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  • 1.

    I am in a hammock and he is holding me, my grandfather, I am six, and he is BIG, and he has whiskers, like the CAT, and he is feeding me, we are swaying, I am licking, the spoon, metal, HOT, and he is smiling, and warm, the broth is SALT, and the chunks of TURTLE, it tastes chewy-chewy, and meaty, like his BIG palms, I feel sleepy-sleepy, we are swaying, slowly, so FULL, on his belly, with his arms, smothering, around me, his scent, the tobacco, the pomade, I crawl inside, tighter, into sleep, I am falling, falling, it feels GOOD, i can fall, forever, for I know, he will be there, he will catch me . ALWAYS.


    My grandfather died soon after the Communist victory in Vietnam—he had been born a pauper, lived a life of a millionaire, and died a pauper. This is his story.


    His mistake was to speak the truth. It would cost him. His home. His relationship with his brother.

    He would wander the streets of Saigon, a shoe-shine boy, crouching near the Central Market, begging for alms, running petty errands, pick-pocketing, the rich, the women in silk, the men in white linen suits. At night, he would sleep on stacks of newspapers, flattened cardboard boxes, and when it rained, he crouched under the eaves of buildings, listening to the pitter-pattering of water, against the tile roofs, the cement streets, the thunder.

    Always, hungry, he dreamed of jackfruits, mangosteens, papayas, red-bean cakes, and especially those slices of roasted duck that hung in the windows of the Chinese shop.


    When his mother remarried—a scandal in traditional Vietnam—she sent my grandfather to live with his elder brother.

    His brother had a wife. The couple lived in the poor section of Saigon, near the railroad tracks, underneath a tin roof, with crumbling plaster, a dirt floor, the walls were full of geckos, crawling, everywhere, sometimes, falling from the ceiling into the rice porridge. There were cockroaches. There were rats.

    But at least, it was shelter.

    The trouble began like this. The wife had an affair with the local butcher. My grandfather tattled the news to his brother. His brother called him a trouble-maker. A liar.

    He was cast out of the house. At eight years old, my grandfather became homeless.


    My mother asked my grandfather once how he was able to endure the misery of his childhood.

    He said. I knew that the prophecy was true. The fortune-teller told my mother that I was destined to become a wealthy man. And I believed. And so I bit through all that bitterness. The prophecy kept me dry in the rain. It kept me warm in the wind.


    It was as if anything he touched turned into gold. Every business my grandfather started became immensely profitable. What began as a small auto-mechanic shop became an automobile import business that turned into investments in a cement factory, a bank, vast holdings in real estate.

    The War only made him wealthier. Americans had to be fed, entertained. Housed. Roads had to be built, uniforms made. The nouveaux riche of Saigon all wanted luxury cars.

    When asked the secret of his success. He would always credit destiny, not talent.

    By 1970, my grandfather was a multi-millionaire in American dollars. And the money still kept on coming. Easily.


    The doctors said that my grandfather died of diabetes, but that is only a partial truth.

    He died of heart failure. He died of hopelessness. He stopped taking his medication. He stopped caring about his diet.

    He told my mother once that his worse fear was to return to the penurious existence of his childhood.

    With the Communist victory, everything was nationalized. The bank accounts were frozen. The land holdings were seized. Everything now belonged to the PEOPLE.

    The smart people had transferred their money into French, American, Swiss bank accounts.

    The smart people had already relocated to Paris, to Washington D.C.

    My grandfather made a mistake. He thought that the United States could never lose face by allowing a Communist victory in Vietnam.

    That mistake would cost him his life. He died the way he was born. Penniless.
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