A One Act Play

Unbinding Our Lives

By G. L. Horton
copyright © 1992 Geralyn Horton

Research by Christina Chan, Judy Yung.


(In a child's voice, as if 8 or 10 years old, TIEN FU WU sings a Chinese game-song. She tells her story as if speaking to friendly visitors to the San Francisco Mission)

My name? - is Tien Fu Wu.
I was 6 years old the last time I saw my family, and my home, far away in China. (closes eyes) I remember a flowering plum tree outside the door. I wasn't supposed to climb it, but I did climb it, all the time, just for fun. My brothers would boost me up, and I would scramble way way up to the top. Like a little monkey, my brothers said. I remember the patch of smooth earth below the tree, where my brothers and I would play, and a mingled smell of animals and cooking that drifted out in the yard-- (opens eyes) -- a smell that is like nothing else, you know. Sometimes when I am walking in San Francisco's Chinatown, I smell something that is almost like that smell, almost the same, and then the feel of my mother's dress, (hand gesture, closed eyes) the sound of her voice, will come back to me. (looks down in sorrow) Tears come to my eyes. (pause) (looks up, shy smile)

My mother was good to me, that I'm sure. It may be that my mother and father spoiled me, a little, when I was so young, you know. (an excuse) Only six. (happy) I had plenty of time, then, to run and sing and play games. I had my very own toys: kites and tops and a doll and little carved birds that I kept in a bright red lacquer box. ("flies" bird)

I helped my mother in the house, too, but when I was with my family that was never hard. I never got tired or sad. Cooking was like a game. I was especially proud when mother let me help make the special cakes for the August Moon festival, or make the lucky foods for New Year. My brothers and I would wear our best clothes, and sing songs, and play singing games, like this ;

Do you know that game? Scissors, paper, rock, is how they say it in this country. They tell me the children here play it too, but I never saw them. (sad) Once I was away from my family, my childhood was all over. I never even got a chance to say goodbye to my brothers, you know, or give away my toys. If I had known what was happening to me, I would have hidden my favorite bird inside my blouse, and given the rest to my second brother so he would remember me. (not to audience, thinking, sad) I wonder if he does?

(smart) My mother's family was rich, I think. Or at least better off than most people. When my grandmother came to visit she was dressed rich, (gesture) all in silk and satin. Grandmother was the one who brought us the wonderful presents, like my older brother's dragon kite, and my carved birds.
When I look back to that before-time, when I was only six, I remember it as if every day were a festival. Everything bright and exciting. (glowing with happiness, clap hands) There was so much to learn, and my father and mother would laugh and joke and look pleased with me because I was so quick and strong. (wistful) I thought, then, that I was special, and that people would always be pleased with me.

But then the bad luck came. (angry) My worthless father gambled away every cent we had! (explains) I had heard that sometimes daughters were sold. Like when there was a crop failure, you know. Everyone, even the smallest children, knew that such things could happen. But before my worthless father had such bad luck I never worried that this could happen to me. Our family had a good plot of land. I had older brothers who worked hard. We had plenty to eat. We were lucky. (shrug) Until that day.

(new beat, direct to audience, explaining)
You might ask, if my grandmother who loved me was rich, why didn't she save me? But a wife couldn't spend her husband's money, or her son's inheritance, you know. Not on her daughter's daughter. Only a son carries on the family name.

(consider it: for revenge)
Many daughters who were sold committed suicide. They would hang or stab themselves if they wished to bring shame on those who had hurt them. Or just refuse to eat, and waste away from sorrow.

(outraged) The day my father took me to be sold, he lied and said he was taking me to see my grandmother. I was very fond of her, you know, so I got on the ferry boat with him very happily. My mother was crying, (grow younger: puzzled, with the voice and body of a very young child) and I couldn't understand why mother should cry if I go to see Grandma.

