My Uncle Ed stories are about him from age 60 to 80. After that, Alzheimer’s and Dementia destroyed the man who wanted to see what was “over the next hill.” He became a bitter shell of what he had been. I wrote about that in my song “Take Me Home Sweet Jesus.” We traveled cross country and even internationally every Summer and went everywhere from Monterey, CA to London to Nicaragua.
It seemed like Ed knew everybody. I met so many celebrities, including J. Edgar Hoover, Al Hirt, Arthur Godfrey, Guy Lombardo, Ed Sullivan and many more. I assumed his role as a major bootlegger during Prohibition had a lot to do with it. I never figured out the Hoover friendship and Ed would never say how he knew anybody, just that they were friends. That was good enough for me.
One Summer, we drove across Canada on our way to Alaska. Once we were west of Ontario, there were miles and miles and miles of wilderness. Beautiful, but not much civilization.
One day, we came upon a town that was truly in the middle of nowhere. It was a pretty little town, with a town square and a park in the middle. We stopped for lunch at a café right on the town square. Once inside, we noticed that the customers and waitresses were Asian, specifically Chinese.
I learned my eternal curiosity from Ed. He asked the cashier about the town. The cashier, Mr. Wu (who looked to be Ed’s age), who was also the owner of the café, told him that the town was at a terminus point for part of the Trans Canadian railway. Back in the late 1800’s, when that piece of the railroad was finished, the Chinese workers who had been brought over to work, were cut loose. While they had been promised a return trip to China when their work was finished, the railroad bosses just let them go.
The Chinese started a tent city, which they eventually built into this town. The population was completely Chinese. They build schools, houses of worship, businesses and the town appeared to be prospering. He and Ed hit it off. Ed introduced me as his son, which we always did to avoid anyone thinking I was a kidnap victim. It always worked and saved a lot of explanations.
There was a very nice hotel in town and Ed decided we would stay overnight, a stay which extended to 3 days. While he was fascinated by the opportunity to learn about a culture that was new to him, he was also attracted to Mr. Wu’s sister, Li, who was a very pretty older lady.
Mr. Wu asked us to join him in the town square the next day for Tai Chi. We did it for 3 days. It was held in the town square every day at 6 AM. While I used muscles I didn’t ever know existed, it was fun to be part of a community activity like that.
I was 12 (it was 1963) and got to hang out with Mr. Wu’s grandsons. We played baseball, football and soccer. They showed me some karate moves which sparked a lifelong fascination with the martial arts. We had dinner the next 3 nights at Mr. Wu’s house. The cuisine was a combination of Chinese and American fare. His home might have been the first fusion restaurant.
It was a fascinating time. Ed and Li went off “galivanting” every day. They went on picnics and, knowing Ed, probably made love in the wilderness under the clear Canadian sky. She had never been married and had no children so she was very attached to Wu’s family. His son ran a local general store in town.
Mr. Wu was great. He had a lot of stories about the Chinese work crews on the railroad. He wasn’t born until the workers had been dismissed and the town was just starting to spring up. He heard the entire history from his father, who had been a young worker. It was Summer and the regular schools were closed. But his grandchildren went to a special Chinese school every day where they were learning about their heritage and how to speak Chinese.
It was an amazing 3 days. Mr. Wu even showed me some karate moves when he saw me trying to learn from his grandsons. He was a master. About 5’ 6”, and a little stocky, he could effectively kick well over his head. The first Karate Kid movie brought back some great memories, but I never had to wax his car.
Ed and Li corresponded for several years. But, like most long-distance relationships, the glow of passion eventually faded. I wrote a report that school year about how the Chinese workers had been screwed over. I have been fascinated by Chinese culture ever since.
Even with the 8 years for formal martial arts instruction I had as an adult, I could never kick over my head. But I always remember the short man in Canada that could.
Epilogue: With all the Google searches I’ve done over the years, I’ve never found out where the town was. I never saved the letters Ed received from Li. I know it’s in Western Canada, maybe Saskatchewan. If I ever find it, I’ll post the location. If it’s still there, it would be worth a trip to see it again. Of course, at my age, a Tai Chi session would probably kill me.
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