My mother Unchalee Geyer was born in Thonburi, Thailand, just across the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok. Thonburi became a part of the city of Bangkok in 1972. My mother was the sixth of seven daughters born to Sae Lim Iew-Jua and Malee Kasaranukork. Her parents also adopted two sons. My mother identifies herself as Thai, but my grandparents are Thai Chinese, or Chinese immigrants to Thailand. As is common among the Thai Chinese, my grandparents adopted new Thai surnames, so my mother’s family’s surname was chosen by my grandfather to be Umarintarapirom, while Malee’s parents Sae Lau Hui-Kak and Sae Khow Pow-Khim chose the surname Kasaranukork for my grandmother’s family. My grandfather, the son of Sae Lim Chui-Pou and Sil-Houng, passed away when I was a child.
Iew-Jua and Malee had a lingerie shop in Bangkok. On the first floor was the shop, living room and kitchen. The living room was open to the shop and the family would sit, watching television, tagging the clothing, and eating, if there were no customers to help. The second floor held the sewing machines and two bedrooms, one for the parents, the other for the kids, where they slept haphazardly on mattresses spread on the floor. The family was a successful upper-middle class family that valued education and sent several daughters, including my mother, to college.
Left to right on couches: Orachon's husband Eirak, my uncle Sung, my grandma Malee, my mom Unchalee, my aunt Orachon, my aunt Porntip, and my aunt Chitra
On floor: Orachon and Eirak's children (my cousins) Opp and Titiporn
After earning the equivalent of an Associate degree in Bookkeeping, my mother went to work on a U.S. Army base in Bangkok. It was here that she met my father, Harlan Geyer, Jr. My father was an auditor for the Department of Defense Inspector General’s Office, and my mother was assigned to help him with the investigation of the base’s finances.
They began dating, chaperoned by the entire family. My father would take my mother to the movies where she’d sit on one side of a row and he’d sit on the other, with her family taking all the seats in between. After six months of this, her family decided they should marry, which they did on June 10, 1974. She moved to California with my father, her family gave her a plane ticket as her going away present, just in case she didn’t like America, and she soon found herself pregnant with me.
Throughout my childhood, I thought I had nothing in common with my mother. We fought much of the time and I don’t think either of us understood where the other was coming from. As I get older, I realize my mother and I actually have quite a lot in common. We both fell in love with foreigners and moved to new countries for love. I know how hard my adjustment to Germany was, which is still a Western country, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to move away from a very large, close knit family in Thailand to the United States. I can imagine that it was a very difficult transition for her. Now that I am pregnant, I also know that I could not have handled pregnancy and the transition at the same time. It must have been a challenge for her.
My mother has always supported my move to Germany (how could she not when she did the same thing, right?). I worry that I will end up having the same fights with my children that I had with my mother. When my 15 year old son comes home drunk, will I say things like, “Kids in America aren’t allowed to do that!” and will my son respond, “This isn’t America, mom! Duh!”? I imagine I will come to understand her more and more the longer I live, and especially now as I’m entering motherhood myself.
So, to a very special mom that I appreciate more and more with each passing day, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!