(pleased, excited, show these gifts) Mother gave me a new toothbrush and a new washrag in a blue bag when I left her. I said, (in Chinese, then translate) "Don't cry mother. (wave) I'm just going to see grandma and be right back." (older, very angry) And that worthless father, my own father, he sold me on the ferry boat. Locked me in the cabin while he was bargaining to get a good price. I kicked and kicked and screamed and screamed: (in Chinese, then translate) Daddy! Don't leave me! Daddy, let me out! Let me out! Daddy! But I wasn't let out! Not until my father had made his bargain and left the steamer. Then they turned me loose. I ran up and down, up and down, here and there, but my father was gone away so I couldn't find him.

That boat took me to a bigger boat, and then across the ocean. I arrived in San Francisco in 1893. The agent who brought me, sold me for a house servant. I suppose I was not so good as a servant, because I was sold three more times. Or maybe I was traded. I didn't understand the bargains, or what these people wanted of me, or how to please them. After all, I was only 7 and 8 years old. I cried and cried. Over and over, I begged each of my mistresses to send me back to my mother.

Finally I ended up with a terrible woman. She beat me. Hard. She had a big fat baby and I was supposed to carry him on my back all the time, even though I was little for eight years old. (act it out) Carry that fat baby all the time, even when I was trying to do the laundry. I would be trying to stoop over to scrub laundry, and the fat baby would be pulling at me and crying, and I got desperate and I just didn't care what happened. I pinched that baby on his cheek, his seat, you know, just gave it to him. Well, his mother went and got a red hot iron tong, and burnt me on the arm. Somebody must have heard my screams, or seen my scars. Some kind person who reported my mistress to the Mission workers, and they came and took me away to the Mission Home in San Francisco.

At first I was not happy there, either. Still I was rebellious. I couldn't understand why I wasn't allowed to run and play and do as I liked. Or why couldn't I go back to my mother and my brothers? I was always quite a tomboy, always running around and looking for fun. I didn't want to pray with the ghost-ladies, or scrub in the kitchen or learn to sew. I would pray to the Goddess of Compassion to come and take me home, and run out in the back yard and sing the old songs as loud as I could. (sings)

I would hide behind flour sacks in the cupboard when I was supposed to be working, and imagine myself a heroine in a story. Pretend that all this trouble was just an adventure. One day I would be rescued, and be happy again forever. Like in the old plays. There was one performed sometimes in the village, called FIFTEEN STRINGS OF CASH. It's about a stepdaughter who runs away from home because she thinks she is going to be sold. Really, she wasn't. Her drunken stepfather was only joking to tease her, you know. He loved her, but when he was full of wine he thought making a joke about such a terrible thing would be fun.

The daughter has a song speech that I remember -- although when I watched the play with my brothers we didn't pay much attention to the girl. We liked the clown, the evil King Rat. His tricks and acrobatics made the children all laugh and clap their hands. But after I was sold, it was the daughter's part that came back to me. It goes something like this: (stylized)
"I am only his stepdaughter
So he was as happy to sell me
As if I were not even known to him.
How can I move him to see me as his own?
How difficult to touch his heart and change his mind!
Oh, how this hurts me!
There is a pain in my chest as if I had been shot through and through with arrows.
It is worse than boiling in oil.
I'll pray to the gods, I'll call on heaven, call on my dead mother, cry again and again and again,
until my throat is dry and my lips are cracked and bleeding."
(drops style, fan, becomes Tien Fu Wu again)
The girl considers suicide, she even picks up the axe: but then she changes her mind:
(back "in character")
"I'll take this opportunity while he is drunk asleep to run away!

I would have run away every day, if only I could have thought of anywhere to go. What a trial I was to the good ladies who ran the mission home. I was so naughty!

But I was also sensitive, and I could not bear to be criticized. One time when I didn't do my work, and matron chided me, I hung my head out the window on the very coldest day of that year. When matron found me, she asked me what I was doing? I told her I was going to catch pneumonia and die, so that I could come back as a ghost and haunt her for being so mean to me!

