If I had my very own personal Ghost of Christmas Past, there is one night I would love to revisit: the night my family helped two men from across the world settle into their new home in the U.S.. Nearly all of the pertinent details have escaped me. How old was I? 10? 11? I can’t even remember, for sure, what country they were from – Vietnam? Cambodia? I’m particularly sad that I’ve lost their names. It seems to me that they were one syllable each–Sa’ng? Thu?
I do recall vague images of the newly rented, nearly empty apartment. It was so cold that night that I waited inside and tried to stay out of the way while the adults from my mom and dad’s church committee brought boxes up from their cars. Only essentials had been donated – beds, canned goods, cooking supplies, linens, toiletries.
I knew somehow – perhaps from the pot luck dinner the night before – that Sa’ng and Thu liked the Bee Gees. They spoke hardly any English, so I’m not sure how I got this information, but I did. One of the American adults had joked (I don’t think he meant any harm) that our new neighbors probably didn’t really know the Bee Gees’ music as much as they felt able to pronounce the name correctly. That didn’t fly with me. Surely, every one in the world knew Saturday Night Fever. Besides, I could tell by the look in Sa’ng’s eyes when he said, “Yes, Bee Gees, I like,” that he was being sincere.
That night, when there was a pause in the flurry of activity, I brought out my offering for the apartment. It was used – taken right off my bedroom wall that afternoon. My Bee Gees poster. It wasn’t really a sacrifice; the truth is I probably needed to make room for David Lee Roth.
I wish I could say that I remember the moment when we put scotch tape on the four corners and Thu hung the Gibb brothers high up on his new dining room wall. I wish I could say we had a turn table and that we all danced to “Stayin’ Alive” – the whole song. But if I told you any of that I’d be inventing.
What I can say, for sure, is that it snowed that night. We were walking through the parking lot to our car when it started. As soon as we noticed the flakes, someone must have run back up the stairs and knocked on the door asking Sa’ng and Thu to hurry, “Come outside”. They had never seen snow before.
At that moment, I didn’t have any idea, really, what a wonderful thing my parents and their church friends were doing. I didn’t know that there was ever such a thing as the Vietnam War or the Khmer Rouge. I had barely just learned the word refugee.
But I did know that something special was happening. We stood there in the darkness looking up at the white coming down. I remember trying to imagine what it would be like to be seeing it for the first time. “Snow?” “Yes. Snow. This is snow!”