Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chinese New Year Flashback: Good Food and Good Pranks

We have always celebrated Chinese New Year by following many of the typical Chinese traditions….we try to get our hair cuts prior to New Year’s Day, we refrain from washing our hair on New Year’s Day (ok, at least the girls in the family pretended we didn’t wash our hair that day), we try not to fight, we exchange hong baos (little red envelopes of good luck money), and we all gather for a traditional Chinese dinner at my parents’ house. 

When I was in college, my oldest sister Joanie was the only one who was married, so we had more room around the Lazy Susan table back then than we do now.  Therefore, we were allowed to invite a guest to Chinese New Year dinner.  Sophomore year, I brought my Pi Phi roommate, Kay Tacke (aka, one of the “Tacke-y twins from Tacoma” – no joke.)  Kay adored
my family, and she was very proud to be, as she put it, Mary’s chosen “white friend” who got invited to the official “Chinese New Year dinner.”  Two weeks before, she already knew what she was going to wear -- her bright red, double-breasted suit dress from Ann Taylor and her black Ferragamo bow flats (remember, it was the 80’s!).  My sister Catherine and I thought it was very endearing that Kay was so excited about Chinese New Year.  But we still decided to mess with our blonde friend. 

My grandfather, Gong Gong, always joined us for Chinese New Year dinner.  Gong Gong was a very sweet grandfather, who had a great sense of style.  He always looked sharp in his wool sportcoats, dark slacks, and cashmere overcoat.  (“100% cashmere”, he was always proud to report.)  However, we told Kay that Gong Gong had really bad vision, and actually lost an eyeball so he had a fake glass eye.  But the glass eye broke and the new one wasn’t ready yet, so he would have an empty eye socket at Chinese New Year dinner.  We were warning her because it looked gross, and we didn’t want her to appear rude by staring or making faces when she talked to him.  But it would be disrespectful to talk to him, and not look him directly in the eye (the other eye, the good eye).  Absolutely none of this was true, and I don’t know how we came up with it, but we just made it all up as we went along.

All this made Kay a little nervous about coming to dinner.  But she was grateful for the warning, although I know she was having second thoughts about how lucky she was to be the chosen “white friend”.  When we sat down for dinner that night, of course Gong Gong had both of his healthy eyeballs in tact.  Confused yet relieved, Kay whispered to me at the table, “He has both eyeballs in!”  I said, “Oh yeah, they finished his eyeball early at the doctor’s office!”  Soon after, Kay realized my sister and I were a couple of sick liars.  But she was a good sport.  I think she realized it was a small price to pay to be invited to such a delicious Chinese dinner.  And to this day, she continues to ask when she gets to come back as my “white friend” at Chinese New Year dinner.

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