When I was a teenager at the Home, there was a Chinese matron lady there, Ah Tsun. She had been smuggled into this country a long time before, in 1877. Her owner was going to sell her to be a prostitute. She ran away to the Mission Home. But then her owner had her arrested, claiming that she was a thief. This happened all the time. It was the way that the owners got the American police to help them keep Chinese in bondage. Slavery was supposed to be illegal, but what did Americans care what happened to a heathen Chinese?

After two court trials, Ah Tsun won her freedom. Ah Tsun was not like me. She was happy at the Mission from the start. She became a Christian, and worked for the Mission as an interpreter, preaching and teaching. She could play the organ, too, and lead the congregation in hymns.

I could understand why she would like to do that part. I liked the hymn-singing, too. I used to imagine that I would grow up and pound out the chords on the organ. Make such a wonderful big noise! Sometimes I would sneak into the parlor and try out the keys-- just out of wickedness, you know. Because when the matron scolded me, and said if I wanted to play I must take lessons and learn the hymns, I said, no! I wasn't interested!

Ah Tsun married a Christian Chinese, Mr. Wing. When there were anti-Chinese riots here in San Francisco, in 1885, and hoodlums of this very neighborhood stoned her house, she and Mr Wing and their children went back to China. She studied and taught at the Bible School in Canton until her husband died, and then came back here again. I was very impressed that a Chinese woman could be so respected, and have so much education. I thought maybe I would like to be an educated woman, too. But most of our studies seemed to be about the Bible, and I didn't care for that part so much. Mrs. Wing tried to convert me to be a Christian, you know, but I was still too wild and stubborn. How could I go against my ancestors? How could I give up the gods and the festivals and the family that still lived in my heart?

Then one day when I was almost grown, I made up my mind to be a Christian. Shall I tell you how that came about? Miss Donaldina Cameron was the head of the Mission, and her personal assistant was a young woman named Yuen Qui. I told you that I was a wild loud girl? A tomboy? Well, Yuen Qui was just the opposite, you know. A quiet student, a seamstress and a reader. But she never made me feel that I was bad. She was my best friend, and as dear to me as a sister. If I could do my work in Yuen Qui's company, I wasn't lazy, and I wasn't tempted to spoil it. I even stopped dreaming that some day I would run away.

Then my dear friend became sick. I asked Miss Cameron if I could help to nurse her. We sponged her and fed her and held her hand, and when Mrs. Cameron prayed I joined in with all my heart. But nothing we could do was any help. Yuen Qui was burning up with fever. She was wasting away. When Yuen Qui died I was very grieved myself, but Mrs. Cameron just absolutely broke down. This respected woman! Broke down completely. I felt very sorry. I decided then and there to take my dear friend's place as Mrs. Cameron's helper. It's what Yuen Qui would have wanted.

And I have succeeded in this. Mrs. Cameron often says that I am like a daughter to her. I too, am becoming an educated Chinese woman, even more than the respected Ah Tsun. In 1905, I went to the Stevens' School in Pennsylvania. I spent four years there, and then 2 more years on a scholarship at the Toronto Bible School.

Now I assist in the rescues -- Rescues can be very exciting, going in with the constable to save some poor woman from bondage. Her master might hide the woman away in a cupboard. So the constable goes around with a crowbar, tapping to find a hollow wall to break down, to find the prisoner. Most times, that poor woman is terrified. All she knows is what her master's told her, scare stories about wicked white people. She thinks we're coming to torture or kill her. She's weeping and shrieking, while I am trying to explain that we are her friends.

Or sometimes the owner will threaten us. He'll say to me -- in Chinese, so the constable doesn't understand -- that I will be sorry. How dare I join in with the Mission ladies against my own kind, and set the American law on him?

But I don't pay any attention to that man. He knows he is not allowed to own somebody in this country. I don't waste any time feeling sorry for him. And I refuse to be afraid. I remember what it was like to be sold: to weep and shriek and be shut up all alone. I find the place where that girl is hidden, and I break it open like the cage of a bird, and set her free.

