Mothers’ Day, Driving and Sound | #53 | May 2021
May was been great, hectic. Pentecost, the Judeo-Christian holiday some 5O days from Easter and Passover—this year from May 23, 2O2I—led to monumental shifts in what’s been up with me. So, while we’ve gone back into the Church’s Ordinal Time now, I’ll focus this time on that Easter chunk of May. Tales include my first adventures of licensed Vegas driving, followed by experiences on and before Mothers’ Day 2O2I.
Month of Feels
While in Reno on April’s second-to-last Friday (my last before Vegas), I discovered that Evan Call's original soundtrack to 《Violet Evergarden》 was on Spotify. This delighted me immensely because I’ve for years listened to people’s covers of the soundtrack. The originals hadn't been available.
Back during my last semester of interpersonal group therapy in spring 2OI8, a handful of peers had recommended I see 《Violet Evergarden》 for it helped them to better empathize with others. (I'd gone to counseling to better figure out how to communicate my Catholic feelings about grief.) I went back to China that summer for my second time. Then, during my first weekend after my college junior year classes had begun, I finally watched the Netflix series. That was nearly a year and a half since Mom died.
I loved how the show, through its characters, narrative, settings and score capture so many aspects of grief, displacement, inspiration and comfort. Now in 2O2I, I found that I could listen to its entire score. Tracks that particularly resonated this time with me were “Across the Violet Sky,” “Birth of a Legend” and “Another Sunny Day.” Music guides me to meditations. To my surprise, that last song's title resembles "Another Day of Sun”—another song I deeply enjoy. Mom had called me a ‘sunny’ boy.
To Vegas’ Roads
May 1, 2O2I had my first time driving to and beyond downtown Vegas. My family's house has been on the valley's north side.
My older brother and his girlfriend were the only others living at the house besides me. Since they had activities that Saturday, I'd for the first time drive the family’s ol’ Dodge Ram that accompanied us all the way from Indiana.
Dad had in his usual somewhat joking but actually serious way suggested that I could drive the pick-up around town. Dad had hardly used it, so over the years, strangers have placed offers to buy it. He wouldn’t sell. My using it would probably justify his keeping it, anyway.
While I see trucks more as gas-guzzlers, which don’t jive well with my environmentalist tendencies, I appreciated that Dad let me borrow it regardless. I don’t like driving vehicles that lend themselves to considerably negative environmental impacts. Still, a ride’s a ride.
That Saturday, I was to meet from the Southern Nevada National Peace Corps Association a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) and his family at the Las Vegas Wash Green-Up. Despite having lived in Vegas 2OO8–I5 and again in 2O2O, I marveled at having never heard of the Wash. That said, it’s quite a ways south.
In bygone days, my late ma would have driven me to service events similar to the Green-Up if I couldn’t carpool with Kiwanis Key Club friends. Well, I hadn't read that other RPCVs would from the north. So, I hoped driving in this case would least harm the environment.
Sights and Sounds Known
From the house for my day’s trip, I first looked up a Google Maps itinerary that could get me to a shopping plaza in the north and then down to the valley's southeast side. So, on my Surface, I plotted my route, copied the web address, messaged it to myself, found by our house's door the truck’s keys, came outside, unlocked the weighty vehicle, lugged open the driver’s door, clambered in and on my phone booted up the route.
I’ve driven different vehicles over past months and years, training with friends and family. So, I began my familiar routine of buckling up, adjusting the mirrors, making my seat comfortable. When driving alone, I also tap my phone’s Spotify app and start my “Recent Wonders” playlist or another.
The playlist reminds me a bit of my MP3 player habits when I was younger. I used to have to manually pick tracks from my computer’s library to download to my portable player. Since undergrad, though, I’ve had this Spotify playlist I shuffle for about the same purpose. My rotating set usually has between 15O and 25O songs. I prefer under about 18O. 《Violet Evergarden》 tracks comprise a good chunk of the newest.
Maps and playlist ready, I powered on the mighty truck and lurched it forward. As the high vehicle entered the street, I imagined Dad saying something annoying like, it’s a great vehicle for picking up chicks. Sure, it’s certainly spacious, but I prefer modest rides. If my vehicle were to make a statement, I’d rather it concern the planet not status. Still, I work with what we have.
Familiarly, I drove the streets I’d trained on three months earlier to secure my driver’s license. While the truck was the largest thing I’d driven here, roads’ rules were the same. I brought the truck to 24 miles per hour except when stop signs appeared. I piloted from the neighborhood to the main road, where I brought our speed to 33. Then I began north toward the shopping center along streets I’d walked with in middle school.
Arriving, I located the Bed, Bath & Beyond parking lot. Two of my former Residence Hall Association coworkers, including one whose FarmHouse fraternity brother I had become, would wed this May. So, I’d ordered an item from their gift registry to pick up. Afer sitting in Vegas heat, a woman brought me the gift. Success!
