Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our matriarch

The last couple of months have been SO busy for me. There have been happy things like visiting my best friend in Hawaii, throwing a baby shower for Ali, my cousin Courtney's wedding for which I was a bridesmaid and a trip to Disney World with my parents. But there have been very sad things as well like losing Carol. And just when the utter sadness over Carol had started to fade, we lost the matriarch of our family.

My Auntie Frances
Auntie Frances was my mom's oldest sister, but she meant so much more than that to our family. After my Pau-pau (mother's mother, in Cantonese-Chinese) died many years before I was born, Auntie Frances, whether intending to or not, became the family matriarch. She hosted Thanksgivings at her home for 20-some years, until the house became too small for our ridiculously sized family and we "little kids" would find ourselves dining in bedrooms.

Auntie Frances and my mom growing up in the Central Valley of California

My mom and Auntie Frances on our trip to China in 2000

Any and all the baking you see on my blog is basically descended from her. She was the first of the sisters to begin baking and not only bake - but do so as a perfectionist. Her sisters started baking because of her and soon mastered it; specifically, the art of mastering pie-crust. She was also the first of the sisters to learn to knit and was a beautiful knitter. She taught me when I was 8 years old and it's because of her my friends have gotten these gifts.

All five sisters almost 30 years ago

Making joong at Auntie Frances' house in 2005

Auntie Frances taught herself to make dim sum. I take that back, not make it - PERFECT it. She would work a recipe and try it and try it again until it was perfect. She would throw out batches and proclaim them "AWW-ful", but it was her way of making it right for her family. My Pau-pau was a "village cook". She didn't know how to make anything fancy. She didn't bake and she didn't make dim sum. But Auntie Frances did. She taught herself, even without influence from her own mother; and then she taught all her sisters. And when she caught wind that a couple of the cousins (myself included) were interested in learning to make dim sum, she hand-wrote cookbooks for us. HAND-WROTE. Full of: joong, nau mai fan, ha gow, cha siu bow, egg rolls, potstickers, Chinese almond cookies, gin duey, lo bok go, hom sui gok, ai lun gim, siu mai... To have all these recipes written FOR me in HER handwriting and with her drawn diagrams - it's absolutely priceless.

I had to throw this one in too: she is undoubtedly critiquing the
Thanksgiving desserts here (perhaps Steve is too?)

You see references to her all over my blog. From here and here and here and most importantly, here.

My mom, her sisters and most of the sisters' kids

A favorite I have framed in my house

I've been dreading the day one of my mom' sisters was no longer with us, for as long as I can remember. It's the beginning of something very scary that I know will come, but I want to push back against with everything inside me. These women have collectively raised me and really, raised all of us cousins. One of my cousins said it best that a handful of us are so much closer than cousins - we're like extended siblings. I suppose I can think of this closeness, and the loss doesn't feel so great.

The last time they all had the same hairstyle

My favorite picture of the sisters - it's been on my fridge for almost 5 years

The Girls in the 50's

As I write this, I feel the tears coming again, but really it shouldn't be that way. She lived a wonderful life and molded a beautiful family. We are who we are because of her. I have no doubt of that. We cook and bake, we create, we love, we welcome people, we live fully, we laugh, we cry. We are so because of her.

Our last Family picture with Auntie Frances; Thanksgiving 2007

Auntie Frances passed on just a week before her grand-daughter, Courtney's wedding. The favors at the wedding were Chinese almond cookies, made by my auntie a few weeks before she died. She was with us that night. Absolutely.

I will miss you so very much, Auntie Frances. But I will forever cherish what you've taught me. And I will teach my children. And I will love my family as much as you did and I'll do what I can to keep us close and strong. You were, and continue to be such a magnificent force and I'm so thankful to be in your family.


  1. Thanks Lise, this is really a beautiful post.

  2. What a wonderful tribute to your Auntie Frances...

  3. Lise, your eloquence has illustrated the full influence of my mom. Between the text and the photos, you have brought tears in the most wonderful way. Thank you.

  4. This is a beautiful post. Even in the photos it showed how energetic your Auntie Frances was. She is a beautiful person!

  5. Lisa, Thanks for the wonderful things you said about Fran. It' all so true. We all love her and already miss her terribly. Auntie Mary

  6. Thanks Lise, Beautifully said, if only I could stop crying now. Kathy

  7. Lise, what a beautiful post. You are so gifted with your articulate eloquent words, You have really summed up what Auntie Frances was and still is to us all.

  8. dude, your last paragraph made me cry... tears friggin' streaming down my face right now... thank you for letting us peek into your heart, and for embracing us into your memories so intimately.

    everyone hopes for what you and your family have. if you're lucky, you have such love in your life... if you're smart, you recognize it... if you're gifted, you're able to describe its significance as powerfully as you have here. bravo.

  9. This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your memories of your beloved Aunt. Would you be willing to share the recipes your Auntie wrote for you? My pau-pau is too old now to make (and remember) all her wonderful treats and she never 'measured' so I am at a loss when it comes to making her joong and hom sui gok and lo bak go and so many more. If you would be willing to share your aunt's recipes with me I would be so grateful as I am trying to share these treasures and build loving memories for my kids. My email is Thank you - Angela