In Loving Memory of Goo Jerng

Classic Goo Jerng Look

Random Observation/Comment #258: For my funeral, please have an open bar and lots of badass pictures of me traveling around the world and eating awesome food. You can also photoshop my head onto that painting of Lincoln riding a bear.  Oh yeah, and please no priest…

Those summers in Pennsylvania were so nice.  I remember my little chubby potato body and chipmunk face waddling around my aunt’s house finding things to do.  I’d wake up at 8AM every day to take a walk with Goo Jerng at Long’s park.  He’d always encourage me to jog while he did his routine mile walk around the lake – sadly he’d always beat me in the end because I’d be too sweaty and distracted by feeding the squirrels and pigeons.  I never saw him with a cane – he’d just wear the same sweater vest and tan flannel fedora and take his time enjoying the air.  I wish I could go back in time and spend those times talking to him about his life instead of just running around chasing animals and imaginary friends in tag.  I’m sure he would have told me the most kickass stories about the Korean War, toughing it out in the US, opening one of the first local Chinese restaurants, or working at a university.

He taught me how to play the Star Spangled Banner on the organ that one summer. I guess I wasn’t a prodigy.  He’d also play the oldest karaoke songs to keep me in the loop of the oldies (whatever that means).  I knew soooo many old karaoke songs – probably more than any 12-year-old should.  Edelweiss was his favorite.  Moon River wasn’t that far behind.

He taught me how to dance – or rather, tried to teach me how to dance – the Waltz and some other oldies. And who could ever forget the “Teen Gow” and “MahJong” nights?  We spent one summer making cheat-sheets on those index cards that are probably still in that box.

I had visited less and less for holidays due to college exams and personal trips, and the travels to see them had become more of a huge family cook-out.  Goo Jerng would be that silent admirer, probably taking a nap during the preparation of the food and probably listening intently to all the conversations around the table during the meal, or probably just spacing out and enjoying the food. And then after the meal we’d just sit around and watch some TV at really low or really high volume.

When we’d get there on those Saturday mornings visiting for holidays, I’d always have two constant things: 1) the most amazing congee in the world in front of me (that keeps getting better and better, by the way), and 2) Goo Jerng sitting in the same seat, holding the same mug with the green stripe, having his hair combed perfectly and giving a friendly grunt hello.  He’d offer some peanuts to add to the jok and then ask about the drive from New York.  What else could you say but “it wasn’t too bad…”  It was a routine, but what a routine I will miss.

I wouldn’t say Goo Jerng was a big part of my life, but that’s not what life is about – it’s about the little things.  It’s about his sweater vest and that mug. It’s about his constant need to have a plate of rice with every meal.  It’s about remembering he loved to eat “yea see lai yow bao” and remembering to buy it for him in Chinatown on the way.  It’s about hearing his deep voice talk about something he loved.  It’s about the smell of… whatever that smell was.  It’s all the little things that I will miss…

What will go on my mashed potatoes, oh, gravy master? By far my greatest loss in the ordeal. It will never be the same without you. Mashed potatoes will never taste the same.

~See Lemons Love and Miss Goo Jerng