You are born. Then you die. So it goes.
Born: April 29, 1924. Died: April 15, 2020. So it goes. And what can I say about this incredible man who died a couple weeks short of his 96th birthday and of his life?
Bravo to those who recognize ￼that line from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Fittingly I think of this book and that line now as I grapple with my guilt, sorrow, regret and grief. The novel is based on Vonnegut’s own experiences in World War II and was published during the Vietnam War. I never knew how Pounce felt about war or even much about his own WWII experiences. So many things I wished I would have asked him about and now will never have the chance to. So I won’t write about his life as I can do more justice and pay homage by talking about the influence he (and Pat) had and still continue to have on my own life (and my family’s lives).
I should start with I don’t think that the line “so it goes” is fatalist at all. I wholeheartedly disagree with the Tralfamadorians and believe that free will does exist. Let’s start with the fact that it’s an anti war book and was published in the midst of another brutal war. If everything was predestined, why even bother? I believe the line simply acknowledges that death happens and is a fact of life but it doesn’t take away from the heartbreak it bestows when it does occur. Because death does come ~ for each and every one of us. So it goes.
And what happens in those moments before the inevitable end? In what we call life? Perhaps the measure of a life well lived isn’t just how fully you were able to engage, love, and experience but as importantly how deeply you’ve touched those around you. How many people you have shaped in ways that aren’t apparent to you and sometimes even to them until they really start thinking about it. I wish that I could have told him and hope that he knew how much our lives were shaped and changed by him, by them. So there’s some comfort to be had in knowing that it was a well lived life for him.
I have written before that I am an American sheerly by luck. Quick little history lesson. For almost twenty years, a war raged on in this Southeast Asian country called Vietnam that also ensnared the US. It was deeply unpopular in this country and became more so as it dragged on but finally ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975. As it tends to happen with wars, there was a mass exodus of persons fleeing insecurity and persecution. I’ve read that there was a Gallup poll conducted in May 1975 and 54% of Americans were opposed to admitting Vietnamese refugees to live in the United States. But there were also 36% of Americans in favor and some went so far as to help sponsor families.
So it was under these conditions that my parents along with two of my dad’s younger brothers (and my older sister born en route) ended up in Denver, Colorado on October 8, 1975. So how did these four refugees from the Vietnam War end up in the US? How was it that they were able to start a life in a land that was against the very thing that forced them to leave their homeland and even a little and/or maybe a lot against them even being here? How did people from a humid, tropical land end up in such a dry place that is a mile above sea level with towering mountains to the west and that had SNOW?
Because of the Musgraves. They along with three other families from a Baptist church sponsored my parents. Without their sponsorship, my parents would have remained at Camp Pendleton in California. And what did being a sponsor entail? They helped them get set up with a place to live and then helped them find their first jobs. They helped to acclimatize my family to Colorado, to the US. They helped them settle into this place that my parents would eventually make into our home. So maybe I should stop saying that I’m an American sheerly by luck ~ there’s an element of fortune but also some very active participation by some extremely generous souls.
But the Musgraves didn’t simply sponsor my family ~ they became family. Because of Pat and Pounce I would learn that family is not only those that you are born to but those that choose you and those that you choose￼. And again for me some element of fortune being born into a family with people whom I am generally quite fond of but also being lucky in encountering some amazing people along my journey that have welcomed me into their families and vice versa.
I remember hearing stories of my uncles getting into fights because they were called racists names while growing up. But I also know that during those times, the Musgraves provided a very happy place that they could go to. My uncles would ride on their shared bike over there and have Pounce happily welcome them in and announce to Pat that they were there. Cold root beer and snacks would be provided in their basement while they played games.
By the time, I and my two younger siblings came, my family was more established (in general and financially) and my parents had moved us to the burbs north of Denver. So we weren’t lucky enough to just be able to ride our bikes over to their house. But our summers, Christmases, and other important events were defined by our times with the Musgraves. So many of my favorite childhood memories are associated or are because of them. I know this is true for all of my family. Pool times. Their fridge for cold drinks in the garage (which most of my family has now emulated). Sleepovers. Ginger ale. Dairy Queen ~ blizzards and dilly bars and dipped cones. Water world. Cold mini snickers bars. Not getting us girls confused (but I blame that mostly on my parents and their naming of us). Buckwheat pancakes. I’m sure at some point in our lives we would have found out about this things but I love that the Musgraves introduced them to us and now how we are often reminded of them and those times.
I had in some ways a pretty idyllic childhood made possible only because of the Musgraves. There’s all these things one takes for granted when you’re part of a culture or society but for those coming in, it’s helpful to have guides show you the way. Lol remember this is before the internet and Google so how else would we have known what they ended up showing us? My parents not only had us to support but slowly sponsored my father’s eight other siblings (and their families) plus both sets of grandparents over to the US so a lot of our spoiling was done by the Musgraves. They also laid the foundation for us to continue to give back as they did. They took my uncles skiing who in turn took us skiing later on and in the same way, they created Easter egg hunts, I would do the same for many of my younger cousins. I never gave it any thought as they were always a huge part of our lives and only now realize how extraordinary they and their actions were. They had three boys of their own and they sponsored others as well but always made time for us and made that time so special. Now I’m surrounded by a huge bustling extended family who are comfortable with both American and Vietnamese culture and traditions but how different my life would have been if the Musgraves hadn’t been there for us?
I think about all of the ways that they have touched my life in big and small ways. When I was in Kauai earlier this year and upgraded to a convertible, my only request was for a white one because they had a white Sebring convertible when I was younger. I thought of all the sunny days that we had driving with the top down in that car. I drove with the top down throughout all of the island dodging and racing raindrops wishing that I had more time with Pat. And I know how my love of ice cream was cemented during our time with the Musgraves ~ like I said, we went to Dairy Queen a LOT.
I still think of Pounce whenever I see dolphins. He had welcomed us to his house in Naples, Florida one spring break. I was thinking that I wasn’t sure that we would still have a relationship with him after Pat died but he had us come by and there were these dolphins you could see frolicking in the surf from the shore! And I saw him with someone else and I remember thinking that I’m so happy that he’s happy. It didn’t seem weird to me at all that it wasn’t Pat. I think about it now how he showed that life goes on and we can either choose to dwell in the past or we move on and embrace the present. And I’ll miss his voice. And his smile.
I wish of course that I had told this all to him whilst he was still alive. But I didn’t and so I will share it now so you all know a little about this man who managed to leave behind such a profound legacy. May He Rest In Peace.
He was born. He lived well. And he died. So it goes.
PS. As we are living through this novel coronavirus crisis and unable to see our loved ones, take a moment to let them know how you feel. That should be to everyone you hold near and dear. Spend some time asking the questions you’ve been meaning to ask. Tomorrow is never promised. I don’t have many regrets but this is one that will haunt me for awhile. And please stay safe, healthy, sane, and well ~ with love and light always, Rosemary