I was lucky enough to have been raised a child of the '80s, though at times it feels more like the 60's and 70's. You see, when our family (my father and his five children) immigrated to the United States in November of 1980, direct from the Vietnamese refugee camps in Malaysia, we had essentially nothing but a few bags of clothes and the flip-flops on our feet. The vast majority of what we owned in our first home, a rented one bedroom apartment in Philadelphia, was either donated to us by the local Catholic church or left on the curb. More often than not, these items were beat-up old relics from the 60's and 70's, which probably explains my love for the music, fashion, toys and furnishings of the time.
I can't imagine how scary it must have been for my father - to be alone in a strange new country and not know the language or have the means to support his children, who were all under the age of eleven. Eventually however he was able to find work at the local Catholic retreat estate - first in the laundry house and then in the fifty-acre gardens. I have fond memories of being with him in that steamy laundry house while my brother and sisters were off at school. I was close to being four years old and to this day, I can still imagine those enormous industrial-sized metal washers and dryers, the constant loud pulsating rhythms they produced and the endless heaps of white linen that went into them. I remember that following a morning of washing and drying, my dad and I would sit down to a packed lunch of rice and leftovers. And after our bellies were full, I would nap on a clean towel laid directly on the concrete floor while he finished the afternoon folding.
It's strange how some memories stay with you - I think this as we come upon the 10 year anniversary of my dad's death (today, in fact). Years later I would come to realize that our stint in the laundry house was an experience he and I shared exclusively - something precious and rare when you have four other siblings. My son is now the same age I was back then and sometimes I wonder what memories the older Jonathan will have of me at this age decades from now. Hopefully they won't be of me leaving for work everyday, but rather of us in the garden while the sound of Marc practicing on the piano echoes in the distance.
As I go about my work in the garden, more often than not the music of the Carpenters, Joni Mitchell, Bread, Ann Murray and most notably John Denver reverberate inside my head. The same records heard in the early years of my life. The same ones I associate with my Dad's garden. I hope these songs will make their way into Jonathan's head when he plants his own garden one day. Maybe he'll read this some time in the distant future and decide to pick up a CD or two (that is, if they still make CDs).