Weekend trip to California was emotional roller coaster


A weekend in southern California was the best example that life is marked by ups and downs and you had better be ready to appreciate happy occasions or to hang your head and wipe tears.

There was no time off to regroup mentally on the unique weekend that was an emotional roller coaster, beginning with what to pack; first for an elegant formal wedding on Saturday and then for a memorial service the next day. The biggest gap between events was the 50-minute flight from Los Angeles -- when I said goodbye to the happy newlyweds at breakfast -- to San Diego, where I was met by relatives who whisked me to the church for my brother's memorial service.

Needless to say I have attended more than my share of weddings but the ceremony uniting in marriage Angel Chan of Alhambra, Calif., and Sam Leeviroj of Toledo not only pulled the happy heart strings, but was a beautiful sharing of Asian culture for the Toledo guests.

Angel, an assistant school principal, is of Chinese descent. Sam immigrated to Toledo from Thailand. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Toledo and a master's degree in finance from Heidelberg University in Tiffin.

Sam's mother traveled from Thailand for the wedding, as did his adopted American "mom," Toledoan Fifi Berry. Sam, 50, began working at Fifi's Reprise restaurant as a waiter and during his 28 years there became her right-hand assistant. His Toledo company, Metts, did plating for the Ford Motor Co.

The day was an impressive blend of Chinese and Thai traditions from the chants during the ceremony to a sumptuous 10-course banquet at the LosAngeles Hilton Hotel. While much of the ritual was translated in English, no explanation was needed for the universal symbol that seals marriage vows in any language.

That first kiss says it all.

Never boast that you know all about Chinese foods just because you patronize local restaurants. The courses that revolved on mega lazy susans were several cuts above almond boneless chicken. I wouldn't eat, or try to eat, any other way at a Chinese banquet but with chopsticks. Large mushroom slices, cut thin to resemble abalone, shared platters with mustard greens. After soy-roasted chicken, the whole fish presented with head and tail is a tradition representing husband and wife as one.

Of course there was a wedding cake and of course Angel and Sam cut the first piece in harmony and then fed each other. The wish from the 150 dinner guests was unanimous. Congratulations, Angel and Sam.

The memorial service at the Methodist church in El Cajon was a sweet tribute to my brother Jerry Powell, a simple man who overcame adversities all his life and found contentment in his church. As one of the members said, "We could always count on Jerry to set up the tables for church events and take them down and to help with the dishes."

Jerry moved to San Diego with our father and my stepmother in 1959 after my dad retired as a postal worker. Often through my years as food editor when I was dining in an elegant restaurant I thought of Jerry, who worked as a dish washer in restaurants. I am certain that I complained more about restaurant food and service than he ever did facing a pile of dirty pots and pans.

Though he had to ride his bicycle or motor scooter four miles from his home to church, he rarely missed choir and bell practice as well as Sunday morning service until a horrific traffic accident six years ago. He lived in a nursing home after he was severely injured when he was struck by a van while he was on his scooter going to church.

I graciously accepted the responsibility of bringing Jerry's ashes back home to Adrian, as he had requested. But now that the mission is completed successfully I admit that I was apprehensive about carrying the box in a red velvet bag in my carry-on through airport security.

The rules, according to the San Diego funeral director, are that the ashes must be in a nonmetal container and that a document signed by the funeral home be attached to it.

As I was directed to step aside and the carry-on was tested against explosives by security, I felt a deep sense of protection and family bonding. The inspector first wiped each side of the container with white tape and then applied a liquid to the pieces of tape. Then she smiled and patted my shoulder with her gloved hand.

"We" passed and were good to continue the bittersweet trip back home.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.