First Snow (Revisited)

If I had my very own personal Ghost of Christmas Past, there is one night I would revisit: the night my family helped two men from across the world settle into their new home in the United States. 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, one syllable each: Sa’ng? Thu?

I have vague images of the newly rented, nearly empty apartment. It was cold that night. I waited inside and stayed 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.

When there was a pause in the flurry of activity, I brought out my offering for the apartment. Used–taken right off my bedroom wall that afternoon–my Bee Gees poster. I can’t claim it was a sacrifice; I’d outgrown Barry and had moved on to David Lee Roth.

The gift was met with instant recognition. “Bee Gees, I like.” Someone pulled out scotch tape and hung the Gibb brothers high up on the dining room wall. I wish I could say that we had had a turntable and a copy of Saturday Night Fever, that we all danced to “Stayin’ Alive”–the whole song. But that would be fantasy.

What I can say for sure, is that as we walked through the parking lot to leave, the first flakes of the year drifted down. When we noticed them, someone must have run back up the stairs and knocked on the door telling Sa’ng and Thu to hurry, “Come outside.” They must have been alarmed at the urgency. Wasn’t this new country supposed to be safe? Everything is okay, someone must have said, pointing up.

Soft white dots falling slowly against the dark sky. They had never seen snow before.

At that moment, I didn’t have a concept of what my parents and their church friends had done in sponsoring two people to live in the U.S.  I didn’t know what the word refugee meant. I didn’t know about the Vietnam War or the Khmer Rouge.

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.”

“Snow?”

“Yes. Snow. This is snow!”

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If you had your very own Ghost of Christmas Past, what moment would you revisit?

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Originally posted in December 2009; slightly revised. 

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