Mr. Huan and his ten-year-old grandson were separated by fifty years and born on opposite sides of the Pacific, yet they were best friends. One sunny morning the man suggested a drive to Snoqualmie Falls. The boy eagerly agreed.
The man was born in a land that sits at a maritime crossroads in Southeast Asia; and therefore for several decades it had been targeted for control by opposing international super powers. During his childhood the man became familiar with the underground shelters along the fences of his school, and had witnessed the destruction of war caused by the daily air attacks from both enemy and allied forces. Growing up he was drafted into the army and took part in a war that divided his country into two parts: the communists in the North and the nationalists in the South. He joined those in the South and fought for twenty years until the last day of the war. He was on the losing side. Consequently he had to leave the country, parting with almost everything except his family. The pangs of being defeated hid deeply in his soul, and although twenty years had gone by now he still did not know for sure why the war had been lost.
As for his grandson, he was born in the United States in a time of world-wide peace. His name was Kevin. Although at home his parents often called him Nam, the Vietnamese name they had given him. Kevin’s childhood was happy. He liked school, and he loved playing soccer. His weekends were often spent at the swimming pool with his friends, or at a park with his parents. Kevin was a thoughtful boy, always respectful of his elders, including his grandfather who he would soon tower over. His bright brown eyes reflected a complete peace of mind that had nothing to worry about. He was well taken care of by his parents and enjoyed a good home and neighborhood environment. The years ahead of him were full of promise.
In the car that morning, Kevin told Mr. Huan about a visit by some military officers to his class during the week. These officers in uniform came to talk with the students and perform for them the military songs such as Marines Hymn, Army Song, Anchors Away, and Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder which Kevin was fond of. Kevin still remembered some portions of each of the songs, and at his grandpa’s request he started singing. He sang boldly and freely.
Mr. Huan felt inspired and cheerful by the military rhythm over the songs. It made him recall a similar song which he used to sing when he served in the military in South Vietnam. As soon as Kevin finished singing , Mr. Huan raised his voice performing the old song without being asked. He sang without missing a single word. He knew that his grandson could not understand the meaning of these words, but he believed the rhythm inspired the boy. At the end of the song, Mr. Huan turned to Kevin asking with pride whether the song he just performed was good. He spoke both in English and Vietnamese, and Kevin understood.
Although Kevin’s parents encouraged him to speak Vietnamese at home, his speaking ability was still limited; just like his grandpa whose knowledge of English was restricted. But by using both languages the two language handicapped complemented each other and communicated very well. Kevin didn’t respond to his grandpa’s question right away. He looked down at the car floor, then made a comment instead of giving the answer. He said, “But you lost the war.”
In their conversations in the past, Kevin had once in a while raised questions that
gave his grandpa trouble in finding appropriate answers. This time, the old man again became quieted by his grandson’s remark. He had never talked with Kevin about that war; he wondered how this child could understand. He asked, “Was it what your parents told you?”
“They didn’t, grandpa,” said Kevin.
Mr. Huan insisted, “So, how did you know?”
It was Kevin who got astonished in turn. He looked at Mr. Huan but instead of giving a reply, he raised a question, “Why did you leave Vietnam?”
The question itself gave explanation. Had South Vietnam and its armed forces not been defeated Mr. Huan of course would not have left his homeland for good. At the end of any war it is the losers, the defeated who have to escape if they don’t want to be killed or sent to the camps. Even a boy would know that.
Now Mr. Huan gripped the wheel tighter. He had never intended to hide the truth from his grandson. If only Kevin were older it would be easier for them to discuss the war. Mr. Huan would talk about how the non communist patriots of his generation were fighting for national independence, the establishment of a democracy, social justice and the happiness of his people. He would tell stories of how the Vietnamese nationalists fought bravely against the French who for a hundred years had controlled Vietnam. He wanted Kevin to know that hundred thousands South Vietnamese soldiers had fought in the front lines during the twenty years of war against the communist invasion from the North. He would cite to him the names of those generals and high ranking officers who refused to surrender when the South Vietnam fell into the hands of the communists.
Also, Mr. Huan would point out to Kevin that over two million Vietnamese had left Vietnam for resettlement all around the world during the twenty years after the end of the war. They escaped the winning regime; and ironically not only those from the South left. Among the escapees included several thousands from the North. He would suggest to Kevin to make a trip to Vietnam to get first hand information about the allegations of human rights violations, the persecution of religion and press, and the notorious corruption widespread in all walks of life, where the officials were open to bribe and the vast majority of people live in poverty.
Mr. Huan switched the car into the right lane and accessed to the exit to the falls. Seeing the sign to Sonoqualmie Falls by the road, Kevin felt excited. “We should be arriving soon, grandpa,” he said. Mr Huan responded with a nod. He kept thinking. He would never forget Kevin’s glance when the boy looked down at the car floor earlier. It looked sad. But still he did not know what to tell his grandson. He made a last turn on the road to the falls. Suddenly they heard a train whistle. Kevin’s face shone with excitement. The whistle from a train at three hundred feet below the cascade sounded the same he heard four years ago on his first trip to these falls. “Grandpa,” Kevin said, “The last time I was here I saw a train coming out of the tunnel. Hurry up, I want to see it again.”
There was a vacant space left in the crowded parking area in front of the fast food
restaurant and gift shop. Mr. Huan drove his car straight to that space. His eyes were attracted by a T-Shirt with the print of a Sonics player on display in the gift shop window across the walk way. The old man’s eyes gleamed as an idea came to his mind. Before Kevin could open the door, he held him back saying, “Sonny, I want to tell you something.”
Kevin looked at his grandfather waiting. Mr. Huan was not a sports fan; but Kevin and his dad were addicted to basketball games, and their favorite team was the Sonics. They never missed a Sonics game, and looked so miserable if their team was beaten. One week before they had a bet on the Sonics, so did many others but it was the Sonics who lost that game, although it was very close. Pretending not to know about the results of that game, Mr. Huan pointed to the Sonics T-Shirt in the shop window and asked Kevin, “Did they win last week?”
“No, they didn’t,” Kevin moaned and frowned.
“So, the Sonics lost the game,” said Mr. Huan. This made Kevin feel hurt and he defended his favorite team:
“Yes, that’s bad, but they played very well.”
Mr. Huan then said, “So, you mean the defeated are not always bad?”
Kevin understood what his grandpa meant with that deliberate question.
He sent him a playful glance, and said, “Yep!”
Kevin opened the door, ran through the crowd up to the view point. Slowly, Mr. Huan got out of his car and walked up the stairs leading to the gazebo. In the gazebo and amid the resonance of water cascadeing down the river, the tourists were taking pictures and enjoying the view. Kevin was fully attracted by the scenic beauty of the falls. Behind him was his grandpa who stood motionless. Over the last two decades this elderly refugee had made every effort to become an integral part of life in his second country. However, there were unexpected moments, such as now when he suddenly felt incredibly lonely and isolated. He said to himself, “The defeated are not always bad, but no defeat is good!” He wished that the struggle for just causes would continue as long as oppression, repression and corruption existed, whether in that land across the ocean or anywhere in the world. He wished that his grandson would join this struggle in the years to come, and that as a young man Kevin would commit and stand for those causes on behalf of the oppressed, the poor and the needy. He had no doubt that at the end of this struggle, just causes of freedom, democracy and social justice would prevail, because of their broad appeal to people all over the world including those in his native land on the other side of the Pacific. With that in mind, Mr. Huan put his arm around his grandson’s shoulder. The embrace eased him of his lonely feelings, and he smiled. Ahead of them, from the falls opposing the view point the water frost sparkles beautifully in the golden sunlight.