traditional Chinese family the eldest son is the most important child in
the family. The son to carry on the family name, the son to make
the father proud, the son who will carry the weight of expectations, generations
and traditions. The eldest son born in Toisan China in August 19,
1924 to Chung Loi Lee and Wai King Leung was named See Ping Lee.
See Ping had two older sisters from Chung Loi Lee's first wife, Fung Oi
Tam. The eldest sister was named Toi Ngan Lee. The second daughter
was named Chuk Yuk Lee. By the time See Ping was around 8 or 9 years
old he had two younger sisters, Tuey Ngook Lee and Wai Wan Lee. And
at this time two younger brothers as well, See Jing Lee and See Kuen Lee.
See remembers the family home under construction. Workers hand made
the heavy solid wooden doors. The construction was quality masonry
at a time when most homes in the village were not.
It was also around the time that See Ping's father sent him alone to the United States. The reason for sending the eldest son away was so he could make a living and pave the way for the others in the family to follow. Or was there another reason? Was the family too large? There were 10 people in the household. Was See Ping a problem? Just some on my random thoughts. This separation was to have a profound effect on him and helped shape his life and personality. Separation from his family and home was not the only hardship. Working in a hot laundry for long hours was hard on the young child. The other Chinese men, mostly old men, ate foods that the young See Ping could not eat because of it's bitterness. So he resorted to eating tomato catsup on bread. The sadness so intense that when See Ping woke in the morning his pillow was soaked with tears.
See Ping developed a personality of confidence and strength. He worked in and around New York, Boston and Chicago. See Ping would work, save some money, quit to live it up, then went back to work. He enjoyed a carefree life in spite of the tough beginning. See joined the Navy's Merchant Marines toward the end of the World War II but did not see action. See decided it was time for a change. Traveling back to China in 1954(?), See Ping married. He promised his bride, Kan Fong Kong that in their life together they would be equal. "If he ate beans, she would eat beans. If he ate steak, she would eat steak." They returned to the United States and wasted no time settling down.
Settling in a small town of Peru Indiana the Lee's opened a diner. See Ping cooked while Kan Fong waited tables. During this time four children are born. Amelia in 1957, Ken in 1958, Lily in 1961 and Tony in 1963. See Ping was not present for the birth of his first three children. He sent Kan Fong to deliver in the hospital while he continued to work in the diner. It wasn't until the birth of Tony that See Ping saw the exhausted condition of his wife. He then promised to her that she would not have to go through that again, four children was enough. Dad kept his promise. We lived upstairs from the diner and Mom would check up on us throughout the day. One time she came up and found the baby covered in baby oil and baby powder from head to toe. The kids were helping change the baby. Don't even mention the second story window incident.
It was here that See became a good cook. Chinese and American food was cooked fast and good. A busy diner kitchen was no place to dawdle. Dad always had an impatient personality. He admired hard work and diligence. The diner was right across from the courthouse and main town square. Then a move across the country in a car. In the days before car seats and disposable diapers I rode on the floorboard at my mother's feet. Soiled cotton diapers discarded all along the way to Stockton, CA. After three different residences, a few different jobs and night school at Humphrey's College to get an AA degree, Dad retired from his last job. He retired from his job as an accountant from Occidental Petroleum Corporation's Best fertilizer plant in Lathrop in 1985. The computer age was here and the old ways were on the way out, fast. He was 61 years old. See Ping enjoyed auto mechanics, home improvements, gardening and wood working. He could fix anything.
In the fall of 1990, diagnosed with lung cancer, he under went radiation and chemotherapy before passing away at age 67 in the spring of 1991. I will miss my father, his strength and his love. He showed me the best way to approach life was with a plan, a firm resolve and a measure of self confidence. He also showed me that dedication to family, hard work, seeking knowledge, self reliance and one's integrity were worthy virtues. I love you Dad.