(A mature, dignified woman, giving a speech to the Women's Suffrage Society in 1895.)

Madam Secretary, and distinguished ladies of the Suffrage Society, I want to thank you for inviting me here to talk to you today. My name is Mary Tape. I was born in Shanghai, but I have no idea who my parents were. Probably they were very poor. The birth of a girl-child was such an economic disaster that they felt they had to abandon the baby, so I was left out to die.

Christian missionaries took me in. They raised and educated me in the Shanghai orphanage. When I was 11 years old, the missionaries moved back to their home in America, and they brought me with them. They had worked and preached against slavery, strong in the hope that one day my adopted country would show the world that with equal opportunity, people of whatever origin can rise to unprecedented heights. I was educated by them not only for my own sake, but to set an example.

This was in the 1860's, during this country's War Between the States. No one was sure what kind of nation this would be after that terrible War. Would there be liberty and justice for all? In the Dred Scott case, the Supreme court said that Negroes had no rights that white men were bound to respect. But it wasn't clear how this applied to people of Asian ancestry.

During the Gold Rush, thousands of poor Chinese laborers were brought to California--, to Gold Mountain, as it's called. The labor contractors who supplied the workers advertised that these "coolies" would work harder and eat less than Negro slaves. They were kept in filthy huts. They had no way to wash, no sanitary facilities. They worked ten or twelve hours a day at backbreaking jobs in the mines or building the railroads. Nobody expected these Chinese to stay in America. These men were here just to earn money and go back home to their families. There were almost no women. In 1850, out of 4000 Chinese, only 7 women! By the time I arrived, a dozen years later, there were a few more. But still, maybe one woman for every two hundred men.

Can you ladies even imagine what life would be like in that kind of a situation? With such an imbalance between the sexes? It is difficult for me, too, to think about such things. I lived and worked in the shelter of the Ladies Relief Society until I married Joseph Tape.

Since I came to this country I have always worn Western dress. The Relief Society was a center for education and reform, with a progressive outlook that was unusual even for Western women in those days. I learned to play the piano, and sing, and I also had lessons in drawing and watercolor. Some of my paintings are on display in the lobby of this hall, so you may judge for yourself if I am entitled to call myself an artist. But my strongest interest is the wonderful new art and science of photography. Some of you may have seen my photographic work already. My portraits and scenes of life in Chinatown have been published in many books and journals. I must tell you, though, that I have found out that my work is more likely to be accepted if I send it out under my husband's name. Imagine the look on the face of the editor, when he discovers that the photographs he admires were done by a woman, and a Chinese woman at that!

In spite of his western name, my husband Joseph Tape is a businessman of Chinese descent, interpreter for the Chinese consulate. He is is proud to have an educated wife, and he has always been eager to obtain a first-class education for his daughters, too. I must admit to you that this is not common among the Chinese here. Even wives of well-off merchants such as my husband often live miserable lives, confined in their ignorance to a narrow room, far from their relatives in China and with no friends to talk to. As I told you, very few of the Chinese were allowed to bring their wives to America. And when I was young, I did not meet any wives from China. My friends were my old school classmates, and the emancipated women I met through my interest in welfare work and the arts. But I heard terrible stories from the Relief workers, about the conditions of the wives: the ones with bound feet and bound lives.

Can you imagine being afraid to go out on the street for fear that you will be kidnaped and sold to be a prostitute? This could be a very real danger. With so many men and no women, the black market price for a prostitute becomes very, very tempting. Under American restrictions, the only women allowed to immigrate are the wives of merchants. Typically, this Gold-Mountain woman is not what you would consider the man's real wife, ladies. She is a second wife, or a concubine. The merchant who brings her over to this country leaves his number one wife in China. With her mother-in-law, and with his favored sons.

