FAMILY HISTORY: The name's Gordon, Gordon Yee
Up until 1956, my dad Gordon ran a cafe in Naicam, a hamlet in Saskatchewan (recent population: 690). His cafe served western food. My mom, who joined my father there in 1951, became expert at making jelly-roll cakes.
My parents died when I was very young, which made me curious about them. In 1981, I wrote a short story about my dad, published as "Prairie Night, 1939." I imagined one lonely night in his life when he fretted over returning to China or not, to get married. A later short story, "Prairie Widow," featured my mom as she fretted over her future in a strange land. When I learned later in my life that she could neither read nor write Chinese, it sent a chill up my spine.
The notion of solitude runs through both stories and also surfaces in my ghost story "Alone No Longer," (in DEAD MAN'S GOLD, 2002), also set in a small-town cafe. The tale spans decades and tells of a wife from China who joins her husband in Canada in the 1950s. Alas, she sickens and dies. Her last words to him are, "I should never have come here. I loved you, but you changed more than I could."
Two of Canada's literary legends wrote about Chinese cafe men in Saksatchewan. W.O. Mitchell's WHO HAS SEEN THE WIND, and Gabrielle Roy's novella, "Where Will You Go, Sam Lee Wong?" (in GARDEN IN THE WIND) are set around the time of the Great Depression.
Solitude AND the Depression?
Now, that's tough.
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