Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Saturday, November 16, 2013


It’s almost Thanksgiving. Time to eat too much turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, and pumpkin pie. We celebrate with family and friends and pay homage to the pilgrims who made it through the first harsh winter in their new home with the help of the local Native Americans. It’s a time for reflection and giving thanks for all our blessings and good fortune throughout the past year.

In “Good Fortune” I wrote about Thanksgiving from two perspectives. The first is when Michael and Jennie go to Eric and Susan’s house for dinner. The second is what’s happening in the Chow household across town.

Thanksgiving is the first time Eric and Susan meet Jennie, Michael’s newest girlfriend. Michael is a confirmed bachelor who never commits to any relationship. When he senses things are becoming serious he breaks up with whoever he’s dating. The mere fact he’s bringing someone he’s recently met to meet his best (happily married) friends is a big step for him.

For Anna living in Chinatown, her husband Wu is treating Thanksgiving like any other work day. He leaves her alone all day to care for his father and their two young sons who were born in the United States and are completely Americanized. Dennis and William are excited about Thanksgiving and Anna’s hopes to have a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner with her family are crushed because Wu refused to stay home from work.

Page 246 begins:

Susan and Jennie took an instant liking to each other and within minutes of their introduction, chatted in the kitchen like old friends. Their compatible personalities, similar style of dress, sense of humor and shared worldview made them an instant hit with each other. As kindred spirits, they discussed their respective careers while they worked side by side completing preparations for the holiday feast.
The turkey received a round of applause when it came out of the oven, and Susan took a well-deserved bow. The small group gathered around the candlelit table resplendent with all the traditional mouthwatering Thanksgiving fare. With full hearts and hearty appetites, they toasted the holiday, their plans for the future and each other. Then the feasting began. Nearly an hour later, after shamelessly stuffing themselves with generous second portions of everything followed by Jennie’s sumptuous pumpkin pie and coffee, the ladies retired upstairs to the room set aside for the nursery.
Rubbing her full stomach, Susan showed Jennie, who was loosening her belt, the wallpaper swatches she had selected to choose from.
“I like the one with the cloud border around the ceiling,” Jennie said.
“That's my first choice, too.”
Now they were away from the men and couldn't be overheard, Susan confided in Jennie.
“The other morning Michael was talking about you, and I could tell he really likes you a lot.”
Jennie smiled. “I like him, too.”
“He hasn't been involved with anyone since he broke up with his last girlfriend a couple of years ago. The women he dates are usually gone before you know it. But I know he's getting serious about you.”
“That's good because I’m very attracted to him. I think I could get serious about him, too. How did the three of you meet?”
“Eric and Michael knew each other years before I came along. They were college roommates. From the stories I’ve heard, during their hippie days they were a wild pair. Back then you probably wouldn’t have given Michael a second glance. I know I wouldn’t have looked at Eric twice.”
“I can just imagine those two with long hair and tie-dyed shirts and bellbottoms.”
“Don’t forget the love beads.”
They shared a good laugh.
“As to how we met? Would you believe on a blind date?”
“Really?” Jennie’s eyes widened. “I’ve never gone on one of those, never wanted to.”
“Me either, but my friends were so persistent they wore me down until I agreed to do it. They must have known Eric and I would be good together because I was hooked on our first date.”
Jennie lowered her voice to practically a whisper. “I'll tell you something in confidence, but you must promise not to tell Eric.”
“I promise,” Susan said, crossing her heart. “I love secrets.”
“When I opened the door tonight and saw Michael standing there smiling that sexy smile of his, I felt butterflies in my stomach.”
“Oh, I love that. I remember those butterflies when Eric and I first began dating. Why is it they don't last? Now instead of butterflies I look as if I've got a beach ball in here.” Susan clasped her hands beneath her expanding belly.
“What are you two ladies laughing about up here? What's all this girl talk anyway?” Eric chided, barging in from the hall.
“Oh, you know, the usual. We were talking about men, what else?” Susan shot back.
“I should've known. Well, these two men request your company downstairs. We want to play Truth or Dare. Are you both up to the challenge?”
“You bet!”
When the evening drew to a close and it was time to leave, Jennie and Susan hugged each other and promised to keep in touch. As Michael bent over to kiss Susan goodbye, she whispered, “She’s a keeper. Don’t screw this up.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
During the drive back to Jennie's apartment, Michael had visions of making passionate love to her until the sun came up. He was aching to live out the fantasy he’d been having about her since the night they went dancing. Jennie had been having her own similar thoughts, so imagine her surprise and dismay when her younger sister flung open the door at the sound of their approaching footsteps.