For the first few years here, before she has a son of her own, the Gold Mountain wife is not allowed to see anyone. Maybe, if he is rich enough, her husband will buy a little servant-girl to help his wife with household work that is too hard for a small-foot woman to do with her bound feet. But the second wife is in the position that if she angers her husband, or he loses his money, he can sell her at any time. To a different "husband", or to a brothel. After she has sons, and if her husband is prosperous, the wife's position gets better. She might be permitted to have other wives over to visit. Or she might have a hairdresser or storyteller come in to break the monotony of her days.

Not every Chinese wife is in such a position. Some husbands, like my dear Joseph, are kind and generous. I believe, much more in America than in China. There the household is ruled by the husband's mother. The mother in law doesn't permit her son to spoil his wife with gifts and attentions. Here, women are rare, and so may be valuable. They aren't a surplus, as in the old country. But what security does a wife have? Not just a Chinese wife: as you ladies well know, this is a serious matter for every woman. A wife can cook, and keep house, and embroider. But if she has been raised as most girls are raised, she has no skills to earn a living, if she were mistreated or left a widow.

I wanted my own four children to be well educated, not just have the rudiments. I wanted each to play an instrument and have good manners. I wanted them to go to school where our family lives, not in Chinatown. In Chinatown, the only schooling available was Christian Sunday School, or night school, run by charity. The poor children of Chinatown work all day, and can only go to school at odd hours. At one time there had been a publically-supported school just for Chinese children. But in the 1860's the anti-Chinese managed to get it closed down.

So, when my oldest daughter, Maime, was eight,-- in 1884-- I took her down to enroll in the public school nearest our home. Can you guess what happened, then? The teachers, the principal, wouldn't let us in! The San Francisco School Board said that they had the power to exclude Chinese because they are -- here, ladies, I will quote you their insults:-- (puts on glasses, reads from note card) "children of filthy or vicious habits, or children with infectious diseases." The Board said--- and I quote them--, that (another card) "the association of Chinese and white children would be very demoralizing mentally and morally to the latter"! "Demoralizing"! My beautiful intelligent well-behaved children! Take a look at my pictures of my children, hanging out in the lobby, and tell me if they look to you as if they deserve such insults!

As you can imagine, I was very angry. Joseph and I took our cause to court, and the judge ruled in our favor. But the State Superintendent and the Board would not yield. They adopted a resolution that any principal who admitted what they called a "Mongolian Child" would be subject to dismissal. By now, the papers reported all this, and the Chinese community made our court case a test.

You see, in 1884 The California Supreme Court had ruled that a child born in the U.S. of Chinese parents is a natural born citizen. The child has a citizen's rights. Even when this was confirmed on appeal-- in 1885--, the school board ruled that Chinese children must be taught in segregated schools-- and then refused to establish any! I was furious! I wrote this letter to the Board. (puts on glasses to read letter)

"I see that you are going to make all sorts of excuses to keep my child out of the Public Schools. Dear Sirs, will you please tell me! Is it a disgrace to be born a Chinese? Didn't God make us all? What right! have you to bar my child out of school because she is of Chinese descent? There is no other worldly reason that you could keep her out. Her playmates are all Caucasians ever since she could toddle around. If she is good enough to play with them! Then is she not good enough to be in the same room and study with them? It seems no matter how a Chinese may live and dress, so long as you know they're Chinese then they are hated as one. Maime Tape will never attend any of the Chinese schools of your making! Never!! I will let the world see, sir, what justice there is, when it is governed by the race prejudice."

Yes, I swore my children wouldn't go to the segregated Chinese school. But the very day it opened, I was there, with Maime holding one of my hands and her little brother the other. What else could I do? Until we have equal justice for all in this country, we must make the best of what opportunities we can get. We are only a small group here, we Chinese, and unless we can find strong allies among reform-minded people such as yourselves, we will never be able to take our rightful place at the forefront of progress.

