Yesterday was Memorial Day. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the temperature perfect. So, I decided to take a walk in the park.
It being a holiday, I knew it would be crowded. I prefer to have the place to myself, so I usually go on the weekdays. But I figured what the hell? I could put up with people for a short while; it was just too sensational a day to stay indoors. Besides, if I stayed home, I’d be chained to the computer marketing my new book. So I ran … I mean I walked to the park.
Now let me tell you about our park. It juts out into Gloucester Harbor. On one side you can look out to the Atlantic Ocean—on the other, the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, with its quaint New England houses lining the shoreline.
I walked in along the beach where the water’s edge gently lapped at the white sand. The smell of seaweed filled the air; the bright sunlight sparkled on the blue water. All was well. God was in His heaven looking down at what He had wrought, and smiling. His angels, the seraphim and cherubim, sang to the glory of the day. And me, I was happy to be alive.
Up ahead, I spied a family swarming around a picnic table. I say “swarming” because it was a large family—from small children to aged grandparents. The grill was going full blast with a beautiful young woman doing the honors. I saw a cute little girl wandering up from the beach. One of the women approached her, and in a soft, melodious voice spoke a few words in a strange dialect, one I could not place. But it was definitely Asian. That’s when I noticed the family was Asian. That’s when the smile I’d been wearing since leaving the house broadened into a wide grin.
Here was an Asian family—on Memorial Day—grilling and picnicking and looking more American than apple pie and baseball combined! Being a writer (at least that’s my excuse for being nosy), I had to know where they were from. And what was that euphonious language they spoke?
I realized it was presumptuous and arrogant on my part to think they were from anywhere other than the Good Ol’ U.S. of A. They probably had lived in Gloucester longer than I have. Without an invitation to join them, I approached a man wearing a cowboy hat and dark shades. So as to not come off as a complete a-hole, I asked, “Where are you all from … I mean originally?” And he said, “I’m from Puerto Rico. I’m the black sheep of the family.”
Okay, I wasn’t ready for that. But I quickly regrouped and said, “How about the rest of the family?” He answered, “Cambodia.”
He introduced me to his lovely wife, Sovanmuny—Muny for short. She was the woman who had been tending the grill. His name was Julio. They were very nice people and invited me to join them in their Memorial Day celebration. I politely declined their kind offer because I had smuggled a couple beers into the park and I was more thirsty than hungry.
Down the ways a bit, my usual table was taken up by another large family. And by large, I mean large. There had to be twenty of ’em. They, too, had the prerequisite grill fired up and were going to town cooking hotdogs and hamburgers—real Memorial Day food. I’m sure they had some potato salad lurking somewhere.
I took a nearby table and popped a Heineken. I had my back to the family because I didn’t want them to see me pour my beer into a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup. (I’m such a sneaky bastard!) Anyway, I got settled and started to enjoy the day more fully, now that I wasn’t exerting myself by walking.
There was a light breeze coming in off the ocean and it felt good as I sat in the warm sunshine, drinking my Heineken from a paper cup. I was thinking how lucky I was to live in such a nice town in such a great country.
It wasn’t long before I noticed the people in the large family behind me were speaking to each other in a foreign tongue. But this one I knew. It was Spanish. They were probably talking about me and didn’t want me to know what they were saying. I’m sure the women were saying what a fine, handsome specimen of manhood I was. And the men were envying my strong, masculine physique.
I paid them no mind and resumed my contemplations. Then a third family came and took the last remaining table in our little section. I could tell by looking at them, they were from India. They had brought all the accoutrements for a day at the park. And it wasn’t long before the grill was up and running and soda cans popped. They, too, spoke their own language.
I finished my first beer and started in on my second. I don’t know if it was the beer or what, but the day seemed to be getting even better. Suddenly, the idea to write this story came to me. Here I am, sitting in the middle of a quintessential small American town surrounded by people speaking everything but English. I had to write about it, but before I did, I needed a few facts.
I approached the Hispanic family and asked them where they were from. At first they looked a little fearful. Who was this interloper? How dare he ask us where we’re from? He looks kinda pasty. Where is he from? When I explained I was a writer and that writers are just naturally inquisitive and I meant them no harm, one of the women said, “We’re from Guatemala.”
I said in a loud voice so they all could hear me, “That’s wonderful! It’s people like you who make this country great. Me not so much, but definitely you folks.” That broke the ice. Everyone broke out in big smiles and I was invited to stay for dinner or lunch or whatever it’s called when your barbequing in a park on a beautiful day. Once again, I declined. I was running low on beer and would have to resupply before too long. I left them with the only Spanish phrase that I know, “Que tengas un buen dia.” (Have a nice day.) They all laughed at my pronunciation, but appreciated the effort.
As long as I was making the circuit, I hit the table with the Indian family. I asked what language they were speaking and was told Bengali. They were very nice and put up with me and my questions. After a few minutes, I wished them well and returned to my table to finish my beer.
As I sat there listening to Khmer, Spanish, and Bengali spoken all around me, I once again thought, “What a great country I live in.” And just for the record, everyone I talked to that day spoke English better than me (or is it I?).