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Friday, March 27, 2015

A Very Important Job

Today's post is written by my husband as a guest blogger!  He has told this story many times at gatherings of friends and family, and I never get tired of hearing it.

I Am Liu.  I Have a Very Important Job!

In mid-March, 1984, while working for a well known oil company headquartered in Plano, Texas, I was directed to go to China to work for a few months at the Chinese Geophysical Institute (GRI) in a village called (pronounced phonetically), Joe-Shin.  As I cannot recall the accurate spelling of the city’s name, Joe-Shin will have to suffice for now.  Located about 50 kilometers from Beijing,  GRI was a rather grim looking conglomeration of low two story buildings housing their geophysical data processing center.  It was there at GRI where I met Mr. Liu.

I was given a small office at GRI.   It was small and sparsely furnished,  with a desk, table, chair, steam radiator, teapot, chipped teacup, and waste basket.  Unlike the rest of the building, it was quite clean and tidy, with no dust nor trash anywhere.  The rest of the building was dirty and dusty.   Trash and other debris were just swept into corners.  On the first morning after my arrival, there was a light tap on the office door.  When I opened the door, there was a tall Chinese gentleman.  He was dressed in clean but well-worn blue Mao type jacket and pants.  He came in with a wide smile that I grew to expect daily.  He had a broom and dustpan in his hands, and as he stepped in, he saluted and introduced himself in clear, but accented English, “Hello, my name is Liu.  I have a very important job.  I am your janitor!”

With that introduction, he began to clean a room that was already spotless, probably from his having cleaned it in days before I arrived at GRI.   He showed up each day promptly at 8:30 AM.  The conversation always began with a small tap on the door, then on entering he would say, “Hello, I am Liu.  I have a very important job.  I am your janitor!”  The second day he came to clean the room, he began with, “Hello, I am Liu.  I have a very important job!  I am your janitor.  You are Mr. Parker.  You work for Arco.  You live in Texas!”  Our conversations after his greeting often lasted an hour or more as he slowly cleaned an already tidy room.  He told me of his desire to learn more English, where he lived, that he was not married, although he admired a young lady he knew, but didn't have the nerve to approach for fear of being rejected.

Every day, he would ask questions about me, what I did, where I worked, about my wife and my children, what my home was like, many questions about the United States,  etc.  Then, each day, he would incorporate what he had learned the day before into his greeting.   So, by the time I left Joe-Shin, he had quite a long spiel to say when he came into my office.  We learned much about each other as he worked.  He was a very humble and honest man, poor, but with great pride in his job.  He lived close to GRI, somewhere in the nearby village.  He never complained about anything although from my view, there was a lot to gripe about.  It was cold and dusty.  There were dead animals in the filthy roadside ditches filled with stagnant water.  In the open air meat market, other animals hung from rafters.  Transportation was primarily by bicycle, small horse drawn carts, and home made tractors.ñ

I had almost as many questions about him and his country as he had for me.  For instance, one day I saw an open-bedded truck with three men and two guards standing in the back.   The men had their eyes covered with blindfolds and their hands were tied behind their backs.   There were placards with Chinese writing tied around their necks.  As the truck drove slowly through the streets of Joe-Shin with horns honking loudly, the men were shouted at and ridiculed by the crowds lining the streets.  

After seeing this spectacle, I asked Mr. Liu what it was all about.  He told me the men had committed a crime (described by the placards) for which they were to be punished by public embarrassment and humiliation.   At the conclusion of their ride through Joe-Shin, they would be taken to the rice fields outside the village to be executed by a gunshot to the head.  In addition to that punishment, their families would have to pay the government for the bullets that killed them.  This is tough punishment, indeed.  As “family” is so important in China, the acts of these men and their punishment must have been devastating to their loved ones.  It is no wonder, at least at that time, that the crime rate in China seemed to be very low.

On another occasion, when I arrived at the office,   I found it to be very cold inside.  The room’s small steam radiator, never very efficient was not working at all and the room temperature probably matched that outside, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  The only other available heat was from the little electric heater used to boil water for daily teas.  When Mr. Liu arrived, I asked him if the radiator was broken.  His smiling reply was,   “Oh, no, Mr. Parker, today winter over by government order, no more heat!”  I wore much more clothing to go to work the next day.