Across the Vegas Valley
Gift in possession, I powered back on the truck to begin my first road trip across the Vegas valley. I’d decided against taking freeways, since I figured proverbially that I’d better know how to walk before I run. Besides, Ma hadn’t liked highways. She’d traveled Vegas fine. So, I opted for major side streets.
I regretted avoiding freeways. Perhaps a dozen signal lights in, I realized that much of the trip felt more “stop” than “go.” I sorely underestimated how few roads let me bring the speed up to 44 mph. 35 zones seemed far more the norm.
Yet, I found the southbound view of Boulder Highway breathtaking. I hadn’t foreseen this urban desert’s beauty. The long road showcased the valley flora's summer embrace. I recalled a similar ride 'round Reno with a close college friend before we’d graduated. While I still resolved today to try the freeway back, my journey felt worthwhile.
Environmentalism For Earth Day
As I steered left off the highway nearing the Vegas Wash, its immensity awed me. I slowed the truck as I neared the parking area. With luck, I backed the truck into a spacious place near trees.
I donned the white Panamá-looking hat from my Mongol host family, hopped out and walked to tents where volunteers looked ready to sign folks in. I picked up and put on branded swag like blue planting gloves, a black face mask and a clear clip-on hand sanitizer. I then followed a dirt trail along the Wash. I was wearing too my ol' hiking shoes Mom had bought me mid-way through my college freshman year. To my surprise, the still fit!
I emerged soon where folks were taking potted shrubberies to flag-marked holes. There my RPCV friend found me. This was our first in person meet-up, so I felt surprised how easily he recognized me. He introduced me to his Kyrgyz wife and one of their kids who’d come to serve too. My friend's daughter was sick at home, but this was his son. We chatted a bit about fermented mare's milk, a drink common to both Kyrgyz and Mongols!
I asked him about the service project. He shared how these projects happen here annually. The flowers and shrubs we'd plant would help filter the Wash. I remembered my Key Club and CKI days and felt amazed that our clubs hadn’t participated. Still, as an RPCV, I found that my love of service remained. I carried plants back and forth, burying them throughout the grid.
After we concluded planting, we returned to check-in. Jimmy John’s to-go boxes awaited us volunteers. I walked with my friend to his vehicle, and we wished each other well. I strolled back to the Wash.
A roadrunner stood on a short cement wall by the water. Then it hopped off and disappeared. So, I hopped up, sat down and removed my visor, face mask and gloves. I like nature. I enjoyed the Wash, my chips and a sandwich.
I felt both stronger and vulnerable. When I finished here, no one would come get me. I got to choose when and how I'd head home. So, mistakes were on me, too.
I didn’t like heat much. I finished my food, saved the cookie and walked back to the truck. Heading back before I tired would keep me safer for my hour-long journey home.
“What If I?”
As I drove back toward Boulder Highway, a new thought came: What if I turned left instead of right?
I could visit Mom's grave. She was buried in the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery half an hour south. Dad hadn’t replied whether we’d visit it the Saturday after, being the fourth anniversary of Mom’s passing. I felt a twinge to go now.
But my phone had already lost half its battery. I’d had it on the hour-long drive to reach here. I wanted to still have Maps to help me navigate, as I would soon take on my first valley-wide freeways.
When two desert roads diverged, I took the one I’d traveled by.
Then freeway traffic sucked. But I think I still made better time. There was the difference.
Vegas and Mothers' Day
The next day, which was the Sunday before Mothers’ Day 2O2I, I took back up the task of sorting Mom’s former belongings. My pa had wanted me to organize the room where he’d been letting me stay in the Vegas house, too. Part of organizing that room meant I’d need to move out my mother’s clothes that siblings and I saved. Last spring’s garage clean-up led me to know that we had both plenty of space and large containers. While I worked, I listened to 《Violet Evergarden》 tracks.
Sight and Touch
On one of my sister Becky's visits, she and I ventured into Mom's closet to box and bag Mom's clothes to send to our stepmother’s family in the Philippines or donate. Working with Tita later, I'd identified some to keep. I hung those in the closet of the Vegas room where I was staying.
We'd kept clothes that were either extremely familiar, like her lavender and mauve ones, or rather unique, like suits and Chinese attire. Many of these clothes, I hadn't known Mom had. Not until after her death had I seen these dresses and sweaters. I wondered when she’d last worn them, in what stages of life. She must have liked them enough to have kept them all these years.
In my room, I unhooked Mom’s clothes from the closet and laid them in a large grey plastic bin with a green lid. Its shape reminded me of a coffin, though this was smaller, more rectangular and less imposing. I tried pushing away the coffin thought.
