There is a small bridge over a stream just down the road from Lan’s and Miss Tu’s home. One side of the bridge faces the side of the mountain. On the rail of the bridge on that side, one often finds funerary tokens of paper money, clothing, food or even pictures of Catholic Saints. This is where the souls of infants and small children as well as those that never returned home from battle are remembered and honored. Even five decades later, the families remember. Yet, they hold no animosity for me or my kind. They look to America as one might look to a dream castle floating in the sky. Would that we could appreciate what we have and live up to their fantasy of America…
Miss Tu will still go up the mountain for a day or two and place her paper tokens at the site of her life’s greatest trial and tragedy. But she is not bitter. That amazes me.
Lan told me the names of her lost siblings. They have come to her in dreams as has my dear, departed Mother. Lan tells me that they are good friends and that my mother helps take care of them. Who am I to doubt?
When Lan first told me that my mother had visited her, she said that since she did not speak English she could not understand her. But as her English improved, she could understand what Mom was telling her. Mom thanked her for taking care of her son and loving him. Mom had passed while I was in Viet Nam with Lan as we proceeded with our marriage. Who am I to doubt any of this??? Lan’s dreams and dream visitations have been uncannily accurate as to make this cynic a tad uncertain of my purely scientific/mathematical view of the Cosmos. Did I mention that Lan is a Buddhist Priest?
I had, previously, alluded to the fact that Lan and I had been married four times. Let me elucidate:
The first wedding was the feast in her village. It costs money to “Officially” marry so in many rural areas “Jumping the Broom” or a family feast is sufficient to allow for cohabitation… and reproduction.
Next, we went to visit Lan’s Buddhist guru who read our palms and earlobes(?) and decided that we were a good match but only after he exorcised my demons. I, dutifully, knelt in front of his alter with hundreds of Buddhist statuettes while he placed a coconut shell on my head and proceeded to chant while hitting the nut shell with a small bamboo rod. He, then, with appropriate hand gestures, stood in front of me and chanted then took a large swig of the famous/infamous rice whiskey, ba si dai… and spit it in my face! Now, I am all for exorcising ones demons but this has happened FOUR times, so far. I guess I have a lot of or very strong demons. In any event, that was “marriage” number two.
Number Three was at the Province Capital. We had to make four trips from Ba Ria to Tam Ky to be married. Each trip was 15 to 22 hours of travel except for the one time that we flew. In Vietnam, if a citizen marries a non-citizen it must take place in the Provincial Capital of the citizen’s birth. Don’t ask because I don’t know. The first trip to Tam Ky was by sleeper bus. Not a happy time for yours truly as previously described. It was then that I discovered the train. The train had 4 and 6 berth cabins as well as seats. We took a 6 bunk sleeper and I found out that the cheap sleepers had thin mats for sleeping. Subsequent train journeys were in the 4 bunk sleepers and their thicker mattresses. During the first trip we filled out the necessary applications and submitted some documents that established that we were both eligible to marry. We were told that we would be called back in a few weeks for the next phase; an interview by an English speaking interpreter and to bring 600,000 VND or about $30 for her fee.
Upon getting the call, we booked a couple of “Luxury” berths on the train from Sai Gon to Tam Ky. The interview went well and we were told to return home and wait for the next step in a couple of weeks. We got home and the next day got a call to be in Tam Ky in two days. This resulted in Lan’s first ever airplane ride. She might well have been the first person from her village to ever get off of the ground! We went to Sai Gon’s Tan Son Nhat airport for the flight to Da Nang. Lan sat by the window. as soon as the aircraft started to move she was fighting panic. Those tiny, seemingly delicate hands that had for years worked the rice and other crops; had swung the long curved knives and tugged the lines that controlled huge water buffalo, gripped my arm with such strength that they cut off all circulation to my hands and fingers. I, literally, had bruises for a week… After all that drama, it took us less than 5 minutes to sign the formal marriage bans to be posted for public review. We took the train home.
In a week or so, the call came and it was off to Sai Gon and the train, again. The 15 hour trip to Tam Ky through the various climes of coastal Viet Nam is never boring. Rolling fields of Blue Dragon Fruit, little clusters of shops and jungle. Always jungle.
We arrived at the building where we would finalize our Vietnamese wedding. We were ushered into a room with two other couples; one Vietnamese and one a Vietnamese woman and her husband, an Italian Restaurateur from Hoi An… and their baby.
A bust of Uncle Ho dominated the room. It was snow white and draped in bunting of Communist Red. There was no ceremony or even the hint of religious overtone. We signed some papers; we signed a book; we were given a short talk by the Province Chief of which I understood not a word and our copies of our “marry paper”, laminated. Then a couple of nice ladies brought in a tray of apple slices and a pot of green tea.
Due to bad information from some nitwit in the State Department, I applied for Lan’s VISA as a fiance instead of a wife because the afore mentioned nitwit told me that State did not recognize Vietnamese marriage papers. These are the same idiots that put “North Vietnam” as Lan’s place of birth on her Green Card when we did get it. There has not been a “North Vietnam” since 1975, Lan’s birth certificate said 1980, and her home is in what was the South, anyway!!! One might surmise that if one’s job was confined to dealing with one foreign nation that one might actually do a little research into that nation. But such is the state of State!!! I won’t even go into the ordeal caused because a smarmy, rude, young, American woman who was a Consulate worker in Sai Gon, erroneously denied my Affidavit of Support because my Veterans Pension is NOT TAXABLE!!! That took almost a year and a Senatorial Inquiry to rectify. (Where DO they get them???)
Anyway, shortly after Lan did land in Jacksonville, Florida, we were married for the fourth time. And this might sound cliched but we are still on our Honeymoon…
Miss Tu is doing well. She was recently awarded a stipend from her government in recognition of her service to the community. She has been introduced to YouTube and I often catch her watching old VC propaganda videos. Videos of happy, young people merrily trudging down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, laughing and joking, as American bombs explode, harmlessly and ineffectually, in the background… Whatever makes ya feel good.
Lan and I paid for a house of brick and mortar to be built AROUND the two-room shack in the village. It was built by her youngest brother and her son, Tuan. Miss Tu can still live in familiar surroundings yet enjoy such luxuries as indoor plumbing complete with toilet and shower, a gas stove and a front room with hand carved furniture and a TV.
Would that she was the norm for humanity. Would that all of us could suffer as she has suffered, lose what she has lost and still stand straight and reach out to others.
On December, 2, 2018, my step-daughter, Hoang Thi (Kelly) Hong, married a wonderful young man in Ba Ria. Miss Tu had come from Tra Nu for her grand-daughter’s wedding. This picture represents the arc of my life. Sang’s parents were prominent in the local government and Sang is a government official. Kelly is the granddaughter of Miss Tu, a former National Liberation Front fighters and, yet, her mother is married to a former American Army Ranger. Here, just as the picture was about to be taken, she reached up and held my hand. I damned near lost it. While I may have some lingering “unreasonable” fears stemming from my time in the crucible, it is not peopled with the likes of Miss Tu and her village mates; rather it is peopled with out of control politicians and government…
Every morning that she is in Ba Ria at our “Beach” home, she brews up a pot of rich, black Mountain coffee and as I sit on the veranda of our home in Ba Ria, brings it to me on a tray, smiles and says, “Chào buổi sáng!“; Good morning!
Good morning, indeed, Little Mother; good morning, indeed.