WHEN I WAS SEVENTEEN

August 17 and 17th day of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Time is marching on so I must not tarry. Time waits for no one. I thought I would change my routine and come to my keyboard earlier. Someone asked posed the question “WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DID SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME?” in her post yesterday. It did get me thinking about how I’ve lived my life. Have I lived it? Was/am I adventuresome or was/am I a stick in the mud?

When I was 17 I certainly did not feel confident or adventuresome. Indeed, I felt very lacking in those areas. Back in Grade 7 and 8, boys asked me to dance at school dances. Grade 9 seemed to be the cutoff date. I became a wallflower so I stopped going to dances. I envied everyone else for their normalcy. I became aware of my differences, my Chinese-ness. Our life was the cafe, school and home. We had none of the travel out of town, to the lake, get-togethers with other people in town except with our cousins.

Thinking back now all these years later, it is a wonder to me that I was sassy enough to invite myself to a penpal, Gail’s home in Winnipeg. We had met on the plane to Japan when both our mothers and us immigrated to Canada. Our mothers had exchanged addresses and kept in touch. In my teenager’s loneliness I started writing to Gail. In 1967 the Pan American Games were being held in Winnipeg. That was my reason to ask for an invite for a visit. I’m not sure if I had any intentions of seeing any of it.

My friend’s grandfather Harry had a restaurant on Main and Portage called Chan’s Cafe. I had the audacity of asking for a summer job which I got. More surprising than anything, my mother agreed to let me go. So I headed out on the Greyhound Bus to Winnipeg. I never did see any of the Pan Am Games. Mostly I waitressed the afternoon to evening shift the whole summer till it was time to come home for school. Gail had the day shift. I never saw much of Winnipeg except the airport. My friend’s father had one of the cooks drive me home after our shifts. Gail’s mother felt responsible for me and didn’t trust me coming home alone on the bus. The cook taught me to drink coffee, smoke and showed me the airport.

I was a very young and innocent 17. I couldn’t get into trouble if I had wanted to. I can’t remember if I worked 6 or 7 days/week. When you are working an afternoon/evening shift, there isn’t too much time to get into trouble. But I had a clandesdine date or two if you can call matinees that. That’s when I saw Clint Eastwood in The Good, Bad and Ugly. The other matinee was with Kirk Douglas. I can’t recall the name but Kirk was butt naked in it.

WHEN I WAS SEVENTEEN

sweet 16When I was seventeen, it was a very good year.  The Pan American Games was in Winnipeg.  I had finished Grade 10.  I wore mascara and eyeliner and had a $7 hair switch which I put up in curls almost every day.  I was full of confidence I didn’t possess.

I invited myself to my pen pal, Gail’s home in Winnipeg (to see the Games) and a waitress job in her grandfather’s restaurant.  The most surprising thing was, my mother allowed me to go.  She  was trusting Gail’s mother to keep me safe from harm.

scan0002-1Our mothers had met at the Immigration Office in Hong Kong.  Coincidentally, we were on the same plane from Hong Kong to Tokyo.  There they boarded a different plane to Winnipeg.  We stayed on to Vancouver.  Addresses were exchanged and they kept up correspondence over the years.

Feeling lonely and set apart being the only Chinese girl my age in town, I asked my mother for their address and started writing to Gail.  That was the start of our friendship and the trip to Winnipeg the summer of 1967.

Thinking back it was a miracle.  I boarded a Grey Hound Bus to the big city of Winnipeg all by myself.  Gail and her family were virtual strangers to me.  I stayed for the whole summer, coming home in time for school.  I had more courage then.  Or maybe I was too young and naive to be scared.

Winnipeg was much much bigger than our town of 600.  Somehow I got around.  Chan’s Restaurant was on Main Street.  It was big, consisting of two floors.  I worked on the main floor.  First lesson I got was, You don’t get friendly with a customer.  You do not sit down and have a conversation with them.  Boy, it was a good thing I worked for a friend’s family!  Otherwise I would probably get sacked.

I never did see any of the games.  Mostly I worked.  That’s what I remembered anyways.  I did meet a few guys and saw a couple of movies.  Of course that got Gail’s mother calling my mother right away.  She was responsible for me so I sort of understood.  I didn’t want to cause her worry.  I did my socializing in the afternoon after that.

It was not the young guys that had things on their mind.  It was the adults.  Uncle Bing gave me rides home when we were working the same shift.  He wanted to show me different parts of Winnipeg on the way.  One night he took me to the airport to watch the planes take off.  He taught me to drink coffee and smoke a cigarette.  I liked Uncle Bing but sometimes he had this weird breathing – fast with a funny sound.  I did not understand.  He was married with children.

God protects the young, weak and innocent.