I laid in Mom’s clothes by Marie Kondo’s method, according to thickness. Thus, “最后的，最厚的” /zuìhòu de, zuì hòu de/, the furthest back, the thickest. I placed Mom's Chinese traditional clothes closest to the surface. I supposed that if any of us sought her clothes, perhaps we’d want to see those first.
I was placing the last of Mom's clothes, white and green silk, when I stopped suddenly.
Patterning looked familiar. I turned back to the closet, to its right half where I kept my clothes. I found my Chinese-style shirt I'd purchased in 北京 Běijīng 2OI7. I took my black and red shirt and laid it beside Mom's Chinese clothing.
The patterns similarly repeated stitched dragons and fish on shimmering silk.
Perhaps these were common patterns. But the coincidence felt uncanny. In China after Mom died, I’d made my purchase for thinking the shirt I found looked cool. Now I wondered, had Mom influenced what drew me to choose mine? For had she been there in person, perhaps she'd have recommended the same.
I exhaled a shaky breath. The shirt I'd bought resembled ones I didn't know my mom wore and kept.
“Across the Violet Sky” was playing—an emotional sound.
Mom was with me perhaps.
Sandals, Years Later
On the Thursday that preceded my drive to Saturday’s service event, I needed to get shopping done.
Older Brother wasn’t busy, so he drove me to the North 5th plaza our family had frequented when we were in junior high and high school. Pops now wanted me to replace my plaid slippers, and I’d also noticed my black sandals getting slick on smooth floors. If I went back to Mongolia, I’d need better wear. Ross tended to be my first choice.
Entering with Brother, I recalled that spring 2OI7 trip when Mom took me to this very store before I left for China. Back then, luggage, shoes and sandals were along the right wall. Now they were along the left. We hadn’t needed to sanitize our hands back then, either. But it’s good practice.
A new thought struck me as I tried on sandals. I’d come to replace the very pair that Mom had bought me in this very store. They’d lasted me all these years, back and forth to China and Asia.
Earlier that week, on the Tuesday when I’d leave Reno, I felt amused. I was telling my pastor after we taped the Proclamation how I’d fly to Vegas that night. He mused how they’d need to find someone to fill my sandals.
I prefer sandals to shoes when the weather’s nice. “They’re comfy and easy to wear.” As an inside joke, because our Proclamation recordings don’t tend to show our feet or much below our waists, viewers don’t tend to see whether we’re totally dressed for Sunday Mass. When permissible, I even prefer walking barefoot!
Anyway, I realized on this seemingly mundane Ross trip to find slippers (which I ultimately ordered online) that I’d returned to the same place to replace sandals Mom got me for my first overseas trip.
Having had a long day, I spent some time that evening while finishing my April 2O2I blog story browsing the web. A particular article caught my eye noting how people can visit dozens of real places from the film, “La La Land.” I felt surprised to think that people can actually swing by the film’s iconic locales. I loved that movie.
The day after sorting Mom’s clothes, Monday, my sister Becky messaged me if I or our siblings would come to L.A. for her graduation. It’d be the next Saturday, May 15. I didn’t conflict with any other graduation events that I’d sought to attend. So, I offered to fly in to visit.
Writing of L.A., I also remembered a friend to whom I’d been talking had said she was living there. The evening of after I stowed Mom's clothes, we’d reconnected for the first time in months. In fact, we'd be chatting over video later that night. I let my friend know that I’d be in the city and asked if she recommended places to see.
My friend suggested Hollywood.
Then I remembered—that “LA LA LAND” ARTICLE!
I also realized in that moment that the film's title contains “L.A.” three times. I doubt that that was a coincidence.
Anyway, I felt super stoked for the trip. Not only could I see my sister and my friend—I could see where filmmakers taped my all-time favorite film.
Knowing I'd be off to L.A. made receiving my second Pfizer dose against COVID-I9 more exciting. Two days after making arrangements with my sister came Wednesday, Cinco de Mayo. I’d scheduled from Reno to get my last dose in Vegas.
Brother was busy, so I drove again the pick-up. My appointment at one of the College of Southern Nevada campuses. While my pastor had taken me to my Reno appointment, I was on my own today.
Campus didn’t have many signs to indicate where to go. I asked a woman behind a desk, and she told me which way to head outside to find the site. Sprinting to make up lost time, I arrived and showed my verification. All went smoothly, though the National Guard vaccinating me asked where I’d gotten my vaccination card. Turns out that Washoe and Clark had different-looking ones.
I proceeded to a waiting area after. The Guard didn’t say to wait before I left, but I remembered Reno. I took a selfie and posted it to my Story: “Let’s get vaccinated!”
