"The Ma kids are at home studying
right now why aren't you?!"

A Most Difficult Woman

by Douglas Fong

In school, we learned about different forms of government: monarchies, democracies, checks and balances, parliamentary systems, bicameral and unicameral legislatures, etc. But when we got home from school, we experienced only one form of government - RUBY FONG. She conducted the needs assessments, she controlled the opinion polls, and she made the decisions. Period. Not the school's way, not anyone else's way, but her way. For example, she would always yell at us to "PRACTICE!!!" A simple word.

Yet, her demeanor and inflection when she barked this command meant volumes: music is good for you, you need to learn an instrument, you will play a string instrument because string players get into less mischief than band kids, practicing will help you develop discipline, and you definitely need discipline, the Ma kids are at home practicing right now, if you don't practice you won't get to eat, you won't get to play, you'll end up in jail someday and I'll keep yelling at you until you do, and someday you'll thank me for all of this! "STUDY!!!" Another simple word, but coming from her mouth it meant: you're not working hard enough in school, you need to get good grades, you need discipline, the Ma kids are at home studying right now why aren't you, you need to go to college so you can get a good job afterwards, if you don't study you won't get to eat, you won't get to play, you'll end up in jail someday, and I'll keep yelling at you until you do, and someday you'll thank me for all of this! "TAKEOUTTHEGARBAGE!!!" (One word, one syllable.) This meant take out the garbage...or die!

Of course, the results were often stunning. For instance, in 7th grade, I scored average on the math placement test and was placed in the average math class. I was happy with this, but the mother was furious. She stormed down to the Sam Brannan Jr. High School office and insisted that they place me in Mr. Raber's advanced math class. To my immense embarrassment, the school buckled under her pressure, and I was switched to advanced math. Surprisingly, I did very well. We also had a fierce argument because she force me to take German in junior high school when I wanted to learn Spanish. Who would have guessed that 9 years later I would be studying German at the Goethe Institute in Munich while attending 2 to 3 classical music concerts each week and touring the German countryside on weekends?

She also insisted that I audition for the Congress of Strings Music Program. I was awarded the 8 week music scholarship because no one else showed up to audition, and the program opened my eyes to a whole new world of orchestral and chamber music, profoundly changing my life. When I joined the Peace Corps in 1978, she mischievously packed in my luggage a book on "How to Score Well on the LSAT." I rolled my eyes when I found it, but, well, practicing law for the past 14 years has been one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences of my life.

Without question our mother was the "most difficult woman" in our lives. In the "King and I," Mrs. Anna eventually got her house from the King of Siam. Our mother would have gotten her house on the first day and also have the King of Siam personally taking out her garbage. However, "her way" has kept us out of jail and immeasurably enriched our lives. And while it is only my stubbornness that prevents me from saying thank you or admitting that she was right, I consider it an honor to take out her garbage.