Old School Film Hack

Truly Grateful

Mount Tom Near Bishop, California (October 2016)Contax T + Zeiss Sonnar 38/2.8Kodak Ektar 100 + Commercial C-41 processing

Mount Tom
Near Bishop, California (October 2016)
Contax T + Zeiss Sonnar 38/2.8
Kodak Ektar 100 + Commercial C-41 processing

My barber gave me pause the other day.

I was getting trimmed up for our annual family gathering on Thanksgiving (today), and I decided I was going to engage him in conversation.  Mind you, I’ve been going to this barbershop for about ten years now and have had this specific barber cut my hair on a number of those occasions — yet I’d never heard him say more than just a few words per visit.  I didn’t know if he was reserved, introverted, or simply a man of few words, but I wanted to connect with him.

To further flesh him out… he is foreign — of Asian descent.  Slim, well-mannered, and immaculately groomed — he is the perfect embodiment of fresh-out-of-the-shower, spit-and-polish.  His clothes always look unwrinkled and neat as a pin.  And every time he has asked me what type of haircut I want, I always sincerely tell him that I want it to look like his own… which makes him chuckle, as my unruly mop will never ever remotely look anything like his, no matter what heroics are used to tame it.

So on this visit, I asked him if he was looking forward to Thanksgiving — fully expecting the usual few words of response, followed by a very long and awkward silence.  Instead, it was as if I had opened the floodgates.

Oh yes! — Thanksgiving was important to his family, very important.  He loved the fact that the holiday is so family oriented and free of commercialism.  That it was so inclusive to all cultures and people.  And the premise behind it… to be thankful, regardless of your faith.

His family has two meals on this very important day… the standard American turkey-based meal (which is served at midday), and an elaborate Vietnamese feast that is served all day long (“Eat as much as you want, we’ll make more!”).  Prior to this admission, I had no idea of his nationality.  It was obvious that his cultural foods were important to him, so I asked him what he and his family served for the holiday.  Special pork barbecue, Vietnamese salad (his special recipe), and a whole host of other exotic sounding dishes that sounded utterly delicious (yum!).  And then I asked him what was his favorite, of all the food they served during their Thanksgiving feast…  And his response?  Turkey wings!  He was also partial to his own salad, because it had so many flavors that are missing from standard American cuisine.

I then asked if he had family nearby.  Oh yes, all of his family lived nearby; the furthest being only 15 minutes away, which was the way they all wanted it.

And this was why Thanksgiving was so very important to he and his family.  And why they were so very very thankful.

They came to our country as refugees seeking political asylum.  He and his family were part of the original Vietnamese boat people, fleeing from the Communists that swept into their country at the end of the Vietnam War (you can read details about the boat people — some accounts of which are quite harrowing and include torture, starvation, and disease — here, here, and here).  He described he and his family as being “treated worse than dogs” by the Communists and that they lost everything but the clothes on their backs in the ensuing regime change.  I wasn’t told specifics about their plight, or how long the entire process took, but eventually his brother was the first family member to reach the USA, followed by he and his father.  His mother and sisters came later, once they had established a toehold in the US.

By 1995 they had finally reassembled their family here in the suburbs of Washington, DC… all safe… and all sound.

He said that the “promise of freedom in America” was what kept them going during their long exodus, and that none of the hype that they had heard during their daunting journey had truly prepared them for the reality of what awaited them… America had exceeded all of their expectations.  He noted that they truly loved their adopted homeland and made a point to embrace the new customs and holidays that were so very foreign to them.

Especially Thanksgiving.  Because they were truly grateful.

38 thoughts on “Truly Grateful

    1. -N-

      Aren’t most Americans the result of a need to emigrate? On one side, we came in the 1630s from the British Isles, and in 1900 from eastern Europe . . . all for a new life. I often wonder if I could do it myself.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Considering there are only 6.6 million Native Americans, compared to the other 312 million relative “newcomers” — I’d say that was an understatement. We are a nation of immigrants; any statements otherwise are misinformed.

      I wonder about starting a new life here too. When I read non-fiction accounts about how hard life was for my ancestors, it really makes me appreciate the time I live in now!

      By the way, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family as well.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      You’re very welcome, Margarita — and thank you for your kind words.

      I think a great many of us have similar stories… my own is related to the Black Sea Germans (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sea_Germans), and my ancestors arrived in the US back in the 1870’s after being uninvited by their hosts in Crimea.

      As for “purple mountain majesty”, that’s exactly the title I gave this post at first, before changing it at the last second.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours on this day.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Meg

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing! My son and I will be going to Greece to work with refugees there at the end of December. This perspective helps me prepare my heart. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Thank you for the kind words, Meg. I too am the result of such a tale, from when my ancestors arrived here in the 1800’s.

      Not all are the horrible things that they are painted up to be in the media; most really are just trying to find a safer and better place for them and their families.

      Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family today!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Jim Stewart

    Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. Your barber story has played out in my life many times. I admire the Vietnamese, their culture, and their determination. I have learned many things about being American from them. They offer a perspective that everyone should experience. We are a much better country with them here.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. yashicachris

    Inspiring story that could fit millions of “new” Americans. It’s why I love my country so much. Except for the original inhabitants of this land, we are ALL connected in some way to the GIFT of immigration. Immigration is what made this country. So with that said, how did a country of immigrants with such a diverse cultural history change into the group of spiteful, hateful, fearful and unhappy people? If you can answer that, then you understand people better than I do.
    Thanks so much for sharing your story today Mitch…
    Happy Thanksgiving!
    All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Hi, Chris, and thank you for stopping by and commenting. I think “could fit” should be crossed out and replaced with “does fit”, in your comment above. 😉

      Regarding “spiteful, hateful, fearful and unhappy people” — I would suggest not focusing on the pablum delivered to us by the different forms of media (mainstream, fringe, social media, and forums), concentrating instead on face-to-face connections with others, and encouraging all those you connect with to do the same.

      I think you’ll find that Marshall McLuhan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan) knew what he was talking about with his concept that “the medium is the message”, along with the catagorizations of “hot and cold media”. Right now people are riled up, due in large part — and this is just my own perception — to not actually having had those incredibly important face-to-face connections where we actually listen to the concerns, words, and dreams of others. I know that my own opinions and perceptions can flip 180 degrees when I experience something in person, versus what I was told by a “trusted source”, even a loved one.

      As for myself — I don’t engage much in social media these days… and when I do, I try to be thoughtful and measured with my comments and responses to others. This isn’t an attack, commentary, or criticism on you or anyone else; I just find that I feel better when I adopt a live-and-let-live attitude toward everyone.

      At any rate, I’ve prattled on long enough. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Chris!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Thank you, Anne — and you’re very welcome.

      Good news never generates the profit margins of bad news and outrage. I worked at Gannett (parent company of USA Today) for over 8 years, so I know of which I speak.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lekha murali

    That is a beautiful story.

    We have a neighbor who are a vietnamese, couple. Two of the sweetest people we’ve ever met, not to mention a steady stream of food the wife shares with us.

    She shared some of the harrowing stories about her life in Vietnam, which she described impassively. She could just take it all in her stride, without any lingering bitterness. Some spirit, some grace.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Thank you, ma’am.

      I wonder how much of that spirit and grace is due to the passage of time? I suspect that most people — myself included — would be strongly affected closer to the event, but much less so many years later.

      Liked by 1 person

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