Nona Mock Wyman was only 2 years old when she was abandoned at the Ming Quong orphanage in Los Gatos in 1935. One of her earliest memories is watching her mother walk out the door and never return. While she will never forget the pain of that loss, Wyman is a survivor. She first wrote about her childhood in the memoir "Chopstick Childhood (In a Land of Silver Spoons)." In her latest book "Bamboo Women," she shares stories of life in the famous orphanage for Chinese girls. She recently took time via email and phone to discuss the sisterhood she celebrates in her book and why she chose to name her eclectic Walnut Creek store after the orphanage. Now 79, the warm and witty Wyman will read from her new book on Tuesday at Berkeley Chinese Community Church, 2117 Acton St., (510-548-5259; http://bccc-ucc.org).
Q What made you a writer?
A I love to read, and when I was a young child in Los Gatos, my favorite book was "Heidi," about an orphan. I read this book every week when it was our class's turn to go to the school library. But after the book became frayed, they discarded it, and I felt this deep sadness. I wondered back then, how could they throw away this meaningful book? But eventually, I discovered Jack London's book "White Fang" and read all his books on animals surviving in the wilderness.
At the home, I read all the Nancy Drew series. Loved them. As a teenager, I wrote daily in my diary. With the encouragement of my late husband, I began my first book, "Chopstick Childhood" about living at Ming Quong in Los Gatos. That book was discovered by the new curator for the Los Gatos History Museum, which prompted a six-month exhibit about the home in February. That was very exciting. Many Ming Quong women and their families attended.
Q What is your earliest memory?
A My earliest memory is living with my mother in San Francisco's Chinatown. She was making breakfast while I was under the kitchen table playing house.
Q You were so young when you arrived at Ming Quong. How well do you remember coming to the orphanage?
A I vividly recall the day my mother left me at the orphanage, I was crying and screaming my head off! A scary experience in a big house with complete strangers. I was made to sit on a teacher's lap, the other Ming Quong teachers were looking at me and there was a group of little girls huddled behind them fearfully looking my way. After my mother walked out the front door, I let out the loudest cry of my life, "Mah-Mah." The children quickly gathered around me. One girl not much older than me, reached out for me. I saw tears in her eyes, and I was comforted. That's when I knew they cared, and we bonded.
Q What a sisterhood.
A Yes, I would say that was the power of sisterhood. A need that was met instantly with a caring heart -- she felt my pain; the loss of my best friend, my mother gone. This child and the others understood, and we were all so young! The days that followed: the older girls "mothered" me, held my hands, pushed me on the swings, etc.
Q When did you become such a survivor?
A I was 21/2 years old, and after months went by with no return of my mother, I finally faced the fact that she was gone. I would cry silently in bed. I never saw her again. I would say that's when I became a survivor.
Q Did you ever learn why she had to give you up?
A That's a mystery. All I know was what a teacher told me, that I came to the home because of some emergency.
Q What was it like growing up at Ming Quong?
A Growing up at Ming Quong with its strict regimen was fine with me, as I was well-behaved. I was told that I was cute, and being the youngest, I was fortunately well-liked by all. Ming Quong Home meant the world to me. I love the spiritual translation. Radiant Light. In the academic sense, it means, bright, brilliant or shiny. Without the home, what would have happened to me or hundred of other girls? I am ever grateful for the Ming Quong Home. Thus the name of my store.
Q What is your favorite thing about your store?
A When we first opened, the headlines were, "forget Berkeley, shop at Ming Quong!" We are known for esoteric gift items and creative clothing, one-of-a-kind things. When my customers find the perfect outfit or gift, it's very satisfying. ... We've been here 44 years, and in that time, I've met all kinds of wonderful, interesting people.