Last weekend, I visited my grandparents and uncle in Yonkers, N.Y., and I brought some recording equipment with me. It’s a little morbid to interview the older family members in our lives, but I did and it was worth it.
This is just a taste of how cute my Gong Gong is. He told a lot of great stories, including how he had a pet monkey for 6 months while serving in the 41st infantry in the Philippines. And, he detailed his unusual journey from China to the U.S. — through Canada to Ellis Island. (Most Chinese came through Angel Island.) The whole thing sent me down a rabbit hole. I’ve emailed historians and spent time looking for his records online. Here’s his enlistment record, which I found at the National Archives website.
The nativity field is a mystery. Why Arizona? Also, why the last name “Lee”? (That’s not my grandfather’s last name.) My mom clarified the latter. Turns out, his last name — and my mom’s until she was a teenager — was Lee until they legally changed it. Perhaps an error on Ellis Island?
I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with the rest of the audio, but I may be due back to NYC for another interview soon. I’m fired up to find out more.
Aging takes many forms. In the past year, I’ve sprouted two gray hairs and felt dizzy on a swingset. I max out on two to three drinks. But my most dramatic symptom is my newfound addiction to HGTV. House Hunters, Property Virgins, Love It or List It, Property Brothers — just a few of my favorites. I’ve developed strong feelings surrounding “open concept layouts” and “updated kitchens,” and I routinely peek at real estate listings. I’ve become one of those annoying adults I’d roll my eyes at when I was a teenager. There are no granite countertops or hardwood floors in my near future. But, there’s always the dream.
Homeownership. It’s a precarious vessel for dreams. If you rent, there’s this sense that you haven’t quite made it. And if you own, congrats! You’re a financially stable adult. I’m not against these sentiments. But, what if you have to go “backwards,” from owning to renting? Or from owning a large home to a small one?
I have a distinct memory from childhood — maybe I was 12 or 13? Suze Orman was on TV in my parents’ bedroom. She said something like, “Don’t think of your home as your biggest investment. Your home is not an investment.” I knew that my parents — whom I applaud for their transparency with me in terms of their finances — disagreed with Suze’s statement. I’m sure my dad told me she was wrong. That for us modest people, our home was in fact an investment.
More than a decade later, this conversation seems more relevant than ever. My parents live in that same house where I grew up. It’s now too big for them. It’s too expensive. The yard has become too much to handle. Yet, they won’t leave. How could they go from owning to renting? How could they downsize? How could they sell a nest egg? How could they continue living 3000 miles away from the nearest family member who gives a shit?