In the 1960s on Sundays my family went for Chinese at five-thirty. The downtown Winnipeg restaurant was our Shangri-la; the only place the tribe agreed. I don’t remember much from childhood, but the North American style food, aromas, and décor stick.
My knees would suction the glittery gold-and-turquoise vinyl in the large booth. Surrounded by silhouettes of Chinese landscapes and hand-painted murals, I never imagined that I would one day visit Beijing or have a child who lived in Shanghai and could speak Mandarin. The family always ordered #99 Special – a big bowl of mixed (read: “unspecified”) miscellaneous meats (chicken, beef, pork, etc), with what I assume were vegetables. These bits and pieces swam in a bright red sweet & sour sauce.
After dropping out of high school and serving in the Airforce, my Dad had carved himself into a businessman. He furthered the family into the middle-class. Money ruled… Time passed… My parents divorced. Dad moved to Vancouver, and I followed. He had disowned me and we re-connected. Sundays, he and his second wife took me to Szechuan Chongging Restaurant at seven. It wasn’t the same, I used chopsticks now but Dad still asked for a fork.
Today, my brother’s email reads that after seventy years the Shanghai Restaurant is closing. My Dad is eighty-nine, and I visit. He sits in the dark on his most-loved chair. In the last twenty minutes he has asked me about his grandson three times. I ask, “What’s the date today?” With a puzzled look on his face, he glances down at the newspaper on his lap. He doesn’t answer. I ask him if he remembers the #99 Special, he lifts his head, his eyes bright and wider than his mouth, as he exclaims, “Of course”.