My mom left Vietnam a month before the war ended. She had a day's notice that she would be leaving the country of her birth, not knowing when or if she would ever return. My dad was in Missouri, on a grant at the University of Rolla, listening intently to the news of events back home. He knew from the news that things were coming to a head and he worked ceaselessly to find us sponsors in the U.S.
Back home my mom was living with her in-laws and it was her sister-in-law, my aunt, Bac Di, who galvanized everyone into leaving. She did not have airplane tickets for each one of us, but she persuaded and cajoled until she and her husband, their children, my grandparents and me and my mom were on that plane headed for a refuge camp in the States.
My mom took a bag of clothing, me and her wedding album. She left her home and everything she ever knew with a bag, me and a book of photos.
I think about that a lot. Imagine if you had 24 hours and you had to leave your home, not knowing if you would ever return. Now we have smart phones, cloud storage and the effects of globalization which means almost anything can be bought almost anywhere you go.
I've become less sentimental about material things so I suppose if I did have to leave tomorrow morning, I could pack pretty lightly. But I have three photo albums of photos taken with a film camera, spanning a decade from spring of 1992 to July of 2002. The first album, covering 5 of those 10 years, I don't even have the original negatives. They mark no significant event or events, they're a vague scattering of memories of my college years, of when I moved to Paris, of when I was still single in New York. They end with this one, of a friend on his motorcycle, as we leave the beach. They are not particularly important photos, just a physical reminder of such a small part of my past, but I guess if I were leaving for parts unknown, maybe I would want that small reminder to carry with me.