cart up the stairs behind her. The door to her apartment is barricaded with an old bed frame, tape, and signs that warn her neighbors to stay away. At the door, she painstakingly removes the barricades, takes the tape off the door knob, and pushes the door open. Her apartment is dark and smells of cigarettes, which she smokes. Paper grocery bags fill most of the apartment, and they are filled with various “treasures” she has gathered and stacked three and four high around most of the studio apartment. Her shades are torn and drawn, and her single bed looks old and worn. The only other furniture I saw was one arm chair and a small table that likely serves as dining table and coffee table.

Bea said she was alright, but she gratefully accepted the card I offered, on which I had written my phone number in large numbers. I told her she could call me if she needed anything. She seemed pleased. As I left and headed down the three flights of stairs I could hear her talking to herself in her apartment. A lot of what she was saying was mumbling that I couldn’t follow, but I did her say, “Well, how nice,” referring to my efforts to help her. That, coming from such a stong-willed and independent woman, was an excellent reward.

June 5, 2012

Enjoy Every Day

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 3:54 pm

Our dear friend, Sally Watson, visited us the other day. She was stepmother to our friend, Steve Watson, who died from AIDS in 1995. We comforted Sally and Bob (Steve’s father) while they held vigil during Steve’s last couple of months. Sally lost Bob last year; he was 99 and had a full and wonderful life. Sally misses him terribly and said her time with him were the happiest of her life. We had a nice lunch for Sally and her daughter and a nice visit afterwards. As we were saying goodbye to Sally during what was probably the last time we will see her, she said to me, “I want to tell you one thing … you and Patty should enjoy every day!” It’s a lesson I will never forget.

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