Hua showed up as we were securing breakfast. He parked his new bike (the Helyett) * in Papa-San’s spot. Apparently all of Papa-San’s possessions were sold off at a Vietnamese version of an estate sale and Hua got the bike. There was no immediate family, and the money raised would pay for a proper grave marker. Mama-San had initiated this effort.
After the trash pickup, Mama-San made her rounds delivering bundles of clean laundry. She came to the mess hall with Hua as her interpreter and presented a blue ceramic rice bowl to each of the cooks. They were part of a set of wedding china belonging to Papa-San.
Other gifts were presented by Hua. I received a French “coup coup” machete in a leather sheath, Sumo was given the leather strop used for blade sharpening and Reb got a small cloth rolled bundle of carving tools. All of these gifts were part of Papa-San’s personal belongings. Hua said, “You Papa-San’s friends, he would want you to have.”
Hua had no father, Mama-San had taken him in as an orphan, and Papa-San had no son (Papa and Mama-San were not related — just friends). It was an arrangement of necessity and convenience. Although only 14, Hua was approaching military age and I worried about his future. Trust was a difficult issue between the Vietnamese and American troops. No one on either side wanted to be conned or taken advantage of, and there were con artists on both sides. We were there to protect them, but there was no confidence in this endeavor. The Vietnamese had been abandoned in the past.
We accepted these gifts in memory of Papa-San. The machete was used, but a very functional tool. The strop had been borrowed by Sumo many times and now would be in his care. Reb, (the artist) would put the carving tools to good use.