Eternal River, Volume III: The Next Thirty Years
Foreword by JoAnn Levy
It’s hard to know where to start praising this book. Within its pages we find a family saga, a scientific treatise, personal confession, spiritual declaration, California history, entrepreneurial inspiration, and the loving testament of a devoted daughter whose humility likely prevents her from acknowledging, and possibly even recognizing, what she has achieved here.
Carolyn’s first impulse upon reading that sentence will have been to delete the reference to herself, to minimize her role in this story. In my unexpected but gratefully acknowledged position as one of her purported heroes, I have forbidden that impulse. It’s the price she must pay for honoring me with the request to provide a foreword to this extraordinary record of an extraordinary family.
No one can read this book and not be awed by the brilliance of Tom Wing, nor leave its pages without recognizing Kay Wing as a force of nature. Theirs is not only the quintessential American success story, in their case a wild ride on the microcurrent magic carpet, but a love story. Together they gathered a succession of friends and colleagues whose appearance in these pages attest to their essential humanity and mutual devotion. The pebbles cast in this “eternal river” sent ripples far and wide.
And in telling that story, in gathering the threads of memory, the bits and pieces recalled by an extensive Chinese family—the Wings, Gongs, Mahs, and more—Tom and Kay’s daughter has woven an American tapestry. It consists both of charmingly mundane details, such as Carolyn’s young son John being enthralled by a garbage truck, and the overwhelming terrors of life-threatening, and life-consuming, illness. Every reader will find personal parallels in such events. Across these pages flit the memories of now-silent voices recalling the heartache of sacrifice, humiliation, lost opportunity, abandoned possibility, along with the stunning surprise of unanticipated success and almost unbelievable good fortune.
No reader can fail to be moved by the family’s first Ching Ming in Merced, the coming together of relatives who barely knew one another existed and discovering their connections, their history, their place in one another’s recollections. In telling one another their stories, they honored those gone before, the everyday heroes who sacrificed so much, like the poet whose destiny made him a grocer so his children would have choices.
Here is the essence of this book, in Carolyn’s own words: “I realized that, through my Ching Ming interviews, I had taken up Uncle Walter’s charge without being asked, collecting and writing the stories of a clan that was started by two illiterate Chinese who came here on false papers because, back home, people were eating the bark off the trees.”
This account of one American family, of the immigrant experience, and of the power of story, connects all of us to the great good fortune of living in this country. And of how much we owe those ancestors courageous enough to leave family, country, and culture behind to forge a new life in the New World and make possible the good fortune for those to follow. Carolyn may be surprised at the many memories she will evoke in telling this story. I, for one, recall standing at the memorial wall of a Hungarian synagogue and seeing my family’s name etched in the marble. How many of my family were lost to the Holocaust is beyond telling. But as I stood there gazing at the unexpected discovery of my family name engraved as a result of unspeakable tragedy, I tearfully realized that I owed my very existence to the bravery of one of that family, the grandfather courageous enough to abandon that country for this one, and make possible my life.
At heart, this book is the story of the immigrant experience, of fortitude, perseverance, and the triumph of the human spirit.
And at its very deepest heart it is the honoring of extraordinary parents by a devoted daughter. Carolyn has honored her parents, honored her family, honored her country.
And she has honored us with her story.
Sutter Creek, California
September 4, 2013