Newsletter | May/Jun 2022

What Inspires Me

by Betty Woo

What inspires me? A seemingly simple question because creative inspiration comes from everywhere. I discover a novel taste combination and create a new dish. An interesting rock formation results in a new vignette in my garden. But one inspiration has affected the trajectory of my life.

Dorothy Louie Lee was the mother of eleven children of which I was number nine. Mama worked incredibly hard caring for her children and extended family, all the while working at the businesses that she and my dad serially owned; a hotel, grocery store, restaurants, a liquor store and later, her own home-based seamstress business.

In those days, there were no strict Building Codes so whatever Mama dreamed up, she simply went ahead and did. As a new baby arrived every couple of years, she hammered out more bunkbeds. When there was no room for more bunkbeds, she bought lumber and had some transients help her erect a large room addition to the back of the house. My aunt Mae recalled lying in bed, able to see sunlight through the wall boards. My mom was no architect, but she was fearless. The room was not much more than a shack. For heating the house, she dug a basement for a gas heater with a grate on the main floor. (My sister Judy had burn scars on her leg for years, after falling on the grate.) It was a good thing we had a big yard, because Mama continued to add on various rooms over the years.

Later, we moved from Tracy to a large elegant Spanish style mansion in Stockton. My mother continued making alterations to the big house, removing the butler’s pantry and making the kitchen more usable among other things. When I asked why a change, she would explain the reason. I sometimes credit that house as one of the reasons I became interested in architecture.

Mama was a true artist, an amateur photographer (I still have her darkroom equipment), gourmet cook, landscape and floral designer and a fashion designer. She created entire trousseaus and fashions for clients. (She designed, embroidered and beaded my sister’s wedding gown ensemble.)

She taught me that nothing is impossible and that when you know that you have to, you can do anything.

View this page in your browser