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Chop Suey and Apple Pie by Mai-Lon Gittelsohn
Virginia Lawrence | Caminito Del Rocio


Top: interior of Violet’s restaurant with its marbled pink Formica tables; 2nd down: Violet Wong; 3rd down: Mai-Lon on her 22nd birthday; bottom: Albert’s maroon Packard in front of Violet’s restaurant.
Cover design Joanne Sharp. 
Click on image to enlarge.

Unlike a biographer tracing a life from its beginning to its end, explains Mai-Lon, a memoirist seeks to capture moments, to crystallize events. Mai-Lon (pronounced May-Lon) Gittelsohn considers herself a poet/memoirist. In her newly-published book of poetry Chop Suey and Apple Pie, Mai-Lon conjures up her life and family history in the Cantonese/American Community of the Bay area.

San Francisco ~ The bleating of foghorns as the ... mist settles gently round our shoulders ~

Liniment ~ The fragrance of liniment ... growing stronger as the herbs, wormwood and myrrh warm on my skin ~

A dress ~ always brighter in memory – a criss cross of green lines on a field of pink cotton. I chose pink for happiness ~

The Chinese opera ~ I long to escape the rumbling drums, the scratchy violins, the chatter of Cantonese voices, … the “crunch of lotus seeds cracked between the teeth ~

Bitter tea ~ My sisters and I bend over cups of bitter tea, … brown liquid so thick that twigs and leaves float upright adrift in a steaming, dark lake, … me gagging from so much bitterness ~

My Godfather ~ You hold tight the hand of the little girl with the Chinese bowl haircut … Did you know then she would grow up American, and you would leave to bury your bones in China? ~

Mai-Lon’s grandfather, Jim Sing Wong, emigrated from China in the late 1860s at the time of the gold rush. He subsequently met and married Chin See, who had been born in San Francisco. Albert, Mai-Lon’s father, also born in San Francisco, was 15 years old in 1906 when his birth certificate was lost in the great earthquake. The legitimacy of his citizenship was reestablished by the testimony of a man named Graupner. Albert and Violet Wong met through a match maker in China, when Albert travelled there in search of a bride.

Mai-Lon was the last of the five girls - Stella, Clara, Ermah, Marcella, and Alberta - born to Violet and Albert. (According to custom, Chinese/American children were given both a Chinese name and an English name.) Alberta, as she was called by her family, most likely was named after her father. None of the family has ever been sure. When Mai-Lon was a child the family settled in Berkeley where her parents opened a restaurant – Violet’s – named for her mother.

Ultimately, Mai-Lon graduated from Berkeley, married Marc Gittelsohn, and moved to Del Mar. For 23 years she was an elementary school teacher in the Del Mar school district. She now teaches Memoir Writing to Seniors at the San Dieguito Adult School. In 2012 she received her MFA in Creative Writing from Oregon’s Pacific University, and is currently exploring flash nonfiction. Though she sings with a community chorus, and dances to Zumba music, “Chinese temple music echoes in my ears.”

Mai-Lon’s Chop Suey and Apple Pie was printed by Finishing Line Press in Georgetown, Kentucky, and may be ordered through www.Amazon.com.



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