Memoir : Big White Van (part one)

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I remember the fake polar bear fur that lined our polyester pink snow quilted jackets; we were born 6yrs apart but Mother often dressed us as identical twins. Our white commercial van had an unbolted, swerving back seat that jumped and jolted, we rode unseat-belted in wagon wheel fashion, with big leaps of roller coaster upheavals through every cracked pothole crevice and twisted turn. The curved tire wheel hub inside the van became another makeshift seat, it was slippery but at least it was permanently attached.

There’s a color photograph of me and my older sister with our sweet ghostly faces peeking behind two rubber edged windows from the dusty back windows of the van. Our smiles float through the dark reflective glass eternally captured in seventies Kodak photographic paper. We both have tight Kung Fu ponytails, bound together with blue hair-ripping grocery store rubber bands that originally bound fresh bunches of green spring onions together.

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Mother was obsessively frugal and found multiple uses for jars, twist ties and wrappers; everything had a second recycled purpose in our household, everything was excruciatingly saved, Christmas gift wrappers, brown paper lunch sacks, plastic Leggs pantyhose eggs, all things were repurposed until they were broken or in ruined tatters. Mother always combed our unwashed, oily hair into low maintenance ponytails, shining like sesame oiled seaweed, our straight black hair wrapped tightly against our skulls. Mother planned family picnics and day trips to Ocean City, MD with this van.

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We went crab fishing on the pier in this mobile disaster too, when my grandmother was here visiting from Korea. I remember her in the background smiling with crinkled eyes, looking fearless with her bed head windswept nest of snow white hair waving like an eagle flag or in a square hedge of sculpted grey.

When I look at myself now in middle age, I can see her spirit warmly smiling back at me. She’s reflected in me as the ghost of a lost world, my mother country, roots and history. I resemble her as a reminder to those who knew her or would never met her. I am a surviving living mirror echo of her. I’ve inherited the same strong jawline and rectangular face, with high Native American ancestral cheekbones, wide open-minded forehead, Egyptian eyes, full sensual lips and straight edged nose. Coincidentally I was raised by her from age one to almost age four. She was a gambler, drinker, heavy smoker and a survivalist badass female pirate. I too am a smoking, drinking, out-spoken, hot-tempered, non-conforming prodigal (youngest child) rebel anomaly in my family. It’s because of her that I have a voice, her powerhouse personality paved my road to freedom.

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4 thoughts on “Memoir : Big White Van (part one)

  1. I love this essay. It reminds me so much of my family and our heritage both lost and retained. Love the details and the evocation of all the senses. My grandmother was a badass as well and she raised me until the age of 5. Thank goodness we had strong models within our culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment Soo Young. I agree, having strong female role models, especially within a traditionally patriarchal culture, shaped and saved me. I’m glad you were raised by a badass grandmother too!


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