It was a cool and sunny, fall day. As I got out of my car to do a piano tuning in my old neighborhood of Ravenswood, I saw the back of a man dressed in a long winter coat and a pointed stocking cap. He was over dressed. A memory stirred in my mind. I grabbed my tools and ran after him. I caught up to him and called out his name- Peter. He turned and with a big smile moved to embrace me, “Hello my “teacha”, how are you?” Kahn, renamed Peter, was a refugee from Vietnam. He had been a captain in the South Vietnamese army and when Saigon fell to the communists in 1975, he was sent to a re education camp. He was allowed to immigrate to the US in the late 1980s and I met him when he started attending an English as a second language course that I was teaching in the neighborhood church. He clung to me. “I am so happy to see you teacha.” I explained that I was on my way to a piano tuning. We walked together.
Kahn was about 50 years old when he came to the US with his wife and 3 school age children. He came with health problems from having lived in the camps. I helped him get a job cleaning at the church where I taught. He hooked his arm in mine, and we walked. I asked him how his family was. He said, “they are very well, teacha.” I asked him how many grand children he had. “I have 10 grandchildren.” I asked him if he ever went back to Vietnam for a visit. He said “no, teacha, I try to forget.” Years ago I had asked him about his experience of being a captain in the South Vietnamese army. His only response was to laugh and say, “GIs afraid of Viet Cong, GIs afraid of Viet Cong. Yes, GI’s afraid of Viet Cong, teacha.” I could never get him to call me by my name and he couldn’t wrap his mind around my being single. That’s my friend, Peter Kahn. We said goodbye and I walked up to the house where I was tuning.