I don’t remember a time after the age of 6 when I didn’t do chores at home. It all began with drying dishes, then washing dishes, then laundry. It progressed to dusting and vacuuming, and of course, when I had my pet parakeet for seven years, it was my responsibility to care for him and clean his cage.
The one time the cleaning demands became completely maniacal in my house was when my mom’s cousin, the only relative she has in the U.S., had her youngest daughter and the daughter’s daughter come visit from Orange County. They didn’t stay overnight with us, but they did come to our house, and my mom went nuts. My mom’s cousin came to the U.S. from Vietnam shortly after my mom arrived here, and with her, she brought her family of five children. Those children had all married and had their own children by the time I was in middle school.
“Everything has to be extremely clean and spotless,” my mom ranted on. “Annie has very high standards, so we need to make sure the house is perfect.”
Ed would roll his eyes. “This house needs more than just vacuuming,” he muttered, among other things to imply that we never lived in a house that would welcome or “wow” guests.
Ed was right. Since I began going to other people’s homes from the age of 5, I always remember being ashamed of our house. It was never the size that was the problem as it was just how sloppy, dilapidated, and dated things were. Up until age 14, the carpet we’d been walking on had been there since the 1960s (that’s over 40 years old); the walls were peeling with paint that was just as old, along with the lovely pencil and crayon illustrations I did as a toddler; the dining room table was never visible because it was always covered in my grandmother’s junk and my dad’s tools. My mom, exhibiting “third world” behavior, would open bathroom cabinet doors and use the doors to hang her towels and clothes. She still does that today. The kitchen had cabinets that were (and still are) heavily warped, with paint chipping, and the counters were buckling and cracking. This was not the house you’d be proud to invite Vietnamese refugees into and say “welcome to America, land of the free and the rich!”
My mom’s cousin’s daughter just assumed we lived in some beautiful, extravagant, modern home. When my mom’s cousin told her that my mom married a U.S. soldier, she figured, wow, my auntie has married an American. He rescued her from a war-torn country and took her to a gorgeous new home to live. Add to the fact that she knew my dad was very handy with his hands, she figured he’d make sure any home they would live in would be modern and amazing. Well, that was not the reaction she had when she came to visit.
I only learned of her observations after she left. She would oftentimes switch between Vietnamese and English, and so I only understood her when she spoke English. What did she actually say to my mother? My mom later told me, looking half embarrassed and half annoyed. And unfortunately, she was so honest that she even told my dad.
“You married an American, and this is the house he takes you to live in? This place looks like a dump. I thought that because you had been so lucky to marry an American, he’d give you a better life than what you had in Vietnam. This is not much better than what you had. How can you live like this? Everything is so old. Even my small apartment is nicer than what you have here. Are you planning on doing any remodeling or even replacing the carpet?”
My dad was angry and defensive as you can imagine. He called Annie a snobby bitch, said she was stuck up and didn’t know anything and had adopted the “American way of thinking,” whatever that means. Does she think it’s easy to have a nice home? If she wants to criticize this house, then he doesn’t want her to come! And for his information, Annie was not planning to come back.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting Annie to be so blunt with my mother, especially given that my mom was the generation before hers. But when Ed and I heard this story, we both found it quite comical. Ed agreed with Annie. “Nothing she’s saying is false,” he said. “She’s just saying what’s true.” My mom was embarrassed, but of course, she defended her husband and said he worked hard to support the family. Annie’s response? You support this family, too, and work.
I’m not even sure what triggered this memory. It could just be all the stupid moments collectively from this last week with my parents, with my parents constantly defending all their senseless actions and thoughts. It could’ve been triggered by all my dad’s failings, especially since he cannot even have a regular conversation with his own daughter on the phone without becoming irrationally enraged over a few simple questions. What the memory of this conversation does is remind me that when the truth faces my parents in the face, they can never stand it and will simply defend their stances until the end, no matter how wrong they truly are.