Fresh reminders come as suddenly as the original disaster, ringing in the middle of the night, or wafting though the air from a neighbor’s kitchen at dinnertime. We can almost sense one another bracing in unison against the announcement, “We interrupt this program . . . ” At those times, no explanation is needed. At other times, no explanation seems possible, although other people do sometimes learn to understand the distant expression that comes over our faces, out of the blue.
The smell of crushed tangerine leaves in the grocery store does it to me every time: it’s the lunar new year, and I’m a child again, wondering if my room is clean enough, thinking how strange it will feel to have citrus leaves from the garden floating in my holiday bath water. Then I come back through so many years to reality, a willful boy still fighting that bath, as though by resisting, I could keep it all–childhood, home, Mother, Father–from washing away.
It froze hard the winter before my parents died, unusual for the San Francisco Bay area killing a great many trees, including a few in our back yard. By June, it became clear we had to cut them down, leaving the yard quite bare. We planted some saplings, and my mother went out and bought a garden umbrella–white with a black embroidered border–for a bit of extra shade and privacy. When my father saw the umbrella, the blood drained from his face, which turned as white as the canvas. She had no way of knowing that it would remind him of a Chinese funeral procession.
All over the Berkeley Hills, in Wildcat and Strawberry Canyons, you can find hundreds of lopsided Eucalyptus trees, forty or fifty feet tall, that have regrown from the stumps that were left that year. The skylines of my childhood vanished in one season, and they haven’t recovered. Each year, as soon as the rains let up, I like to put on my mud boots and get lost along the trails to see what’s new, and how the rest of the world is digging out of the winter’s debris.
– Eric V. Siu lost his father RenÃ©, 45, his mother Barbara, 43, and three young cousins on Pan Am 816, PapÃ©etÃ©, Tahiti, July 22, 1973