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Bah Bah

Bah bah was already in the United States when mom finally got her chance.  Mom had to purchase false papers, coming in single and the daughter of another family.  Bah bah worked for “Bald Head Gung”, a relative who owned a shirt making shop.  It was here that bah bah learned his trade, eventually opening up his own business.  “Bald Head Gung” smoked cigars and loved to pinch my fat, rosy cheeks.  I thought he was very wealthy as his family lived in a large single family house.  Our one bedroom apartment on Washington and Stockton had a tiny kitchen, a small living room, and a bathroom.  At one point, I remember sleeping in one of the two sofa beds in the living room with my Uncle Ernie.  Later, I shared one of the sofa beds with my brother Donald.

I was a disappointment for bah bah.  I showed great promise throughout my years in school and was expected to go into medicine.  When I announced my decision to become a minister, bah bah was devastated.  His words to mom were, “he will live in poverty!”  Which also meant, the family will remain in poverty.  It took many years before bah bah got over my decision, if he ever did before he died.  Ironically, he did not take care of himself.  He ate whatever he wanted, not worrying about his cholesterol or high blood pressure.  He refused even to take his cholesterol medicine.  One day, darting about Chinatown in his typical fashion in pursuit of bargains, he tripped and fell on the corner of Washington and Stockton Streets, just across the street from the apartment building where we grew up.  His head hitting the curb, he was knocked unconscious.  The fall was hard enough to bend the tie clip he was wearing.  He was eventually discharged from the Emergency Room with bruises to his head and arms.   They did not diagnose any other problems.  In the days and weeks following, bah bah began showing signs of a stroke.  He slurred his speech and he had difficulty lifting one of his legs.  Walking began to be problematic.  As his condition deteriorated, mom admitted him to the hospital where he was treated for a stroke.  The treatments did not help.  In fact, according to mom, his condition got worse, declining precipitously to the point where he could not speak and mom had to feed him.  In re-examining him, they found a clot in his brain, the result of the earlier fall on Washington and Stockton Streets.  Bah bah was totally paralyzed by the time they wheeled him into surgery.  As mom described it, when they finally brought him out of surgery to the recovery room, bah bah spied mom in the waiting room and waved to her!  Bah bah had gone into surgery paralyzed and when he came out, he was able to lift his arm and wave to mom.

The change in bah bah was dramatic on many levels, not just physically.  His hair had turned completely white.  Fortunately, he recovered well enough to be able to speak and walk normally.  The most dramatic transformation was his relationship with the family.  For the first time, he openly expressed love and affection for his family, especially his grandchildren, verbally and physically.  6 months later, the day after my brother Donald’s wedding, I was in the living room with bah bah.  He complained of difficulty walking, tripping because one side of his body seemed uncooperative.  His speech was noticeably slurred.  I took him to Davies Medical Center on MUNI–first, getting on the L Taraval, and then transferring at Castro and Market onto the #24 Fillmore.  We had come “home” to Donald’s wedding from Warm Springs, Oregon.  We decided to make it an adventure, taking the train rather than driving the distance.  Just before leaving for home, all of us–Nancy and our three children, Robin, Stephen and Jason–went to the hospital to say goodbye to gung gung.  He was happy to see us and told us not to worry.  He was feeling so much better already and was ready to be discharged.  Taking the train, instead of driving, made it a much longer trip time wise.  We rode the train overnight from Oakland to Klamath Falls; and then drove home to Warm Springs from there, a 3 hour drive.  By the time we walked into the house, 18 hours later, the phone was ringing.  I picked up the phone and it was my brother Donald.  He said, “bah bah just died”.  I was stunned, shocked!  

The funeral was scheduled for Palm Sunday Weekend.  Nancy and I quickly made arrangements for childcare, pulpit supply, and plane reservations.  It was the first Sunday that I ever missed a pulpit assignment that was not due to vacation or continuing education plans.   

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