Friday, March 4, 2011

Moon Chee Eulogy - unabriged

What follows (excepting the last two paragraphs) is the eulogy written for my Uncle Bill. The point-of-view and tenses were changed for its recitation at the celebration and memoriam to his life and times.

He was born on October 23, 1914, the second son of a first generation Cantonese man and his picture bride. He died during Superbowl on February 6, 2011, his family about, enjoying the game and enough food to feed an army. He lived the intervening 96-years in quiet unpretentiousness that was the hallmark of the man we knew as Uncle Bill.

What’s in a name? Named Moon Chee by his paternal grandfather, I wonder what he saw in that new face. What hopes and promise were suffused into the single element that would travel with his grandson unchanged for life, his name - Moon Chee.

“The boys were named for the elements: earth, wind, fire, and water,” Aunty said. We failed to learn the Chinese characters of his name so its true meaning returns to Earth - with him.

As a young boy Moon Chee attended Royal Elementary School, not long after Royal Ele. was attended exclusively by the royals (Hawaiian Monarchy) themselves. Later he attended Central Intermediate School, then McKinley High School. During those years he adopted an English name: William. The world knew him as Bill Chun.

His father raised pigeons and at 14-years of age, Bill caught pigeon-fever. He raised and raced Racing Homers for his remaining 82-years. Racing Homers have been used to carry messages during times of war and in 1941, during WWII, soldiers from the military came and released his birds. And while they were homing pigeons, trained to return, only a few did so. Some time after that, Uncle Jerold took an interest in pigeon racing and Uncle Bill took him under his wing, so-to-speak.

In 1950 his birds raced from Upolu Point on the Big Island to Oahu. The birds were released one hour after sundown and race 140-miles to Oahu before the race-clock stopped and time expired, one hour before sunrise. Uncle Bill’s pigeon won.

Uncle Bill was a Lifetime member of the Honolulu Racing Pigeon Association who, even in his final week, continued to inspect the hatchlings or squabs of his loft.

We helped slaughter pigeons as kids. Uncle Bill cut them open and let us feel their innards, the sponginess of their lungs, the sliminess of their intestines, teaching us to identify their organs.

But that was not why we slaughtered pigeons. Why we slaughtered pigeons was the secret to keeping a winning pigeon loft.

“These pigeons are a day late getting home,” Uncle Bill said. “They got lost and went to some other coop. I don’t want them breeding with my good birds.” So we learned to dissect pigeons and eat teriyaki squab –which is a little chewy – if you don’t mind me saying.

Uncle Bill followed his father’s footsteps, yet again, into metallurgy and steel, first, at Libby's Cannery and then at Hickam AFB during the war. After the war he worked for Grome’s Steel Furniture and Oahu Plumbing & Sheet Metal. Eventually he returned to the Hickam Sheet Metal Workers and retired as a supervisor in 1973.

Newly retired at age 59, Uncle Bill learned to cook and drive, and care-take his mother. He was a compassionate, patient, and happy man, walking Popo (grandmother) up and down the hallway for exercise, moving her arms as he danced to her laughter, before her.

A novice cook, his fried chicken was super crispy– he used a blend of cornstarch and flour – a secret Colonel Sanders would be well advised to adopt. His combo oxtail, tendon, tripe, and beef stew was made in a gigantic pot that bubbled and boiled on the stove. The reduction was ladled over steaming bowls of rice. Even more ono (Hawaiian for delicious) the next day, leftovers were only to be enjoyed if family and dietary restraint prevailed. Uncle Bill’s hau-yau (oyster sauce with anise) pig’s feet was my personal favorite and a frequent request.

“Pig’s feet!” he’d yell when I arrived to smell to its ooey-gooey mud simmering on the stove.

Can you imagine learning to drive at age 59? That’s courageous! Remember his Valiant station wagon, white with blue interior? The gearshift was a series of push-buttons!

One day the cops pulled over brother Mace not one block from the house. The officer said, “This isn’t your car coz we know who this car belongs to and it’s not you!” A humble man, no one had to wrestle car keys from him. Uncle Bill quit driving when he deemed himself unsafe.

