Chou extended family gathering, ca. 1922, Nanxun, China. My mother, Chou, is the baby, approximately two or three years old, held by her mother. The oldest woman sitting in the front is Chou’s grandmother — my great grandmother.
Mother was born in the family compound in a small town an hour away from Shanghai. Nanxun is known as the “land of fish and rice,” and is a major silk producer and exporter to this day. There are stone canals and ancient stone arch bridges meandering through town.
When I visited there several years ago, I glimpsed the leisure and gracious lifestyle of yesteryear. A lone man sipped tea in a scenic pavilion by a lake. A grandmother sat in the shade under an old tree, her grandchild in a stroller. Friends played mahjong under the eaves of long rows of tiled roof houses stretching along the canal.
At the age of five, my mother lost her mother. When she was nine, her father died. She was raised by her paternal grandmother, who loved green tea and garlic.
Mother was an angry child who kicked over the night pot for the servants to clean up. She threw the food on the floor when lunch was delivered to her school if she didn’t like what she saw.
The extended family tolerated her behavior, knowing she had serious cause to be angry, for she had suffered so much loss. It takes a village to raise a child, but there was not one adult advocate who saw her through the anger, sadness and hurt feelings as she grew up over the years.
My Mother was an eyewitness to pillage, rape, destruction and other horrors of wars. She walked past dead bodies on her way to school during the Japanese occupation. She survived the civil war in China. She is strong willed, resilient and undeterred by life’s challenges.
She went to Shanghai to go to school. She stayed in opulent homes of affluent relatives.
In college, she studied chemistry; in her marriage, sh