It had been a long day, driving all over eastern Hidalgo County, finding my patients, seeing my patients, and so it was wonderful to come home to find that Doug and Trang had been to HEB Plus and she had cooked supper. How very sweet! And soooo delicious!! What could be better than that?!
Trang and Doug arrived 'home' on Saturday August 16, and our lives have not been the same since. It has been our conscious effort to make Trang part of our household, so that when she moves into the dorm, this is the 'home' she comes 'home' to on the weekends. As ones who struggled to stare down culture shock, we know she will have enough of a struggle missing Việt Nam, it is unimaginable that she be forced to do it without a haven. We had the familiarity of an American community, albeit small, when we moved to Hûe, and that was my haven. We cannot offer her Vietnamese community, but we can attempt to make a 'home' for her and give her family.
How do you separate making a home from shopping? I have shopped in Việt Nam, and for me it bears little resemblance to shopping in America. In the first place, here we must go by car, for distance and quantity; in Viet Nam refrigeration is not as commonplace as here, so shopping for perishables is a daily event. But women everywhere are the shoppers for their families – for food, for supplies for keeping house, for things the family needs. Showing shopping, American-style to Trang has been a blast!!
Our first trips were to HEB, our main grocery store here in deep, south Texas. It's a terrific grocery store, and there is a brand new and huge HEB Plus near us – snack bar, sushi bar, greenhouse nursery and patio store, but I thought I would start her out at a smaller, older one. Part of my quest was to buy foods familiar to her that she could eat, and maybe cook with.
There are now 3 story grocery markets in Hûe now, so I know there are many in Sai Gon, where Trang has been working, so she is sort of familiar with this sort of grocery store space. What threw her off was quantity, and the names of things. We looked for a long time for a certain squash she wanted to eat, never finding it. The next trip, cucumbers were 3/$1, and it turned out to be the squash she was looking for! I've never thought of it as a squash before, but what I learned in Việt Nam applies – the way to learn your own culture is to teach it to someone else. It really helps you analyze it, and see it in the light of someone else's eyes…..
Why are there so many kinds of bread? and milk? and meat? Can we buy quail eggs here?
I explained 'store brands' (HEB has some of the best), what products are always more expensive at the grocery store, and began planning what store I would introduce next. I advised about 'price per pound' versus price of 'each,' the difference of price/size of the shrimp frozen in bags, my preference in tomatoes, and the smaller the pepper the hotter the heat.
Near the end of our first week, we forayed into a different store; a church project required a trip to Hobby Lobby. Our Hobby Lobby is massive. We walked past the dozens of decorated Christmas trees in the foyer (this is August and 100 degrees outside), and into a field of rows of artificial flowers on the left and walls of Autumn, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations on the right. Her eyes grew very large, and with a quick intake of breath said, "Cindy, why have you never taken me to this store before?!" It was her 5th day in America!
She took pictures with her digital camera all up and down the aisles, and since we both had cell phones, I
did my shopping, and she wandered at will. We have since been to Wal-Mart (for what we need, I told her) and Target (for what we want), Hancock's Fabric, but Hobby Lobby remains her favorite store, after 4 weeks of shopping in America. Yeah, me too!! But only if I can go there with Trang!
Older sisters can be a problem for a boy growing up. The younger of my two sisters (three years older than me) was a tomboy. When I was in junior high school, she delighted in being given the task of waking me up. Her method was to grab the arm hanging over the side of the bed and then punch me in the shoulder as hard as she could – and as many times as she could until I pulled my arm out of harm’s way. She was an athlete – and good enough to be asked by the neighborhood Catholic church girl’s basketball team to play for them, despite the fact our family was Protestant.
While doing the kind of stupid things young men do, I once went to her house after a night of heavy drinking. Though she had a husband and young daughter, she smiled, let me sleep on the sofa and brought me a bucket to barf in. A few years later, she took me into her home while I recovered from the twin wounds of a recent divorce and having been in combat in Vietnam. Always supportive, she did more than welcome my new bride into the family – she became a sister to the Mystery Guest Blogger.
My younger sister was a nurse. After her husband left her to raise two kids by herself, she went to work in long term care (the polite medical way of saying she cared for old people.) I’ve lost count of the places where she was the Director of Nursing, a consultant, the corporate nurse and other positions of responsibility. Legion are the nurses who learned to truly care for their patients under my sister’s gentle whip.
Few siblings dare to own major investments together. We did. We’ve co-owned a small condominium in the ski resort town of Angel Fire, New Mexico since 1991. That was one of the best investments I ever made. Many a family reunion and ski trip were held there and more photos taken than could be pasted into any album. My sister skied the mountain with her grandsons.
I’ve always felt blessed that I was part of a very loving family – Mom and Dad loved each other, and they made a secure and loving home for their children. As years have passed, I’ve come to realize how unusual a truly functional family is in today’s world.
Twenty eight years ago, she had a melanoma cancer in one of her eyes. I don’t know if having the eye removed was a victory over cancer or simply the loss of an eye because this past June the melanoma returned – this time to her liver. This time it would not be denied.
I’m writing this in an airport. I've just told Karen I will see her later. The cancer is shutting down her body and the clan has gathered around her. At her daughter’s home, she is surrounded by love. Hospice brought in a hospital bed and she receives only palliative care. In the last days of her life, she is at last realizing how strong her impact has been on so many people.
Yes, Karen – I will see you later. I left your bedside before you died in the sure knowledge that you are merely preceding me to heaven. We share a strong mutual faith that dying is a part of life and that those who believe in Jesus’ love will indeed spend eternity with God.
I’m glad you aren’t punching me in the shoulder anymore but very glad you are still teaching your kid brother something about life. I love you, Karen.