Some days Lu Yi ducks away from the front counter at China Town to dab at the tears leaking from her eyes.
“I try not to be emotional,” she said. “I have to show my big smile for my customers.”
For 24 years in Park County, the last eight in Cody and the first 16 in Powell, Yi has done just that.
This lengthy run is in the home stretch, however. May 31 is the last day Lu and husband John will be in charge of the downtown restaurant before turning it over to John’s nephew.
Soon after, combining sagging hearts with a spirit of adventure, they and daughter Holly will depart for a new home in Irvine, Calif.
People define home as where family is, where the heart is or where a job is. When Lu and John think of Cody, all of those things ring true, yet they are breaking the bonds.
Lu and John grew up in China. They have been in the United States for 28 years. They met in Kentucky. While Lu, 51, says she could greet diners forever, John, 54, the cook, is weary of his seven-days-a-week, 14-hours-a-day schedule at their low-cost, all-you-can-eat operation.
“Sunrise to sunset,” John said.
He laments missing so many of Holly’s activities and now that she is poised to enter high school, he wants to share more of those moments. Both will seek regular, 9-to-5 weekday jobs.
Why Irvine, which is in Southern California, not far from Los Angeles? Well, they won’t have to shovel snow and will be able to sample big-city entertainment.
“We feel we want to see the bigger world,” Lu said.
Only a few people close to Lu and John know they nearly left a year ago to settle in Las Vegas, their popular getaway locale over the years. Then they checked and didn’t like the analysis of schools there for Holly, so they switched.
Since word got out they are really leaving this time, sometime in June, there has been an outpouring of sentiment. Sometimes, Lu said, when they finish eating, people leave little notes reading “We will miss you” and things like that.
“It melts my heart,” Lu said.
In her slightly accented English, Lu refers to the community as “the society.”
“I feel so much love for this society,” she said. “The society has done so much for us. They show we are loved.”
Another reason to give up China Town now, Lu said, was the death of her sister last year.
“It really pushed us,” she said. “We said, ‘We need a life.’”
Holly is not too thrilled about departing Cody, leaving friends and the familiar behind.
“She’s pretty sad,” John said.
So are Lu and John.
“I am excited and scared both,” John said. “We want the adventure.”
They visit China every two or three years – their original home. Irvine is an experimental home.
After Holly graduates, John and Lu say they may well move to Las Vegas. Or possibly even back to Cody.
Wherever they go, Lu said, “We’ll say we’re from Cody, Wyoming.”