She doodles. It’s not my first memory of Grace, but it’s the second thing I noticed about her the second time we met, after I couldn’t stare at her beautiful face anymore. We shared an English class at Tufts University. Asian American Literature fitted well with my English major and it met her cultural needs as a dual major in art history and chemistry. Even then she used the full capacity of her inquisitive brain.
Two years before I looked at her sketches on her yellow legal pad, I was stunned by her radiant, pretty face, relegated to a chemistry lab storeroom. It was my freshman chemistry lab. The guys in my lab group would often linger in the storeroom, trying not to stare too hard while they checked out Grace’s equipment: beakers, test tubes, flasks, etc. We handed in our school ID and she gave us the chemistry supplies. Somehow my bottle or mug broke so regularly that I was forced to return to Grace for a replacement. Eighteen years didn’t make me a man brave enough to ask her name, let alone murmur a confused hello.
Miraculously, I got a second chance. Two years later, in that English class, I gave Grace sideways looks as often as I could. A month or two later I had a brilliant idea. I forgot my book, mustered up all my courage and then flopped down in the chair next to her and begged her to share her book. Her smiling yes made me sweat even more. From that day on, I watched her doodle on her notepad. On this yellow legal pad, I jot down the words to invite her to my sorority. From that day on I think we spent 13 months seeing each other every day.
She loved art ever since she could put crayons to paper. However, Grace’s mind also has a scientific side, which also envisioned her becoming a doctor in fifth grade. Although I majored in English and she dual majored in Art History/Chemistry, we both happened to be medical students. Two years later, in the classrooms of New York Medical College, she was drawing scientific notes while I slumped beside her, my eyes fixed on the monotonous voices of our professors.
For the next seven years we studied like never before. Friday night was our only date night where we ate cheap ramen noodles with the revolving laundromats for our entertainment. When you’re in love, even the laundry was something very special. Then we got pregnant.
If you are as lucky as I am to find your soulmate, that love is intense. Having a child introduces you to unconditional messy joyful love. We have been blessed with this experience four times in our marriage.
After completing our postdoctoral training outside of Boston. It was time to find a doctor’s office to hook into. In Boston you throw a rock and you could meet a doctor. Grace and I wanted to practice family medicine to the fullest: childbirth, pediatrics, women’s health, adult medicine, and geriatrics. Care from womb to grave. We hoped for a place where they needed doctors and a place we would call home. In Clinton, North Carolina, we discovered this gem of a practice – the Clinton Medical Clinic. This small town practice has had five North Carolina Family Doctors of the Year and past presidents of the NC Academy of Family Medicine. No other practice in North Carolina could boast of it. They hired us and then made us part of their family. It was the family who supported her decision to take a break from practicing medicine in 2003.
She stayed at home to do the most important work of raising our children and to share her love of art as their teacher outside of school. Often exhausted, she still scribbled. Doodles soon turned to a more prolific art. On January 6, 2012, she launched her business: Ho Yang Fine Art. Officially retiring her from medicine. A curious mind, she continued her art studies and earned her Masters of Art Education from the University of Florida in December 2014.
Sometimes over coffee or on a long drive to a soccer game, she would think about one day opening her own art gallery somewhere. This vision appeared in her sketchbook in 2014. She thought of a bigger city like Raleigh. In early 2019, a tiny for sale sign in a run-down window next to Gracie’s Grill whispered a new vision. The store was a throwback to a green, orange and brown era with laminated wood paneling on the walls and a deteriorating false ceiling. There was only one dimly lit floor 20 feet by 100 feet. Her eyes began to paint a pattern. Gone are green, orange and brown. The roof disappeared. A second floor grew on it. Skylights brought nature’s rays down.
Then she sketches the Ho Yang Fine Art Gallery on paper. Architect David Maurer and his team turned their drawings into a blueprint for construction company HN Carr. Under green and orange we found asbestos. Delay. covid. Delay. Weather. Delay. Two years later, with tremendous support from our oldest close family and friends from near and far, our gallery opened to the public.
Through the lens of my eyes, I continued to fall in love with this creative, wondrous person every day, week, month, and year. Over 32 years, I learned about her early years growing up on food stamps and living in government-subsidized housing. My heart admired her for paying her own way through college and borrowing money to get through medical school. Same heart as mine was pounding when we signed the construction loan to fund our new space from an ink sketch to reality.
Grace’s life was not a fairy tale. Far from it. She didn’t need a prince charming to save her. Just her hard working, curious, creative mind that could see potential where others didn’t. My eyes followed her vision to the completion of a remarkable art gallery and space we call home. Now I have a desk next to hers to watch the continuation of her passionate work in one of the most beautiful cities one could ever live in. We continue a shared vision that began with family medicine to heal and serve our community, all ages from womb to grave, all are welcome.
Ho Yang Fine Art is located at 121 Vance St., Clinton, NC 28328. It is open Tuesdays from 10am to 7pm, Thursdays from 4pm to 8pm, and by appointment. The gallery can be contacted at 1-910-212-6414.