Back to my mother's activities, reflected in the remaining pictures: In another one, my mother was rowing a small boat with Mrs. Sau Nhan. Both of them wore black rural outfits, with square-stripe towels wound over their heads.
Another picture illustrates a particular feature of villages in the western part of the south during the old days; its shows my mother sitting over a small bamboo bridge leading to the toilet cabinet built over the riverside. This was the refreshing way in which country people did their toilet routine. When I was very little I used a small chamber pot. Only when I was bigger did my mother take me into that “small cabinet,” because it was easy to fall into the river; sometimes the water flowed so high that even my small hands could reach down and touch it.
In that “typical” picture there was also sister Annie, who is now living in Washington D.C. Sister “Ni" was the maternal granddaughter of grandma Co, the foster-mother of my mother. In that picture, sister sat on a small boat with an oar in her hand, just playing with the water.
My mother still has many funny pictures showing her and her friends' humor and enjoyment during those days. In one, my mother and aunt Ba Yen wore raincoats and stood happily in the hot sun.
I still have these precious pictures and many other souvenirs, including the newspaper articles I had written while staying in
One picture remains in my memory, artistically showing my father's profile against the sunlight. He sat over a handrail and smoked, with the river behind as a dreamy background. Uncle Hai Rang might taken that photograph. Hai Rang was a talented photographer; his French name was Jean. I was very afraid of him, because he wore a short mustache and whenever he kissed my cheeks the rough hairs pricked my face painfully. If I avoided his kissing, he would pretend to be a leper. His fingers curled inside, fluttering about my face; his mouth distorted on one side, leaving a string of saliva. I could only cry aloud. However, when I grew up and met him again, I begged him to pretend to be a leper for my amusement. Uncle Rang was the elder brother of aunt Ba Yen, the son of Mrs. Sau Nhan.
Most of my father's pictures remain only in my memory. Every time I look at my albums and do not see his pictures I feel so sad. The reason they are missing is that when our family had to flee to
I prefer the pictures of my father wearing the officer's uniform of the Hoa Hao Buddhist militia. He looked strong and imposing. I still remember the picture of my father in his swimming shorts, taken in Vung Tau beach with his two bodyguards, brother Chin Om and brother Chin Map. If they could come to the
They were very loyal. When my father fled to
In the picture, my father and these two brothers are very well built, with large chests and small stomachs. Brother Chin Map was a body-builder. He had a pockmarked face, but he was quite charming and flirtatious. When my family returned to the country, he became my father's chauffeur. As he no longer worked out with dumbbells, his belly put on fat, but brother Chin Om has always been skinny.