A Smile In Her Voice

by Elaine Woo

Shy of age 90 by a year, JJ flourishes—Assisted Living, yes, after a stroke when blood pressure, a peak of diastolic 222, extended hospital stay of 10 days. Despite scare, she laughs, “I can still walk, talk, and eat. That is luck! And, hey, no need to cook, anymore. Nice.”

If she stuck it out in-place at own home, stroke might have claimed her for its bride for life. “You never know,” says JJ.  Now, monitored. Fear averted.

Her journey to Pacific Coast, Canada, began in Guangzhou City, a whistle away from Hong Kong.

Her father, imported/exported pharmaceutical supplies. Mother, cared for family.

Japanese bombing of Guangzhou during WWII drove her family to Hong Kong.

School continued in her new home. Streamed through Chinese-language school, English-language school not an option for JJ.

Japanese occupation reached its menace-hand into Hong Kong, too. Schools shut down, as did businesses.

JJ, not one to dwell on the past, shrinks the damage of this period in her life into a single descriptor, “Terrible.”

Her language schooling path funnelled her into a missionary university in Guangzhou. Natural choice, as all her friends chose that university, as well.

Her father desired his daughter pursue medical studies to enhance the prosperity of the family business and its future. Due to curriculum limits, microbiology was the closest she drew to medical science.

After graduation, China shuttered its exit door. Stuck.

For a decade, she, bound in scientific research: malaria and Yellow Fever. Then, still a blight on the populace.

By then, betrothed to her husband, whose family was staked in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Between the calendar posts of the Second World War and the Korean War, China raised its drawbridge on the couple. Their world, bland neutral tones. The two, separated by work, she in Beijing, he in the south. They visited once yearly, at Chinese New Year.

JJ couldn’t see her birth family for 20 years. Her father, long in Canada.

When Pierre Trudeau liased with Mao, she penned letters to her father and brother, seeking a permit to visit Canada. Finally, an opening granted.

On Canada’s west coast, no research jobs available. Short course in community food preparation lead to a stint in a nursing home kitchen. Then, another offering—a dietition’s assistant job at a university hospital, interviewing patients about their dietary options.

Too much walking on the job wore down her hip bones. Hip replacement not due to a fall but mechanical wear and tear. She laboured in the kitchen. No seating relief from long hours of standing, and walk, walk, walking, back and forth for patient needs.

Now, in nursing care, JJ has leisure-time to meander to the mall, people watch, fish for snippets of conversation, sip a double double, melt Honey Tim Bits in her mouth, mosey into Winners.

The Mister fell to colon cancer a year ago. Not wishing to trouble anyone, not even their two adult children, he withheld news of his cancer diagnosis, only informing the kids a year before passing.

Her current residence in care, one bedroom, a microwave, and small fridge.

JJ says, “I just eat and sleep. Happy? Sure.” Life, pain, free.

Son and daughter caught in spider’s silk of making a living, visit JJ on weekends. She laughs, “Everyday, I walk one mile. Four times around the facility. I can’t get hit in the head because of scare of stroke. I can’t fall on my bum because of my hip. I can’t have anymore surgery.”

“Happy? Sure am.”


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Elaine Woo


Elaine Woo works at living in the present. Through her writing, artwork, and libretto, she observes the tides of life.…

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