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  • I spent this afternoon, hot and 100 degrees, at a friend's backyard pool, or rather my daughter's friend's backyard pool. Her mother, with whom I enjoy chatting casually, graciously invited us to stay the afternoon.

    While the two of us moms watched our daughters splash around with carefree innocence, she shared her Vietnamese birth story with me.

    Perhaps you've heard it before?

    Boy meets vietnamese girl on US army base; Boy marries girl, gets girl pregnant, then leaves on secret mission; Boy returns to America and American wife after war; Girl finds way to America, holds down three jobs to support child, and gets cancer. Child supports girl into old age.

    As her story continued to unfold in delicate, intimate layers, I realized that my only point of reference was fiction-similar stories spun in novels, or on the TV. Not out of the mouth of a fellow suburban mom whom I met at my daughter's preschool.

    I grew up in the Midwest. after all. Detroit, specifically. Everyone I knew either worked for one of the three major automakers or their suppliers. I knew no one in the military. Unless you count Mr. Canjar, a history teacher at my high school and alleged Vietnam vet. Urban legend had it that he was easily startled, and had on at least one occasion jumped for cover under his desk. Ironically, I didn't have Mr. Canjar for history but for drivers ed.

    My point is that as a kid, Vietnam was just another word that adults said in hushed tones, like sex, cancer, and miscarriage. Eventually I learned that it was a place, a war, a political Rorshach test, but even this I held in my head with an intellectual remove. This afternoon, however, the Vietnam War became real.

    The children of the war were my age when it was happening, are my age still.

    While I traded my big wheel for a banana seat for a ten-speed, my youngest daughter's friend's mom was getting helivacced to Guam, living in a refugee camp, and doing homework with strippers while her mom waited on tables.

    Yet this afternoon, there we sat together as mothers ourselves.

    I am humbled after hearing her story today, but grateful also. Because now I have a personal connection to that time and place in history and can honor it accordingly.
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