The summer of 1975, Nixon had just resigned amid scandal, American troops withdrew from Vietnam, and Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.
I went to 4H camp and stamped a leather bracelet.
That meant I was missing from the newspaper photo of my parents, brother and sister as they greeted our new Vietnamese refugee family at the Nashville airport.
It was a family of four. The husband’s name had been found on a wanted list on the body of a dead Viet Cong. It was truly life or death for him to escape. The family made it safely to the other side of the world to arrive as the first refuge family sponsored in Nashville.
Weeks before, my mother had read about the need for sponsors. We had lived in Thailand 1969-70, and were familiar with the cultures of the region. Mom was also feeling lonely after our move to Tennessee and looked forward to new friends. So, she called up and told the agency that we could sponsor the family and that the husband would be able to work at my uncle’s concrete company where my father was recently a partner.
Unfortunately, the construction work proved to be too much for Moo, the husband and father. He was thin and frail and grieved that he couldn’t do the demanding physical labor. A neighbor providentially got him a job with a local thermos company. With our help Moo was (after some scary lessons) soon able to get a driver’s license and an apartment.
Soon after their arrival, we received a call from Tammy Wynette, the well-known country music singer, famous for “Stand By Your Man.” She too had sponsored a refugee, a single woman. Would we be interested in visiting her with our Vietnamese family? Yes, we would be happy to.
We were given the grand tour after arriving. There was glamour and glitz everywhere erupting from deep shag carpet. I figured my entire house could fit in the master bedroom. I remember the live-in nanny’s quarters featured a round bed. Tammy’s daughter and I discovered we had the same birthday. She took me on a rollicking golf cart ride around the property after a swim in the pool.
Just as we were about to leave, a tour bus pulled up and a tired-looking star emerged with her hair in rollers. We exchanged greetings and assured her that all had gone well before heading back home. It was a good day where people from across the world, and rich and average folk from the same country, could share what they had in common. A little bit of sweetness in a world with so much wrong with it.
By Christmas, Moo and his family were off to California in a Volkwagen van to meet up with relatives and really start their new American lives.