Patty Luzzi | A day to gather together

The old Mervyn’s building near Alderwood Mall has been transformed into something called “H Mart.” Lenny and I were curious, so we ventured inside. We found ourselves wandering through an Asian supermarket surrounded by a large food court with Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese vendors.

There was a noodle house as well as a sushi belt, and one place that sold tofu in all its variations. I decided to try a Vietnamese “salad” containing vermicelli noodles, prawns, grilled pork, bamboo sprouts, and cucumber. It was like Pho without the soup. We sat long enough to make a list of other dishes to try on our next visit.

I was a little self-conscious about my chopstick skills as I pulled them from the paper wrapper. But then I remembered that I was taught by the best: my high school friend Joyce Chinn.

We had lunch together almost every day during our senior year. Each day I would buy lemonade with crushed ice in a waxy cup. I don’t know how it started, but Joyce showed me how to pick up the slippery ice bits using two round straws like chopsticks. I practiced every day.

There was an undercurrent of sadness emanating from the kind and soft-spoken Joyce. Her mother was gone, and her only sister was away at college, so she lived alone with her father. Her life and mine could not have been more different, but we were friends through high school.

Joyce had no relatives in town, although there had been quite a few Americans of Chinese descent in Butte since the early 1900s. They had come, like so many other immigrants, for the endless opportunities available in the wild mining city.

My grandfather on my mom’s side, Walter Kelley, owned a hardware and furniture store on Park Street. He enjoyed helping the young Chinese families, and made sure they had furniture for their homes. My mother told me that among the Chinese of her generation, several men carried the American name Walter because of the generosity of her father.

Joyce joined us one St. Patrick’s Day for dinner. She laughed out loud when my mother dubbed her “O’Chinn” for the occasion. Mom sensed that my lonesome friend needed to be part of a family, and what better day than the feast day of St. Patrick the missionary evangelist of Ireland?

We always had fun on St. Patrick’s Day, to be sure, but it’s not just about leprechauns or green beer. It was a day of gathering together, and a day to remember. No doubt I’ll raise a glass to all my Irish ancestors next week. But perhaps this is also a good time to try to find my friend O’Chinn.

Patty Luzzi has lived on the Eastside for 31 years. Readers can contact her at