Mr. Wu was talking on the phone when I arrived to pick up my Wu boxes last night. He was speaking in Chinese, but it was not in the style that he uses when exhorting his staff members.
His voice was very gentle and he sounded very happy. He looked relaxed and it seemed almost as if he was in another world. I asked Kuon who Mr. Wu was talking to, and she answered that it was Mr. Wu’s mother.
Mr. Wu is a good son, and he stays in touch with his mom. In fact, one day we even programmed my phone to tell us the weather in his hometown so that we could see at a glance if it was a sunny or cloudy day for his mom back in Tainen City, Taiwan. (Right now it is 79 degrees and raining.)
Mr. Wu walked closer to the register to tell me he was talking to his mom—and I asked if I might say hello to her. Mr. Wu offered his mom a quick introduction to me, or at least I supposed that was what he was saying, and then handed the phone to me.
“Hello Mama Wu!”, were the words that came tumbling out of my mouth. It was as if I’d gotten on an elevator with a famous person. What do you say? There they suddenly and unexpectedly are, and while one might have a thousand questions, even small talk seems a tall order. Once I stepped into an elevator at the Four Seasons in San Francisco only to discover that Sean Connery and his wife would be my traveling companions for several floors. Contrary to the skits you see on Saturday Night Live that mock him as a pompous fellow, he and his wife were as friendly and easy going as they could be.
And so I told MaMa Wu hello and that I hoped her day had been a good one and that we all loved and respected her son. She had a beautiful voice–and a wonderful laugh–which I heard immediately when she heard me call her MaMa Wu.
Mr. Wu was trying to tell me she could not understand what I was saying, shaking his head and pantomiming her holding the phone, but I already knew that. It didn’t matter. She understood someone wanted to talk to her because she was the mother of her son, and I heard and understood her warm laughter.
This is what I so appreciate about conversation. It has its own melody. The lilt, the cadence, the phrases all combine into a beautiful song. Eudora Welty has written of playing on the porch while her mother and her mother’s friends visited and told stories. It’s a memory of mine as well, and it may be that is the reason that the sound of a conversation is so comforting to me.
When I was growing up, platitudes were part of my daily diet–and I am grateful that I had plenty of them to say grace over as they have certainly shaped many of my attitudes for the better. “It’s not what you say, but how you say it,” was frequently said with firmness. And it’s so true.
My bossboss (the dad of my boss) has one of the most melodious voices on the planet…and when he revs it up into charming gear, it is like listening to Mozart. I’ve discussed this with other people, and we are all appreciative of his awesome “talk”! It must be something of a natural talent–I wonder if his parents spoke in the same manner. It is telling that his assistant has an absolutely stunningly beautiful manner of speech–soft and warm and rather low, like a flute in its low register, with a slight and very appealing southern drawl. Mrs. Bossboss also has a pretty and soothing voice. I guess I am lucky to have a job, considering mine is more jazz than classical.
If there was a voice that I could practice and emulate in Eliza Dolittle fashion, it would be beautiful Kim’s. But alas it will never be. My voice is more like that of a jazz clarinet–all over the place, enthusiastic in its pitch, and subject to many errant tones and timbres. Never-the-less, one of the mile markers I hope to see along the Wu Tao is a more modulated and lovely voice like Kim’s.
I am thrilled I had a chance to tell MaMa Wu hello and to hear her laugh. What we said didn’t matter. It was the song of our words that was important.
The Delphonics sang it best:
The things I am saying are true/And the way I explain them to you
Listen to me:
La La La La La La La La La La means I love you.