I remember choking down a foul, herbal brew Popo concocted on the stove when we were sick.

“Why do I have to drink this?”

“Because it’s GOOD for you!” Uncle Bill said with a wide grin, holding a cube of brown sugar as a reward when the brew was downed and bugs drowned.

“Because it’s GOOD for you!” was his signature phrase in our younger years.

Uncle Bill lived a clean life: no tobacco, no booze, no wild women that he would fess up to. His passions were pigeons and stocks. He learned investing with his older brother Joe at age twenty-one and quietly amassed a small fortune. He read the stock section in the daily news and watched the closing bell on TV every day. The millionaire next door, that was Uncle Bill.

He divested part of his investment portfolio some years ago, giving the maximum, non-taxable gift allowed to each of his 20-plus nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. His generosity was grand and memorable.

He was known for an acute memory. He could recollect with great accuracy the birthdays of his gargantuan family and corrected details during the retelling of family stories.

Hospitalized before his death he told his doctor, “If I’m going to die, I want to die at home in my own bed and with my family.” Hospice was called, hospital bed and oxygen delivered, and Moon Chee returned home to Pacific Heights Road, not a quarter-mile (as the pigeon flies) from the very site where he was birthed and named.

Word flew out electronically, (which is much faster than courier pigeon), “Call Uncle Bill, he wants to say goodbye.” And so we did.

“What is the purpose of my life?” he asked. “I never told anyone that I loved them. I love you,” he said. “I love you. Goodbye,” his voice cracked with emotion. “You were always one of my favorite family,” he said over and over, to each and every caller.

“I love you too Uncle Bill.”

“I had a miracle in the hospital.” He described being in his bed and suddenly, he was outside his body - watching. Family and nurses surrounded him. Someone said, “This service is for you.” They began to countdown, 4 – 3 – 2 – 1. The countdown stopped and he returned to his body and bed as abruptly as he’d left.

“God has planned my funeral,” he said. “He wants me to accept Christ as my Savior so he can bring me home.”

And so he did, welcoming Christ into his heart, singing Jesus Loves Me with his sisters. Pastor Don was summoned and Uncle Bill broke the bread of Eucharist just days before his Spirit took wing.

They filled the house with family and friends each night and lifted him into his chair, so he could partake in every way; dining in communion with loved ones, holding hands round the table for grace. Nearly everyone flew home to see him, either during the holidays or in his final weeks.

Cousin Kenny sent pictures to my iPhone of Uncle Bill, dressed in an Aloha shirt, sitting at the table eating breakfast: ice cream with papaya.

I want to eat ice cream with papaya, I texted.

When you are 96, you can eat anything you want, including pigs feet!

Ice cream with papaya. Almond cookies. Jamba juice. He ate whatever his little heart desired.

I called the following Sunday.

“Why am I still here?” he asked.

“To grace our lives with love.”

“Haaaa!” He laughed in his characteristic way.

“I wish you were here,” he said quietly.

“I wish I were there too.”

“When are you going to come clean my ears?” he asked.

“Hey, good thing I just cleaned em,” I poked at him, “Now you can hear all the phone calls you’re getting!”

“Haaaa!” He laughed again. “I’m just teasing you.”

“I love you Uncle Bill.” Tears coursed down my cheeks.

“I love you too. I'll be thinking of you,” he said with a lilt before his voice trailed off.

“... And I you,” I whispered.

Kenny sent a text: Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,

Love leaves a memory no one can steal.

He died the way most of us would want methinks, with his wits and family about him. His was given the gift of time and opportunity to express and receive love, and Christ, and life eternal. Not one to miss an opportunity, he let her rip.

Aloha Uncle Bill, malama pono, take care. Mahalo for your love and care, your attention and intention, your provisions for family. Well done. Bravo! May your journey elate and your faith expand in the miraculous, the infinite, the unfathomable, and glorious grace of God. God speed.

May time heal our hurt and never, NEVER pale who he was, how he lived, what he meant, …and how we loved.

They recorded the Stock Market’s closing bell and its clanging closed his memorial service. His friends released pigeons at the gravesite and Uncle Bill’s body joined our family in the Chinese graveyard on the slopes of Punchbowl.

Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.