Today, many years and many miles away from Hoa Hao village, I still have vivid memories about this tender place of my childhood. This is partly thanks to my treasure trove of many old pictures from that period. I love to look at them. I feel such love and so much nostalgia at these moments; the memories are as clear and vivid as memories of yesterday.
In my collection there are some pictures taken in the front and back yards of a small house by the riverside, where our small family lived during our period of refuge in Hoa Hao village. On these pictures is a notation of the year 1950 in my father’s handwriting. I can see myself as a little girl sitting on the banister, with her two tiny legs dangling loosely, her round face and round eyes. In another picture, the little girl wears pajamas with her hair combed closely on the top like a tomboy. Another picture shows her dandy style, with two hands in her pajama pockets, two chubby cheeks, and a funny air.
There is one picture I do not like much, because the little girl's face somehow looks stupid; she is wearing a boy's suit with small flowers. This picture I took with Khanh, the foster son of Ms. Nam Bien, the younger sister of the Prophet. Khanh was actually the son of Ms. Hai, the eldest sister of the Prophet, but as Ms.
In that old time film paper was very expensive, so they printed tiny pictures that are very hard to see. In another picture I am mounted on a wooden horse. In another one, I hold Thao, my cousin, the daughter of uncle Tu Hong. My mother had become an orphan since her early years, and she adopted two foster younger brothers, who were uncle Hong and uncle Tac. I used to imitate the adults by teasing these two, calling them Daddy Hong and Mommy Tac, because they always went together like a couple. They were the Prophet's drivers. The Prophet later renamed Uncle Tac as Vo Van Dac.
My favorite picture was also taken when I was three years old. The little girl wears a religious brown tunic and stands next to a Heaven's altar. She stays on the square cement stand covered with a piece of reed mat, where people bowed down to worship before the Heaven's altar. The girl's height is about three-fourths that of the altar's pillar. I cannot believe I was only three years old then, because almost all memories of this short period appear so vividly in my memory, as though they had just happened yesterday. Just looking at the picture, all these past events come back to me so clearly.
In another picture, I raise my face and half close my eyes, and I look so funny. In this one, Ms. Nam Bien wearing a white shirt, with dark sunglasses and a felt hat like a man, sits at one side. My mother sits at the other side wearing a long traditional dress. Khanh and I sit in the middle, his right arm around my shoulders in a fraternal protective way.
This picture reminds me of Khanh, whom I only met again several years later in Don Dat hospital in
My mother waved me in, whispering: “Hold her hand, my child. Maybe you won't have another chance.” I caressed her swollen hand and felt terribly moved. I stepped outside hurriedly; Khanh came close to comfort me. Both of us were so worried, sighing and praying.
In fact, I met Duc Ba one more time at the Founder’s Hall, when I returned with my family to attend the Great Festival of May 18.
Duc Ba passed away on