The story begins at Bellaken Garden, a skilled nursing care facility in East Oakland, where my mother, Connie, has been staying since August. I’ve been visiting there twice a week, crossing the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and popping in with potstickers from a nearby takeout restaurant.
For months, I’d seen this thin, white-haired Asian woman seated in the lobby area, across from one of the dining rooms. After a while, we’d exchange smiles and hellos. I’d noticed her mainly because she always had a transistor radio with her. Being a radio columnist and occasional DJ, I asked what she was listening to. “Baseball,” she said. She was an avid San Francisco Giants fan, kept notes on their games, and kept their radio schedule close to her, all on a shelf of her walker. Her son, Jonathan, I would learn, works as a concessions cashier for both the Giants and the 49ers, so she was a football fan, too. We could talk.
I decided to do a little shout-out to her in my Radio Waves column in the San Francisco Chronicle, learned her name – June Kwei – and told her to watch for the mention. She appeared delighted, although I never properly introduced myself. Bad manners. (In Cantonese, “bad” is pronounced “kwei.”) Anyway, on December 11, the item ran, ending with “Holiday cheers to June Kwei.”
That evening, I received an email from a “Dede.” It was Mrs. Kwei’s daughter. I couldn’t believe it. Here’s most of what she wrote:
What a delight to see the mention of my mom, June Kwei, in your column today. I just wanted to let you know that we are huge fans of yours, and have been faithfully following you in print and radio, since the ‘70s!
About two weeks ago, my mom called to say that "I am going to be in the paper." This event in itself was amazing, since being the typical Chinese mom, she only calls me after earthquakes and when she needs me to bring her more batteries for her little transistor radio. Since her memory is a bit sketchy these days, I thought I got the salient facts: that somehow you were visiting Bellaken and that you chatted about something -- she couldn't remember why, though.
I asked her if she told you that I, her 50-year-old Chinese American Bay Area native baby boomer daughter, had listened to the old KSAN for years, and you on Sundays, while I did my homework, since I was in 7th grade, growing up on the Peninsula. My exposure to you on KSAN was what got me started reading Rolling Stone, too. I cannot tell you how much my exposure to both of these media has shaped my life.
I had to move my mom to Bellaken a few years ago … Bellaken has been a godsend. The staff is wonderful, friendly, always positive and caring! Putting one's loved one in a well-caring nursing home can be a huge, unexpected (healing) blessing for everyone involved.
My mom has been reading (the Chronicle) faithfully, from cover to cover, for at least 60 years. When I called her today, she told me specifically not to make a special trip to buy one. She already had figured out how to get a copy of the article today, LOL.
Again, I just wanted to let you know how much I have appreciated your influence in my pop culture life and I hope to run into you at Bellaken someday soon. I have gotten to meet many other dutiful Chinese children there.
Dede added a note about her brother, Jonathan: “Today is his birthday. What a great present for our family: mom and my brother are in the paper ;-).”
What a present for all of us. I’ve shared Dede’s email, and an ensuing exchange, with my own family members. Suddenly, Bellaken Garden is more than a visit to Room 214 and chats with nurses, staffers and therapists.
I spoke with Dede for the first time a few days ago. Her mom is 85, she said. So she was in her mid-forties when she listened to my Sunday afternoon show on KSAN, the pioneer free-form rock station. Dede was maybe 12. “She loved it when you started saying a few words in Chinese,” she said.
So now I have a new project: To bring June a few air checks from those shows of long ago, when, unbeknownst to us, we made our first connection.
Meantime, June and her daughter shared a photo of the young June Kwei, in 1944, posing for a newspaper ad for Klein Jewelers in Chinatown, where she worked.
RANDOM NOTES: Speaking of radio connections, I’m doing a stint on a show called “My Turn,” an hour-long program in which a celebrity (and, sometimes, people like me) gets to spin favorite tunes, with no format rules. This is for KPRI in San Diego, and sister station “100.3 and The Sound” in Los Angeles. It airs on Sunday, Jan. 8 on both stations. They stream online; just Google one of them at the appointed time and hit “Listen Live.” Artists on my hour include Al Green, Chris Isaak, Amy Winehouse, the Eagles, Mayer Hawthorne and Shelby Lynne. Good stuff … If you’re looking for a beautiful, interesting, yet low-priced book of photography, check out San Francisco and the Bay Area: The Haight-Ashbury Edition, by Dick Evans. Dazzling shots of people, places and things. He asked me to write the foreword and a couple of chapter intros, and it was a pleasure just going over the photos. Available at his daughter’s bookstore, The Booksmith on Haight Street (Booksmith.com), or on his photography site, Intransitimages.com. A bargain at $29.95 …