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Jade Flower

I’d worried a great deal that Cindy’s family would toss her out when they found she was marrying a gwai loh (white man). A lot of oriental families, (much as Jewish, Catholic, and Islamic familes, and people of different color) frown on inter-marriage. She’d assured me her folks were quite modern in their concepts. Having met a sister and brother at our wedding, I was beginning to relax about the prospect of meeting the whole bunch — she’s one of seven children. We made plans for a trip to Hong Kong in August.

My new mother-in-law and father-in-law don’t speak a word of English, so I signed up at UCLA for an evening course in conversational Cantonese. There were about half a dozen young ABCs in the class (Cindy said that meant "American Born Chinese") who wanted to learn the language so they could communicate with relatives.

My new family and I took to each other instantly. I was accepted as a family member and have never felt in any way like an outsider. Each and every one spoils me rotten and I reciprocate as much as possible, but they always manage to stay ahead.

Orientals do not touch each other in public, nor even when in the company of family members, but my contribution to the family is that now we are a huggy, kissy group. When Cindy and I arrive in Hong Kong for a visit, most of the family is there at the airport to greet us, and Ah Ping, my eldest sister-in-law, holds out her arms and says, in one of the few English sentences she knows, "Where’s my hug?"

I call Cindy by her Chinese name, Yui Mei (Jade Flower), her full first English name is actually Cinderella. At family weddings in Hong Kong I’ve been introduced as Rick-san (everyone knows I am the gwai loh in the family) to aunts, uncles, and cousins. It’s a wondrous thing to attend a wedding party on one floor of a gigantic restaurant in Hong Kong where almost two-thirds of the fifteen-hundred people are your relatives!

I grew up as an only child who’d never had to share anything, as siblings do. Now, having so many brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, it’s been a welcome revelation. If I were handed a pencil and paper and asked to list a perfect family — the one I have would be it.

A few years after we married I had to put Cappi to sleep. My beloved bird dog was past sixteen and increasing arthritis, failing memory, and the other ills of age were slowly destroying her. I put off the decision as long as possible. Our veterinarian, Sheldon Altman, said to bring her to the hospital.

I said "NO! I will not say goodbye to her in that kind of sterile environment. That’s not where she lived."

"What are you going to do, then?" he asked.

"I’ll take her out into the Sepulveda basin, with a pistol, hold her on my lap and put a 22 in her ear."

"Oh, my God," Sheldon cried, "you can’t do that."

There was a pause on the line. Sheldon, when Cappi was fourteen and had developed arthritis, had cured her using acupuncture. She hunted happily for another year, and Sheldon admitted once to me that she was a very special dog, even to him.

"Rick," he said, "I don’t do house calls. In this case, I’ll make an exception."

He came to our house and he and I sat on the sofa. I called Cappi to me and she barely managed to get to her feet and limp over. As she lay on my lap, Sheldon, painlessly injected the drug into her foreleg. She expired in ten seconds.

I opened a rare bottle of Cognac that I’d been harboring for a special occasion and poured a snifter for each of us. I wrapped Cappi in a blanket, laid her gently aside, and saw Sheldon to his car. Then I went back to the living room. Cindy had been there the whole time and knew what I was going through. We talked for about fifteen minutes … until I broke down. As I sobbed, uncontrollably, she came over and held me in her arms.

We wanted to get out of the over-crowded San Fernando Valley and, the following year, we bought a lovely home with a spectacular view in Ventura County, Northwest of Los Angeles. Moorpark is a small town where everyone knows everyone else by first names and the hardware store has been in business since 1926. We wouldn’t choose to move back to the San Fernando Valley, Beverly Hills, or any part of L.A. for the world.

Before we’d bought the house Cindy kept saying, "We’ll be going to Europe." I couldn’t envision how, but two months before we closed escrow, we flew to Trieste, Italy, then were transported across the border to Yugoslavia where I did one of the many cameos in the TV miniseries, Around The World In 80 Days. It was produced by our good friend, RenĂ©e Valente. We had a wonderful time in Yugoslavia where we ate the best pizza we’ve ever had, then back to Trieste for a look around and a drive to Venice for a day.

I had never known the joy, the happiness, and the contentment that this marriage has brought me. We communicate with each other. We talk, we share experiences, and travel. And particularly, we enjoy each other’s company. I came to appreciate and wonder at her superb taste in clothing, interior decoration, and particularly designing and planning a garden, something she’d never done before. A truly amazing woman. With innumerable books, she taught herself gardening, and transformed our clay/adobe soil into earth that will now grow anything she plants.

I continue to discover what the kind of marriage my parents had is like.

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