Science, especially, is the key to modern life. When logical thinking is universally taught, we shall be rid at last of the prejudice and ignorance that allows one sex or race to mistreat the other. My good friend, Wong Hong Tai, is a well known scientist. He is called the Chinese Edison. With him I have done experiments that qualify me to be a scientist, too. Or at least a scientist's assistant. I have seen how superstition yields to proof. Today I have come before you to offer myself as a kind of living proof that a woman of Chinese descent can take advantage of the very best education this country can offer.

Once again, I thank you for your hospitality, and your kind attention. I only hope that my speech here today has gone some way to convince you to see my cause as linked with yours. Like yourselves, ladies, I have had the good luck to escape from many of the burdens and restrictions placed upon our sex. Now, let us, together, join hand in hand to do the great reforming work that makes this country a beacon to the world. I can tell you, ladies: my dear husband Joseph's biggest regret is that he will never be allowed to become an American citizen some day, and vote. But I don't mind that so much. I realize that you, daughters of the patriots who sacrificed to found and preserve this land of freedom, have still to win your own full rights. But my children are citizens. And I know that when you ladies succeed in your struggle, and Caucasian women win the vote, my daughters will get that precious vote, too.


POLLY BEMIS -- (very old, a bit crippled, in cowboy dress )

My name's Polly Bemis. My American name. When I was little, my father called me Treasure. Made me feel important. When I was getting to be about old enough for my father to think about my marriage, he wanted me to make a good one. Leased some land, to get an extra crop. The weather turned against him, though. Couldn't afford a helper any more, and my father kept getting deeper and deeper in debt.

What could he do? If my father sold himself into indenture, while he was working off the debt our family would starve. If he sold me, my mother and my little brother would be all right, the family would go on. I begged my father to wait, though. I said I would be his helper. Work with him in the fields. Take the place of the field hand we couldn't afford. My mother wept and moaned. What a disgrace! Neighbors would be scandalized, to see a girl work like a man. I'd never be able to hold my head up, never be married. I said anything was better than being sold. Work hard, worry about the future later.

My mother agreed, finally, and unbound my feet. A little bit at a time, day by day. Painful to do field work. Trudge for hours on my broken toes, carrying the hoe and the buckets over the rough plowed earth. But, if you can believe it, I enjoyed that work! Glad to be out in the open, glad to be tilling the soil and making things grow.

The bad weather continued, though, and all our work was for nothing. I was sold. What happened to me after that was almost like an old tale of adventure! Didn't think so at the time, though. Just trying to stay alive. I was stolen by bandits; escaped, was captured all over again. Thought sure the bandits would all rape and murder me. But they didn't-- I was worth good money shipped whole to California, to the Gold Mountain.

When I got to San Francisco, I was herded into a big shed. All stripped naked and auctioned off. Last to be sold would be the lowest prostitutes, the ones penned up in the cribs. Cribs were tiny rooms, choking hot in the summer and stinking with bad air. Barred windows where the women would call out to customers. Offering themselves for 25 cents! Terrible life: never to see the open blue sky, never walk over the green fields. A short life, too. What with the disease and the beatings, few women made it for more than 3 or 4 years.

Not all prostitutes have such a hard life, though. Very first Chinese prostitute was a famous one, named Ah Choi. She came in 1849, from Hong Kong. Already a success, there, serving foreign sailors. Ah Choi heard about the gold rush, and she came over here bringing her jewels and her fancy clothes. Knew enough English that she couldn't be cheated.

Ah Choi set up to charge one full ounce of gold. Enough money for a person to live on maybe two months! Miners lined up around the block, waiting turns. Men had so much gold then, hardly any women to spend it on. Most all Ah Choi's customers were whites, though. Ones who could afford her prices. European prostitutes charged even more.

Two years, Ah Choi traveled back to China to bring in more girls. Two more years she opened a big house on Pike Street. Branched out and opened a store with import goods, too. But the Tongs saw that there was a market, took over the business. From the beginning, many many Chinese men for every Chinese woman. Time I got here, after the Exclusion Act, no way for a woman to come legally, or on her own. All of us were somebody's property.