Miles away in Chinatown, Anna’s Thanksgiving isn’t going well. She’s angry and frustrated with her husband:

Page 250:

Thanksgiving in the Chow household was not much different from any other night. Good Fortune was open for business, and Wu was there to manage it. Alone in her kitchen, Anna roasted a turkey and prepared Chinese stuffing of soy sauce, ginger, mushrooms, chestnuts and sticky rice. She also prepared traditional American side dishes of cranberry sauce, peas, and mashed potatoes and gravy for Dennis and William who were completely Americanized and excited about the holiday. At school their class learned about the Indians and how they helped the settlers get through the first winter. They made Thanksgiving turkeys for the table from pine cones and construction paper.
The boys could barely wait to eat and while dinner cooked, they complained it was taking too long. Now seated at the table, they wolfed down their food while Tong picked at the turkey and vegetables on his plate until Anna noticed he wasn't eating. She brought him a dish of beef and noodles hastily warmed in the microwave. He thanked her and picked up his chopsticks. Wu never made it home in time to join them at the dinner table.
Anna was torn between two worlds. Her sons were born in the United States and knew only this country and its ways, but like Wu, she had been born in China. She still retained fond childhood memories of her affectionate aunties far across the ocean, and her sparrow-like elderly grandmother who grew all her own vegetables and cooked everything over hot stones in the backyard. Leaving them behind had been hard on her, especially on holidays.
Anna never doubted that Wu was a devoted husband, yet he never seemed to be able to spend enough time at home anymore with her and the boys. Over time she grew used to it, but that night she felt especially lonely and resentful because she knew of other Chinese families who, like other Americans, were assembled and celebrating Thanksgiving with their children. While she was alone in the kitchen putting away the leftovers, Anna longed for her mother who moved to Los Angeles so her father could be near his brothers, with whom he jointly owned a bakery and two laundromats. It wasn't often she felt this way, but why couldn't Wu have stayed home tonight just this once?
By the time he finally did arrive, it was late and the boys had been put to bed hours ago. Anna was seated at her dressing table brushing her hair and was still feeling annoyed, as her image in the mirror clearly reflected. Upon entering the bedroom, Wu immediately noticed the anger etched on her face and was confounded to see it, because one thing he could always count on when he came home from work was that Anna would be happy to see him and greet him with a kiss and a smile.
Sensing that something was vexing her, he braced himself for an argument while attempting to act casual. He came up behind her and kissed her gently on top of her head where her hair parted; this gesture annoyed her beyond words.
How dare he!
Angrily, Anna removed his hands and got off her stool, wheeling around to face him with an angry scowl.
“Why couldn't you have stayed home with us just this once?” she accused. “I tried to make it a nice Thanksgiving for the boys, but how nice could it be without their father here to celebrate with them? The restaurant didn't need you tonight, but they did. You've got your priorities all mixed up!”
“You know I always work on Thanksgiving. It's not my holiday so why shouldn't I be at the restaurant?” Wu defended himself. “I’m not the only one who isn’t celebrating. The restaurant was busy tonight.”
“Because your sons don't share your feelings, that's why. They were born here, and they know all about the Pilgrims and the Indians and the first Thanksgiving. Their teachers taught them that our people are just like the Pilgrims who crossed the ocean and came here to make a new life for themselves. Tonight I fixed turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and . . . oh what's the use!”
Anna flung her brush down and stalked off toward the bathroom to have a good cry, but Wu came after her and held her at arm’s length.
“I had no idea how strongly you felt about this. Why didn't you tell me before?”
“Do I have to spell out everything for you? You knew I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner and the boys brought home those cute turkeys they made at school from pine cones. You could have scheduled someone else to run things tonight, or better yet, you could have stayed home all day with us.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“See what I mean?”

Michael and Wu’s lives parallel, but from opposite directions. Michael never commits to anyone he dates. When Susan whispers in his ear “don't screw this up” she suspects he will do the same thing with Jennie.  He has no desire to get married and has always been candid about that. In contrast, Wu is married and has a loving family, yet he’s letting work interfere with his relationship with his wife and sons. He doesn't appreciate what he has and takes them for granted.

Will Michael and Wu change? Both are driven to succeed, but at what price? Purchase "Good Fortune" and find out what happens. For the past few weeks it has been in the top 100 on Amazon in the genre of Visionary Fiction. If your library doesn't have it let them know it's in other libraries and can be ordered from the catalog.

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Leslie Bratspis

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