As I sit down to lunch with my parents at a beachside resort famous for having a huge population that immigrated to Newark, New Jersey, the waitress walks over with a bottle of wine. “This one is compliments of the gentlemen sitting in the back of the restaurant.”
My dad is already smiling as he looks across the very basic and typical Portuguese establishment, he starts talking and suddenly I realize he’s talking to me as he looks at the man “Don’t you recognize M? Mr. M who has the so and so business in Newark?” I turned to look at a familiar yet unfamiliar face.. already coming my way with a hand extended. He sat down next to me and immediately began going over all the old Newark stories that he remembers involving my parents, going all the way back to 1960.
Of all the stories he told at the lunch table, one in particular kept coming back and stuck out in my mind. His time in Vietnam. As he showed me scars all over his body, from bullet and grenade wounds, he spoke about his Portuguese friends who had grown up with him, immigrated, and died in the jungle. My dad followed each name, seemingly going through his own list of which Portuguese neighbor who he knew from grade school in Portugal that had wound up serving in the US military and dying in Vietnam.
As he spoke about the day he was ambushed, and the coma that followed, and all the people who thought he was dead… he would occasionally come back to the present, talking about all the young kids and immigrants serving in Iraq. “We had kids with us back then, but they were surrounded by adults, people who could take care of them and teach them… not like how they send them out today.”
Seemed like hours that he spoke, story after story.. and I kept thinking about all those immigrants.. Portuguese people who hadn’t been in the country for more than 5 years, and how they ended up – of all places – in Vietnam.
I sat and listened to Mr. M’s stories well after lunch was over. Sad as it may have seemed, there was a tone of quiet satisfaction…. to have lived a full life since then and to be able to remember each person and tell about them.