When I was bought by a merchant named Hong King, I felt I was lucky. Hong King had a store and a saloon in Warren Idaho. I was shipped to Warren over the miner's trails. Dangerous trip, by muleback. When I arrived, I worked very hard for Hong King. Was his personal servant. His concubine. Worked in his saloon, serving the miners and building up the boss' business.

Warren Idaho was a work camp. Men and a few bar girls, German mostly. I was a favorite-- They called me China Polly. Miners all seemed to like it that I was so small: like a little doll, they said. The boys would lift me up on top of the bar, and I'd dance on my poor mangled feet. Sing the songs the miners taught me. (demonstrates)

Johnny Bemis tried his hand at mining. He was really a gambler, though, like Hong King. One time those two got in a poker game, just the two of them, lasted all day and all night. Hong King won almost all Johnny's gold, but then the luck turned around and Hong King started losing. Johnny said, "Stake your girl Polly!" Isn't that something? Right out of the old stories! One hand, winner takes all. My boss agreed. Called me to the table to watch. I came up and stood beside Hong King all smiling, but I was worried. I could see that my boss had three aces. Looked to me like I was going to be Hong King's bar girl forever. But Johnny Bemis drew to a flush, and so he won me. In that game, I had the luck. Yahoo! Happy ending!

You' surprised that I'd rather go with the American? With Johnny? Johnny was young and strong and cheerful. Johnny liked me. Liked me a lot. Hong King was a rich Tong leader. I was glad to get away from him, though-- bad tempered ugly old man. Hong King had no idea that a young girl might want to be out with the sunshine and the mountains. Might want to decide a few things for myself. Oh, I wasn't free, now, either. But with Johnny Bemis I began to see what freedom could be like. Johnny'd ask me: Polly, do you want this? Polly, do you think we should do that?

I helped Johnny with his placer claim. Kept his cabin clean. When he went gambling, I stood behind his chair and watched so no one could cheat him. Now, some people thought I was doing more than just watching. One time, a sore loser thought Johnny and me were cheating, and put a bullet through his chest!

Doctor and all Johnny's friends thought he was a goner. But I strapped him on his horse and took him home and I nursed him. Gave Johnny herb tea and broth. Kept his wound clean and his fever down. When he was well, Johnny took me in to Warren and he married me. Maybe it wasn't legal, our marriage-- the law said Chinese couldn't marry whites, couldn't be citizens or own property. But far away as we were from the courthouse, we were pretty safe. Johnny and I considered us married, and our neighbors did, too.

Maybe I'd've worried more about it, if I'd had children. I like children. Always happy to have the children of friends come visit. Still, I didn't think Johnny and I ought to have any of our own. Asked Johnny what he thought, he said that's all right with him. We were enough, he said.

When the mines gave out around Warren, we moved up to Salmon River Canyon. Johnny rocked for gold, I started a vegetable garden. Oh, that was some garden! Land around Salmon Creek was a lot like where I was born: rocky soil and wind. Dry hot summers. Cold winters with heavy snow. I knew about that kind of land. Could make things grow in it, long as the rains come.

I planted what I thought would grow easy, and set myself to learn as much as I could, so that I could grow more. Radish and cucumber, turnips and carrots, potatoes and tomatoes. Sold them to miners all down the canyon. In town, too. Canned and pickled and dried. With the money, I bought a herd and two horses -- if only my father and mother could see me, what a green thumb I have!

I have a dog, too, and a goat, and cats, and even wild animals will come to me when I call. I'm nurse and midwife for my neighbors. My cookies and jam are famous for miles around.

Johnny's getting old, now. Crippled up so he can hardly get around. Our friends say when Johnny dies I should move into town, they can keep an eye on me. I don't think so, though. This is my land, you see. I've come all this way, I want to stay right here. This land that I've made bloom.



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