When we lived in Berwyn, Maryland my family often gathered with other Chinese immigrant families. One of them was the Chang family who were related to us as second cousins or an aunt & uncle once removed or something like that. I was never quite sure what the connection was. We settled on being “cousins” with them. Judy (on the right of the photo) and I spent a lot of time together skipping rope at my house. We went to see Bob Steele and Hopalong Cassidy cowboy movies every weekend at the Greenbelt Theater. Afterwards we would walk up and down the aisles of the five-and-dime store, inspecting the plastic toys and candy that we would choose to blow the rest of our allowance on.
Judy was an only child and her parents were both physicians. Her mother worked at a hospital and was often away from home. Her father took care of Judy and did the housework at home in addition to being a doctor. Whenever I stayed over with Judy at her house on the weekends, Uncle Chang would buy us whatever we wanted to eat and let us do whatever we felt like.
One day when we were about nine years old, Judy and I sat on the living room rug of her house and demolished a gallon of peach ice cream together. We also ate a large bag of Fritos. We got so sick afterwards that I haven’t gone near peach ice cream or Fritos ever again.
Because both her parents worked, Judy stayed with us over the entire summer when school was out. She was very good at drawing, went to Swarthmore and afterwards became an architect. She also became a hippie of sorts. She met her husband, an American, on one of her treks in the Himalayas. Even though our lives went in different directions, I sought her out for a reunion of sorts when our children were young. We met at a restaurant with our then-husbands and families and then lost touch again. Her marriage ended at the 20 year mark. Mine ended at 26 years.
Much later, I invited her to visit us for Thanksgiving in 2002. By that time, Judy’s father had passed away and she spent her time in Philadelphia practicing architecture and visiting her mother in a nearby nursing home. Judy told me that she had made peace with her mother who was by now nearly a hundred years old.
We had a good, albeit awkward visit together that Thanksgiving at our home. She brought her drawings to show me; I showed her my writing efforts. We talked about how it wasn’t too late for women to reach out for what was still important to us. She told me she had always wanted to travel to Mongolia to take photographs and to sketch the landscapes there. In 2003 she won a SWIMPY (“Senior Women In their Most Productive Years”) grant from Flora Stone Mather College at Case Western Reserve University to sketch a restoration project in Mongolia. She said, “It was a spark I needed to begin a journey imagined a lifetime ago.”
When we skipped rope together, we moved in tandem. Each of us fiercely wanted a creative life. We found a belief system that worked for us: mine in Taoism and Judy in Buddhism.
We spoke again after she returned from Mongolia. Then, she became ill with cancer and died in 2006 with her sons by her side. In memoriam, they created a website to celebrate her life and her art. In the process, her sons discovered drawings that none of us had ever seen. They are posted on a website called “Red Sparrow.”