It was the Fourth of July, if I remember. Or maybe it just felt like it. Dao, Annie, Diep and Jenny were on a flight to Los Angeles and we were going to welcome them to the United States with an American picnic. Mum had arranged for someone to pick them up at the airport while she went to a park early in the day and staked our claim on a picnic table.
It was still early--in fact the call may have waked us up--when my husband Rick and I were drawn into the day's events.
Mum's voice sounded apologetic, as it often did when she had to break it to us that there had been another change of plans. (They were so common she called them "C. of P.") "Hi, Honey. There's been another C. of P."
"Hi, Mum. Dao's being flown to Alaska?"
"No." She laughed without losing her air of purpose. "Do you--does Rick have a pair of pants he doesn't need?"
What did this have to do with a picnic? "I--don't know. I'll ask him." There was no point getting into "Why?" yet. I knew we'd hear about it in good time.
I asked Rick (my husband then). He thought there was an old pair he could live without.
When I relayed this information, she asked, "Could you--would one of you mind driving them over to _______ Park? I'll meet you there. Actually, maybe Rick should bring them. There's a man here that needs them. I'll tell you all about it when I see you later."
Rick agreed to go without complaining but I could see him shaking his head a bit as he dressed. With Mum it was always something--something totally unpredictable.
When we both went later to meet Mum in the park at the originally agreed-upon time, with our promised contributions to the picnic, we found she had secured a table. It was complete with a paper tablecloth, paper plates, and plastic tableware, as well as containers of what we presumed to be food.
And a strange man.
As Mum greeted us and explained who would be bringing Dao and the girls and when they were expected, I couldn't help noticing out of the corner of my eye that a small Mexican man was sitting quietly at the table. He was probably just resting on the bench for a minute, I decided, and would get up and leave soon.
Just when I couldn't pretend to ignore him any longer, Mum said, "Oh, let me introduce you to Jose." Jose stood and bowed slightly as we offered him handshakes. Mum laughed slightly. "He's the one who needed Rick's pants." I realized now that he had on a pair of familiar-looking pants way too big for him in every direction.
On the pretext of helping us fetch things, Mum walked with us to our car so she could talk to us privately.. "When I came here this morning," she told us, "I made several trips to the table and then sat down to wait for everybody. After a few minutes I thought I heard something. I looked around and there was no one in sight. Then I heard the noise again.
"This time I looked up--and there was a man crouched in a tree overhead."
It turned out that Jose was from Mexico and had been sleeping under the tree the night before when a couple of guys found him there and roughed him up. They demanded everything he had on him, including his clothes. Apparently when Jose saw Mum coming--I say apparently, because he could not communicate this to her in English--he was so embarrassed he climbed the tree.
But Mum, in her usual way, got him all sorted out and managed to convey to him that he was welcome to join our family picnic.
Other tables were filling up now so it was good Mum had come early (good for us and especially good for Jose.) But we still had two or three hours to kill. We sat down and chatted with Mum for awhile. We didn't want to be rude to Jose but we didn't know what to say to him, nor he to us. Questions like "What was it like hiding naked in that tree?" were a bit awkward, even if we'd known how to say them.
Dao and the girls arrived eventually and so did other people I'm sure but that part of the picnic is a blur. All I remember is the shock of being at a "family" meal with a bunch of strangers and no common language--four who spoke only Vietnamese, one who spoke only Spanish and the rest of us who spoke only English. Mum and I kept throwing in smatterings of Japanese and a soupcon of French--but it wasn't intentional.
Tim can keep each new language he learns in its own compartment. If he needs "thank you" he goes to the appropriate bin to pull up"arigato," "spasiba," "danke," "gracias" or "ta." But Mum and I were both created linguistically incorrect. Every foreign language we learn goes into one big mushpot. So when we fumble for foreign words, especially with Asian people, Japanese is usually what comes out. Or even ghastly combinations like Mum's memorable sentence, "Coke wa pau desu," which jumbled three languages, including a smidge of Hawaiian. (She was trying to say, "There's no more Coke.") And she bowed as she said it.
It was a long afternoon. Nobody could speak intelligibly to anyone else--but somehow everyone had a wonderful time.
Our family had expanded again. Someday it would include everyone in the entire world. I just knew it.