All-american gong girl : a brief history

Eldest daughter of Gong Chow and
Siu Shee, immigrant couple from China.
Born in Richmond, California, north
of San Francisco, just across the bay.
Named Fong Yuet for the ancestors. State- 
side she was June. To me, forever Mom.
Fireworks the night before announced
her arrival July fifth nineteen thirty. 

Every Independence Day she felt pangs
of affirmative glee -- as if she belonged.
At least to the sky. At nine she was sent 
to Chinese school in San Francisco, 

an immigrant custom she soon rejected.
She hopped on the Greyhound bus alone, 
rode home to her parents’ chagrin.
At Richmond Elementary she joined 
the harmonica band, worked the restaurant
after school, did not miss a shift. 
During wartime the family moved 
to the valley, where June was a big hit. 

Team debater, class treasurer, best-dressed
girl at Merced High — she had it going on. 
Chinese pilots training at the air base 
lined up for her dance card. She tango’d, 

cha-cha’d, bunny hopped with gusto
and soft laughter. Got a job downtown
Merced selling ladies dresses. Took up with
the owner who promised to promote her. 
Post-war, Gong Chow had made plans
to return to China. The story goes June
said NO, kept her little sister with her
while the ship dipped off horizon.

June and sis stayed with Monroe, the now
betrothed store owner. He promised
her folks his good care but didn’t really
follow through, so June then divorced him 

Though not before the three of us claimed
her heart forever. Dave Allen was the next guy.
With him she bore two more sons, of Chinese 
Irish extraction. Bridge clubs, soccer,

cul-de-sacs filled her American sky. Especially
on July fourth her urgent eyes scanned
the night for oomph pah pah, or maybe
something keener. By now we lived back 

by the bay. It was the flowered sixties. 
Her five young grew out their hair, 
while she and Dave plied the days 
with good times, hard work, harder drink.

He died young, she carried on, the children
ventured forth. Her last man was Ken Wilkins,
though there were others in between – all this
to say, she enjoyed the company of fellows.

When Ken passed it hit her hard. The children
couldn't save her. At sixty-two June was through. 
We sprinkled her at sea. I strike the gong. 
It rumbles wide, ripples up night sky.
(c) Deborah Jang. All rights reserved.
2019, River, Blood, and Corn: A Community of Voices