the quality of having great facility and competence
The quotation marks are Kingston's way of showing that the two misspellings are the school's and not hers. By highlighting the school's mistakes on an official document, Kingston seems to be questioning the proficiency that a student, such as her mother, could acquire from that school. This theme is shown throughout the book, as Kingston shows both respect for and disagreement with her mother's knowledge, strength, and methods.
The largest says that in the twenty-third year of the National Republic, the To Keung School of Midwifery, where she has had two years of instruction and Hospital Practice, awards its Diploma to my mother, who has shown through oral and written examination her Proficiency in Midwifery, Pediatrics, Gynecology, “Medecine,” “Surgary,” Therapeutics, Ophthalmology, Bacteriology, Dermatology, Nursing, and Bandage.
derive or receive pleasure from; get enjoyment from; take pleasure in
The words "relish" and "orgy" in the same sentence suggest a sexual wildness, which Kingston had hinted at when she was writing about an unknown aunt, but here she is talking about her mother and ghost stories. Kingston's choice of words could connect to her own timid nature that would not relish being scared.
She became sharply herself—bone, wire, antenna—but she was not afraid. She had been pared down like this before, when she had travelled up the mountains into rare snow—alone in white not unlike being alone in black.
Compare the definitions of "dally" and "efficient" and note that this description of Brave Orchid dallying came before she emigrated and became a mother of six children.
My mother and the women her age talked about how similar this day was to the orderly days long ago when they walked up the mountain to collect firewood, only now they could dally without the mothers-in-law scolding.
To be atavistic is to be characteristic of a throwback, usually to an earlier way of life or thinking. Kingston uses "atavistic" to describe a physical crease on her mother's palm that folds back onto itself. With this description, Kingston distinguishes her mother from other people, yet also suggests that her mother is less connected and forward-facing than others (which is contradicted two sentences later with the description of her mother adopting American fashions).
Her palm lines do not branch into head, heart, and life lines like other people’s but crease with just one atavistic fold.
sad beyond comforting; incapable of being consoled
I want every one of you living here together. When you’re all home, all six of you with your children and husbands and wives, there are twenty or thirty people in this house. Then I’m happy. And your father is happy. Whichever room I walk into overflows with my relatives, grandsons, sons-in-law. I can’t turn around without touching somebody. That’s the way a house should be.” Her eyes are big, inconsolable.
be placed or located between other things or extend between spaces and events
Another definition of the verb "intervene" is "get involved, so as to alter or hinder an action"--in the example sentence, Kingston is referring to the oceans that separate family, but the adjective "intervening" can also describe her view of her mother's desired influence on her life. Kingston welcomes the intervening oceans more than she does her intervening mother.
She pries open my head and my fists and crams into them responsibility for time, responsibility for intervening oceans.