Chapter 03 Labor day

Buffalo, 2009

August moved into September, and it was Labor Day weekend. All the apartments were filled, and I had my traditional Labor Day Cookout. Some of the kids lived within driving distance, so they went home for the four day weekend.

But some don't go, and so I have a cookout. The tenants and their boyfriends and/or girlfriends, some of my past tenants, my son and his family – there's usually about 30 or so people there.

Samantha and I had pretty much avoided each other for the past week and a half. Which was fine. She seemed to be a good enough kid. I was taking a break from the grill and sitting at a picnic table.

Sam was wearing bright international distress orange short-shorts and a tube top that left little to the imagination. She was carrying a plate of food. "Mr. Sherman."

"Miss Hong." I nodded to her.

"Can I sit next to you?"

"Only if you start calling me Joe, like everybody else does."

"Can we start over?" she said, "Hi, Mr. Sherman, I'm Samantha Hong. I'm one of the renters in 2B. I took over Sally's contract. My friends call me Sam."

"Please to meet you, Sam." I said, taking her hand. "Have a seat."

"This seems a lot like home." she said in Vietnamese.

"Where's home?" I said.

"Atlanta" she said, "My folks have a place in Marietta."

"Oh?" I said. "What's your dad do?"

"Real estate broker." she said. "There's a large community of Viets and Hmong in the Atlanta area, he specializes in helping them, although he's pretty good in Spanish and Russian"

"Really?" I said.

"Yeah" she said, "My family is pretty good at languages."

"Yeah, pretty interesting mix of languages." I said.

My son came over and sat down – he was sweating pretty profusely, he'd been playing volleyball with the kids. "Hi Dad"

I picked up a paper plate and fanned him with it. "Be careful, Ron. You ain't as young as you used to be, boy."

"You ain't kidding, dad. You know that saying about "I hit Forty and Forty hit back?" – well Forty is getting in a few swings early." He looked at Sam and smiled. "Although who are you to talk, sitting here under the umbrella with a beautiful young lady?"

He looked at Sam "Greetings, beautiful lady." he said, the smiled, "Sorry, that just about exhaust my Vietnamese language skills"

Sam looked at him in surprise. "I'm surprised you know that much." She said.

Ron laughed. "I was dating a Vietnamese girl when I was in college. Dad insisted that I learn to a bunch of polite greetings and comments."

"How'd it work out?" said Sam, cocking her head.

"Well, about like most college romances, we moved on eventually, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted."

Ron's kids came up and begged him to set up the slip'n'slide.

I watched them with fondness.

"You have a nice family. Your son seems like a nice person." Said Sam.

"Well, it surprises the hell out of me." I said. "His mom and I got divorced when he was five, we didn't have a real good relationship when he was growing up."

"Yeah, I was traveling a lot in those day, sometimes, months at a time. Can't blame his momma, can't blame him for not really understanding. Things are better now."

She laughed. "You sound like my Grandma."

I quirked an eyebrow.

"She and my dad came out of Viet Nam on a raft in '75." She said. "125 people boarded the raft, the Navy pulled 20 survivors out of the South China Sea. My grandfather was one of the ones who didn't make it."

I reached out my hand. "I'm sorry."

"Why?" she said. "You weren't one of the fatcats that abandoned us to the Communists. You were probably just some peasant warrior, doing what you were told. My dad had a lot of anger for years, but it was – what was that line I read – "f**ked up people in a f**ked up situation."

"I'm still sorry." I said. "I did a lot of bad things over there, and – there was a woman." I said. "I married her, registered it with the American Military Authorities, I was trying to get her back to the States with me."

"What happened?" said Sam, her eyes wide.

"Her village was attacked. Everybody wiped out. No survivors." I said.

Gretchen ran over. "Hey, why the long face?" she said. "This is a day for fun!" She pulled at Sam's shoulder. "C'mon, you need to bring that incredible throwing arm so we can beat these assholes at horse shoes!"

Sam smiled at me helplessly.

"Go" I said, sweeping my fingers at her. "Go have fun, little one." I said "Life is too short to cry on a sunny day."

Sam looked shocked. "My grandmother says that all the time."

I smiled at her "Your grandmother is a smart person." I said. "I'd like to meet her some day."

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Comments always welcome, folks