My cousin Annie Brantingham, a professor in Wu Han, took this photo of me in front of a painting I did called Jye Jye Whispers which I painted for yet another cousin, who lives in Shanghai. It is a portrait of my dearest Melanie and her three children. It hangs in her house where many scattered family gather frequently to spend holidays and long weekends. I am especially close to this family because her children are being raised like I was; on the streets and lanes of Chinese villages and not in foreign compounds. Her children, Isabelle, Sophia and Jonas speak fluent Mandarin and are agile in both cultures. We have that in common.
I usually hate photos of myself, but I think I look smug and happy in this one. Maybe it is because Annie, the photographer makes me laugh and of course, I love her. At one family reunion Annie and I entertained our cousins when we were sent to the kitchen to fix a simple lunch of hot dogs. We soon donned chef hats made out of paper towels and prepared the whole meal as if doing a Chinese cooking show. We did excessive amounts of chopping and using the word
C O N D O M ...E N T S in every sentence. It was Julia Childs meets John Belushi's The Samurai. We did our Taiwanese, Cantonese Chinglish accents and laughed ourselves silly. I have a fear that someday that routine will end up on utube.
All my cousins are funny and witty so when we are together we have a grand time. I will see Annie soon for we gather in Florida this weekend. We have had another death in the family. Three since May, including my Mother. This time it is our cousin Steve. This photo was taken the evening before my Mother's funeral. It is of my brother and I laughing our heads off at some story Steve is telling. He had this unique way of making you feel special, as if you were the only relative he cared about. I have no doubt that each of us who gather to remember him will think, "I was his favorite cousin." And we will each be right. We will all feel smug.