A Mountain and A Memory
Contributor
Written by
Glen Finland
March 2012
Contributor
Written by
Glen Finland
March 2012

A gorgeous clothing catalogue showed up in my mailbox yesterday--a twenty page fashion spread shot on location in Vietnam. A model draped in gauzy fabric stretched her legs in front of a backdrop of smoky mountains, bearded trees, and glittering rivers. In contrast, frenzied city shots showed the same lanky blonde on a scooter, her arms wrapped around the waist of a much smaller man, sneaking past a traffic bottleneck.  Past vs. present. I thought, Nancy and Tina would like to see this.

So I took it along with me today when I visited their nail salon. They know me by name there. I know their names, too—Nancy is really Anh, Tina is Thui, and Dinah? She’s Dinh. We talk about simple female things, our kids, what’s for dinner, round or square. If a man comes into the salon, the unspoken rule is to treat him as if he were invisible. No eye contact, no interest in his choice of buff or clear polish. Nothing to make him feel out of place in the world of women. So when I plopped down in front of Nancy for my usual manicure, I didn’t look twice at the tall gray-haired fellow getting his nails done at Tina’s station.

Instead I opened the fashion catalogue to a breathtaking shot of the mountain peeking through clouds. “OK, you guys. Guess where this is. Come on, take a guess.”

Dinah’s hand flew to her throat. Tina gasped. “Nui Ba Den!”

The gray-haired man swiveled his head to get a good look at the photo. He had a bright red face. Clearly delighted by what he’d seen, he called out, “That’s Viet Nam!”

Surprised by his boyish enthusiasm, I said to him, “You’ve been there?”

“Ohhhh, yes! I know it well!”  As he spoke he turned his full face toward me. The left side of his jaw was a red blur of scars, the ear not much more than a hole in his head. “Navy pilot. I was shot down in those mountains in 1972. Beautiful country.”

Now I could see that his thick gray hair stemmed from orderly little rows of hair plugs across the crown of his head.

Dinah began to mumble something under her breath that involved a hissing sound and Tina cut her off with a sharp glare. The man looked at the women as though he understood what was said, but his irregular smile revealed no trace of bitterness.

 To fill the awkward silence, I blurted out, “My brother was there from ’63 to ’65.”

“The early years…must’ve been an advisor. Did he make it back?”

“Yes.”

“And how is he?”

"O.K." But that was all I knew. “He doesn’t talk about it.”

I looked down at the man's hand. There didn’t seem to be a full set of fingers there. Tina held the hand between hers, gently massaging it with cool white cream.

There was only one thing to say. “Thank you for your service.”

He smiled that same bright smile, then pushed back his chair to leave. But first, he reached into his pocket to pay.

Tina leaned forward and looked at him straight in the eyes. She patted both of his hands with hers. It was a simple thing to do.

"No charge today," she said.

 

 

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