Double Blossom xx – Week 3

Double Blossom xx

April 26, 2020

Dearest Christina

This photo has definitely called forth my forensic skills. My shaggy bowl haircut — see how it’s growing out at the back — places me at around age 5. After years of begging my mother to grow my hair out, she finally relented. And in the next of photo of me at 6/12, holding my newly born brother, you can she has let me grow out my fringe as well.

My siblings accuse me of getting more of my parents’ attention because I was the oldest. And I certainly have more memories of one on one time than they do, with my father, at least. I have vivid memories of my mother always bustling; busy looking after children, cooking and cleaning. In this photo, dinner has just been cleared and my mother is washing up at the sink while my father plays with me. He loved music and singing.

They had just purchased their first home. My father’s career as an insurance executive was on the ascent but money was still tight. This image holds so many memories in the daily objects that surrounded us and they tell a story of a young couple optimistically making a new family and home. The money they allowed themselves to spend was on a few accent pieces. The rest was down to my mother’s creative ingenuity; like the kitchen table she found on the street and repurposed. Her white stain paint effect is an unintentional precursor, borne out of necessity, to the Shabby Chic of the 80’s.

The black and white mug on the table holds my father’s post-prandial green tea. They loved the distinctive shape of that mug and sharp contrast of the black and white glazes. They splashed out and bought a set of 8. It’s one of my few memories of their purchasing something together.

My father sits on a folding card table chair. Every time they had a Chinese community party, those chairs would be pulled up from the basement. In those days, there was always room for one more. I am sitting on one of their prized modern teak dining chairs, which I had completely forgotten about until I came across this photo. How funny to realise that the shape of the backrest is similar in feeling to my beloved Ercol chairs. I wonder if my predilection for mid century furniture started here.

There is sadness in this photo for me too as I see the ashtray and book of matches. My father was a heavy smoker, a habit he picked up in university before the general public was aware of the devastating effects of smoking on one’s health. Some of our biggest arguments we had with him were about his smoking, which he kept up until he eventually died of lung cancer.

I find that in my memories, happiness and sadness often sit side by side. Have you found the same?

With love. Xtine

The above post is part of Double Blossom xx, an Instagram project I started with photographer Christina Wilson Elms during lockdown. Each week we post a photo of ourselves and write a letter to the other on an agreed theme. If you are interested in reading our stories, you can find us on Instagram at Double Blossom xx  — Two London sistas share stories about being Chinese in the UK and the US. Same age, same name; almost. 

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