The other day, my friend asked me to name a person who had done or said something that marked my life. I suspect many people have such person or persons who held that honor in their life. In my case, I have too many. Here I’ll just name a few.

My Papa – I grew up in Hong Kong and came to America when I was sixteen. Unlike many immigrants from a different culture, I fitted into mainstream America from day one. I accredited my father’s influence. Besides loving steak, potatoes, cheesecake and cannolis, my father favored westernized movies whereas my mother enjoyed only Chinese food and operas. I have fond memories of Papa taking us children to see many of John Wayne and Sidney Poitier’s movies. His openness to the West and diversity taught me to embrace my new home as soon as I stepped off that PanAm plane in 1968.

My Mom – My mother taught me to be fearless and never to judge people by face value. Growing up, my mother told us many stories of her life in wartime China. Starvation came in the wake of war, and millions barely survived with just one meal a day. My parents’ family was no exception. I learned that long before I was born, she had given birth to a still born son in 1945. She was nineteen, a year after her marriage to my father.

Her widowed mother-in-law told my father to take the body to the town dump. But my mother stood her ground and said, “No!” At that time, a funeral cost more than a week’s food and her disrespectful words to her mother-in-law, the head of their household, was a big no-no. She was ready for war with her mother-in-law, whom she thought was mean and over-bearing all along. But the war never came. The old woman stared at my mother for a long minute, and then simply twisted off a jade bracelet from her wrist and handed it to her son. “Pawn this.” The next day, the simple burial with trays of sweet cakes placed in front of the drawer-sized wood box pleased my mother, and she cried louder when she found out the jade bracelet was the last family heirloom left. The kindness of my paternal grandmother had reversed my Mom’s ill feelings toward her, and hence bonded the women of two generations for many, many years followed.

My Friends – “When you give to others, you give to yourself,” my 77-years-old friend Helene has quoted her father. When Helene found out the personal aid of her late mother was depressed in Florida because of job loss and was threatened with home eviction, she immediately wired $3000 to help. The thankful recipient called with a happy voice. “My feelings soared,” said Helene, “I was not only relieved but felt like a fairy godmother.”

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Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean in residency at Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park
Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean at Langosta

And my wise friend Bernice replied, “It is heartening to know how deeply connected we have always been and now we know it and feel the joy in it. Helene’s simple description of happiness is overwhelming.”

My dear friend MaryAnn, who has recently recovered from ovarian cancer, added, “Ever since cancer I have found enormous comfort in giving to others in some way, any way, that I can.  I can’t explain why; it’s just something I need to do. We will be rewarded for acts of kindness. I know I have been – my remission is testimony.”

I’m blessed that my parents (my father is gone and my mother has Alzheimer’s) had shaped me to become who I am today, and I’m thankful for the wisdom of my friends, making the flowers in life’s garden bloom all year round. Life is an on-going lesson. Life is good.

Lin Fong-O’Neill

Colts Neck, NJ

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...