By the time I left China a few months later,  Mr. Liu had a very long speech for me when he came in, including most everything we had ever talked about.  On my last day there, he came in without his usual broad grin, but he seemed very sad.  He went through his daily greeting, “Hello, I am Mr. Liu.  I have a very important job.  I am your janitor . . . . !”  Then following that, he related in better English than when I first arrived,  but maybe with a little of my East Texas twang, all the things we had talked about during my stay.  When he finished his long morning speech, he concluded with,  “…..but, I am very sad today”.  When I asked why he was sad, he said it was because I was leaving and he had no gift for me.  I assured him that was okay, but he said brightly, “ Aah!  I have no gift for you, but I can sing for you!”  He then commenced to sing, “Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning, good morning,  good morning to you.”  (He had learned this song and much of his English from listening to Good Morning America.)

What a gift!  I will never forget that fine and simple man or his singing of that song.  As we both sang it one more time with tears in our eyes, we said goodbye, and I had to leave.

I often wonder how Mr. Liu is.  Did he ever summon the courage to talk to the lady who he admired so much?  Did he continue to learn English by listening to Good Morning America?  I still miss our conversations now 30 plus years past.  If I could talk to him again, I would wager that he would tell me, with a big smile, of course, “Hello, I am Liu.  I have another very important job!”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all have Mr. Liu's attitude about our lives and our work?

Joe Parker
March 12, 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Nora, One Year Old Today

A year ago, we welcomed Nora into our arms. As babies do, she has grown and changed and welcomed her friends and family with outstretched arms when her parents invited us to share her celebration last weekend. There was a hungry caterpillar theme (thank you, Eric Carle!) and Nora had a tiny cupcake with one candle. Joe and I gave her a little wicker rocker which will always remind me of the sweet times I have had rocking and singing to her. Happy Birthday, sweet girl.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Happy Birthday, Maddie!

Nine years ago today in Birmingham, Alabama, we celebrated the birthday of a beautiful baby girl her parents named Madelyn Claire.  She brings us countless joys, blessing us with sunshine, laughter, and hugs.  We are grateful for her life and love.  Today we celebrate you, Maddie!  Happy Birthday!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Crazy Quilt Comfort

My recent surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon is 9 days past now, and I am thankful for all the ways my family and friends have cared for me. I love reaching for this crazy quilt made by my maternal grandmother, Mary Clyde Curley Terrell. I have another one which has more silky taffeta and fancy fabrics, but this one speaks comfort to me with its patches of checked wool, bright colored corduroy, and flannel. Most of all I love her embroidery stitches outlining each patch, briar stitch, blanket stitch, feather stitch, and cross stitch. I can picture her fingers carefully choosing the floss, separating it, and threading through the eye of a needle.  I can see her stitching each seam line. In her later years, she was no longer able to see to thread a needle, so my mother would thread several needles with different color threads so that Grandma would have one ready if she needed to mend something or replace a missing button.   

Thursday, February 12, 2015


I was recently asked to write a brief piece about reading and how it shapes us, and shapes how and what we write. Because I have written about my books and reading a number of times, I repeat some thoughts. But since circumstances change and books continue to add dimension and depth to my life, there will always be new thoughts.

A few tattered and faded children's books rest on shelves in our home library.  There are several shelves loaded with books of all sizes and shapes that belonged to my sons when they were growing up.  Now my granddaughters like to go to those shelves and choose books to read when they are here.  Sometimes I give one to Skye that has Sean (her daddy) printed on the inside cover. Or I may send a few home with Maddie and Jordann marked with "for Jeremy, from Mom and Dad" - books that belonged to their dad, our second son.  I have already given not yet one-year-old Nora books that include her own daddy's name, Ben, as the proud owner. 

But the name on the first books I mention is "Mary Ann." Mother Goose. Children's Prayers. Henny Penny.  They are books from my own very early childhood, so that makes some of them nearly 75 years old.  There are others on the shelves that were mine when I was a little girl and reading was already part of my every day life - The Five Little Martins, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Bobsey Twins and Nancy Drew series. Once in a blog post I wrote about the significance of these books by saying: Beyond the edges of the pages in these children's books is a narrative of family choices and values that is dear to me.  Neither my grandparents nor my parents were well educated or wealthy. "Times were hard." is an expression I heard often when they spoke of past years.  The fact that books were important speaks volumes about family standards and values. I cannot hold these books and finger their fragile pages without thinking of being read to when I was little, and remembering that my mother had the same advantage.  It was natural that reading to my own children was always one of my favorite things to do.  It is sweet to see that tradition carried on as my sons have their own little ones who share bedtime prayers and bedtime stories.  