I heard a pop song and thought it sounded nice. I looked it up and felt surprised to learn it was Justin Bieber’s “Holy.” I used to despise the guy’s songs. But, this one made up for it. I like to let go of negativity.
That Saturday, May 8, 202I came the fourth anniversary of my mother’s passing. Dad had come back to town and indeed agreed with my hope for us to visit Mom’s grave. The trip would also be our first May visit with my stepmom, who borrowed my ol' Key Club fire visor. She’d joined our trip last August as well, for Mom’s birthday, I think.
Getting into Boulder City, we visited first the 99¢ Only Store—Dad’s tradition here.
Dad dropped off Tita and me at the entrance while he went to park. Tita asked whether to get fake flowers again or real ones, so I suggested real. I feel like fake flowers at gravesites seem weird.
Afterward, Tita requested that I pick out graduation cards for my sister Becky, our other sister’s boyfriend and my older brother’s girlfriend. It was at that time I realized that many folks I knew had graduation ceremonies this spring.
Once we got what we needed and Dad did his browsing across the store, we at last made our way to the cemetery. I found first the gravestone of our family friend, Tom Wood. His was on the edge of a row, making his easy to spot. Grasses had started to cover many of the words.
Ants crowded around his stone, so I didn’t stay long. I’d been trying my new sandals and wanted to avoid getting bitten. My recent binging of Kurzgesagt videos led me to know that ants can be intense. Still, beside Papa and Tita, I said my prayers in thanks to God and our friend who’d helped introduce my siblings and me to making the most of our educations in Vegas.
Then I walked over to Mom’s grave. Hers was nearby, across the road. Dad’s friend and my mom both perished on the same day, May 8, 2OI7.
Mom’s grave isn’t hard to find walking from between a tree and a bench by a trash can then down a few rows. From the ground, I popped out a metal cylinder and filled it at nearby faucet. Tita and I would then set into it some of the purple and white flowers she’d purchased for both graves.
In times like these, I tend to want to talk, but Dad looked quieter than usual. So, I let him have his peace. I wish he’d open up more. I guess that from his patriarchal generation or military service, fathers didn’t believe that sons needed to know their feelings.
Meanwhile, maybe the summer-like lush trees here contrasted Reno’s spring. Or perhaps my thoughts of “La La Land” reminded me of what was on my mind when we first visited this Boulder graveyard. Regardless, I felt transported back to 2OI7.
After personal little prayers, I and Dad recounted to Tita how the area looked back then—how we’d buried Mom in a dirt space at what was the section's edge. But now there are more grasses and grave markers for rows from 2OI8, 2OI9, 2O2O and 2O2I.
We noticed a youngish adult woman who seemed a bit frazzled. She held numerous colorful objects including large flowers, searching for something. Tita and I asked her, and she said she was looking for her parents, who’d passed away in 2OI7 and 2OI9. Tita, Dad and I helped her look. We scanned the ground beyond my mother. We found the parents. I felt glad.
The next morning was Mothers’ Day. Since the holiday falls on May's second Sunday, Mothers' Day most always follows Mom's death day.
This year would be my first time celebrating Mothers' Day with my stepmom. We and her daughters convened at a Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, which served meals in large portions. It was Tita’s baby grandson’s first time in crowded public, too! I enjoyed watching the way that baby Luke stared with wide eyes at us. White noise didn't faze him.
That day I’d I wrapped the Bed, Bath & Beyond gift that I’d bought for my friends to wed later in May. Pops, Tita and I readied anything else we’d need for the road trip back to Reno. Then began our journey again.
Into Graduations and May’s End
Friday, May 14 would celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass of lovely student coordinators and friends from my undergrad. The next morning, Saturday, May 15, I’d fly with my youngest siblings to L.A. for our sister Becky’s graduation. Then I’d stay behind an extra day for my friend and “La La Land” adventures.
That Wednesday would mark the 2Ist birthday of my youngest sister, Vana, as well as the day when I’d be fully inoculated, May 19! That Saturday my L.A. sister would then drive through Reno, where we’d sing karaoke.
Pentecost would follow on the Sunday after, May 23. Then would be May 3O and the trip with fraternity brothers to California for the long-awaited wedding of my undergrad coworkers—one of whom was also our fraternity brother. Weddings of peers feel so special.
I’ll probably have a second blog story themed around May 2O2I, given its abundance of activities. This summer I’m delighted mid-June to visit the Bay Area and a childhood friend I haven’t seen in a decade. Then at June’s end, after supporting virtual Boys’ State, I'll journey to Seattle to see Becky before my 24th birthday.
I still hope to return abroad this fall, but January 2O22 seems more likely now. Regardless, I’m doing my best to be ready when my time comes. I’ve enjoyed my year back in America. I hope that wherever I go next, I’ll remember with gratitude this life.
You can read more from me here at DanielLang.me :)