My father, Phillip Wong, was originally from Hong Kong and in 1962, he returned there to marry my mother, Jane. That same year, they traveled to the United States and moved to the same western town where my father’s friend, Deep Fong, owned the Black Swan Café. Deep Fong gave them the business to run, and for two years, my parents operated the Black Swan seven days a week. I was born in 1964 on a Tuesday, and from then on the Black Swan closed on Tuesdays.
In 1974, my father passed away which left my mom, who spoke no English, to raise me and to run the restaurant. I was only ten years old and it wasn’t easy, but I learned fast how to translate for her, order the supplies and communicate with the staff. Help finally arrived when my mother successfully assisted her brother and his family of four to immigrate to the United States.
Everyone who worked in the restaurant wore the same bib-style apron. They were huge on my cousins and me and to fit us were folded several times and then wrapped around and around our bodies, and finally tied across our chests. As kids, we peeled potatoes and washed the dishes by hand. The sinks were so high, we stood on stools. We all waited tables and lived off tips.
In 1982, the Black Swan was destroyed in a fire. My mother was amazingly resilient. She not only started over in a new location, but she continued her efforts to help her family immigrate. Although their arrivals were significant events, it was my mother’s youngest sister’s departure years later that made a lasting impression. When my aunt moved to California to be near her sons, her plane left on a Monday, and from then on Mom has closed the café on Mondays.
Forty years later, my mom still runs the Black Swan, and as of March 2002, her grandchildren now work there, too. Seeing my sons working next to my mother, wearing identical aprons while their ninety-nine year old great-grandmother rolls the silverware into napkins, I’m reminded that life is opportunity, and family is what makes the struggles worthwhile.
"Life is opportunity, and family is what makes the struggles worthwhile." ~ Penny Wong Schulz
Text © EllynAnne Geisel