Reading has indeed shaped my life and naturally shapes how and what I choose to write. I believe we are enriched by the stories of others, and that the more we read the wider our own life experience becomes.  This is more than just finding good prompts in what I read.  I read a wide variety of genres, including poetry, and often find a phrase turned in a way that it becomes a part of my own language.   I said it this way in a blog post about reading and keeping books:  there are those volumes I read that intrigue or entertain or illumine, that somehow stay with me as a changed piece of my heart.  Even the little yellowed children's books that I show my grandchildren saying, “this storybook was mine when I was a little girl,”  are me, like my brown eyes and freckles.  Many books in my library become part of me in different ways when I reread them in later years....

Books I have recently read which have stretched me, often making me laugh and cry out loud are Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Both are fiction, but the genre differs. They are such very different reads, but I feel each has enriched and filled me.  What books have made you feel that way?
The blog posts I have quoted from are below.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Pleasure of Your Company

I enjoy so many things about my granddaughters, all 5 of them. Since they range in age from 10 months to 21 years, there is wide variation, but some things are common to all. I am happy they like to be in our home.  Without fail, when they come if I am not on the front porch waiting, they knock and peer through the leaded glass on our front door and greet me with excitement!  I love conversation with them, Nora saying it all with her gestures and her eyes, and the others chattering away with me. Like most people who enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen, I welcome them there and that seems to be their favorite place inside. I like that they like to cook and ask to help with meals and treats. I welcome their pleasure in our shaded back yard or in the sunny garden, enjoying the fragrance of herbs or looking for butterfly caterpillars or climbing trees (well, Nora looks and smells, she does not yet climb trees) ! We have fun with sidewalk chalk, planting seeds, cutting flowers to dry, art projects, dressup, and tea parties.  One of my favorite pleasures is the joy they have in being with each other, as in the top photo of Skye and Nora.  But of all the things we enjoy, Nora tells us the best...


Friday, January 30, 2015

Maddie's Homework

I can say with certainty that none of my school papers ever looked like this. My sons, even the two who graduated from high school in Jakarta, Indonesia, never had a writing assignment like this, either. But 2 of my granddaughters attend a school where they are learning to speak and write Spanish and Mandarin. This is recent homework sent home and finished beautifully by 8 year old Maddie, who is in third grade.

Our granddaughters are growing up in a world where communicating in a language other than English will be helpful, but they are receiving benefits that extend even further.  They are widening their world view and opening to understanding cultures beyond their own. They live in North Texas, and there as well as here in South Texas, we live in neighborhoods containing many cultures.

On our block alone, our neighbors include those originally from Pakistan and Guatemala. A couple of years ago there were also families from Scotland, Egypt, and Brazil. A CDC census of home spoken languages in our county looks like this!

Fort Bend County, Texas
Languages at home detail

Languages spoken at home:

  1. English only (227,070)
  2. Spanish (57,610)
  3. Chinese (7,395)
  4. Vietnamese (5,120)
  5. Urdu (4,240)
  6. Tagalog (3,160)
  7. Gujarathi (2,260)
  8. Hindi (2,205)
  9. Kru, Ibo, Yoruba (1,830)
  10. Malayalam (1,670)
  11. Arabic (1,635)
  12. French (1,295)
  13. German (1,080)
  14. Persian (965)
  15. Formosan (935)
  16. Korean (910)
  17. Mandarin (810)
  18. India, n.e.c. (645)
  19. Cantonese (635)
  20. Czech (560)
  21. Tamil (420)
  22. Telugu (385)
  23. Bengali (370)
  24. Marathi (330)
  25. Italian (305)
  26. Pakistan, n.e.c. (295)
  27. Portuguese (285)
  28. Russian (275)
  29. Greek (240)
  30. Thai (230)
  31. Dutch (200)
  32. Japanese (175)
  33. Panjabi (145)
  34. Kannada (145)
  35. Polish (135)
  36. French Creole (120)
  37. Sindhi (120)
  38. Swahili (110)
  39. Norwegian (95)
  40. Afrikaans (85)
  41. Indonesian (80)
  42. Bisayan (80)
  43. Hebrew (75)
  44. Bantu (75)
  45. Romanian (75)
  46. Turkish (70)
  47. Armenian (50)
  48. Swedish (45)
  49. Danish (45)
  50. African, not further spec. (45)
  51. Cajun (35)
  52. Ukrainian (30)
  53. Ilocano (30)