Junior year of college I did a midterm project on biographical writing. I chose my mother and wrote a six page piece on her getting ready to board a plane in the year 1958, sitting on a vinyl chair in a pressed suit. Just before she started her undergraduate degree her parents relocated to Hong Kong, leaving her in the states.
As a kid this sounded impossible to me. Granted, to a small kid a 17 year-old doesn’t sound much like a kid anymore, but still. When I was 15 I flew by myself from Missouri to New York for drama camp in the Catskills (I wanted to be a stage actress/opera singer—5 years of voice lessons and I won Missouri state championships year, too, with a quartet I was in, singing Schubert).
In homage to my mother’s travels as a very young lady, I decided to forego the pajamas route many of my campmates went with and instead wore a black pencil skirt and pumps, twisting my hair into a chignon, a la Audrey. The whole time I thought of my mom’s trips to China. When she looked down, she said, in the middle of open ocean, you could see whales.
When we were moving in some more of our things to our new apartment I found this photo. The original is in my mother’s living room, kept in a bamboo album with Chinese characters. I made copies of photos and her correspondence back and forth and used them as a cover for my project in college.
I have another photo of my mom in Hong Kong wearing a bathing suit on the beach. I’m not sure if it’s the sun, or the period, but every shot looks like something off the set of some wonderful period drama worthy of Edith Head.
In this particular set there are two pictures—2 that proceed. In the first shot my mother is doing a headstand. Beyond her bare feet you can see the skyline. Beneath the point there are boat masts on the bay— it’s 1959 and June, and she’ll be 18 forever.