Warning: This poem includes some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features the aftermath of trauma, choice paralysis, deadbeat grandfathers, reference to the messy past with American soldiers making war babies, abandonment issues, reference to past adultery, adoption, family dynamics, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"As Guardians of That Legacy"
[Friday, April 24, 2015]
A week after the raid,
the rescued centaurs were
settling in at the farm.
Ansel looked around,
surveying the changes.
Victim Services had sent
a generous starting sum
so that the survivors could
buy necessities and comforts.
Already, the tents were being
replaced by portable barns
as trucks pulled in to deliver
the sturdy new buildings.
Centaurs trotted back and forth
in little clusters, most of them
carrying armloads of something.
They weren't okay yet -- wouldn't
be so for a long time -- but many
found that keeping busy helped.
The first of the walking groups
had arrived several days ago,
with more due later today.
Although they had started out
together, it quickly became clear
that some could travel much faster
than others, so the walkers had
been divided into a fast group,
a medium group, and a slow group.
The mustang pinto Dodge had
emerged as the impromptu leader
of the rough-and-ready set.
She fit right in on the farm --
a disconcerting change for someone
used to being a misfit wherever she went.
Now she was hauling bales of straw to make
outhouses for the growing herd of centaurs,
and trading rude jokes with the farm hands
most of whom were veterans themselves.
The real leader, Arun, had arrived in a truck
the day after the raid, to spare his tender feet.
He did a wonderful job of protecting
the more vulnerable members of his herd,
and he didn't hesitate to carry supplies.
Ansel hauled another box of stuff
into the nearest portable barn.
Kim Van was decorating her stall
with imported furnishings from Vietnam.
One wall held a picture that showed
a family of swans on a lake, its background
soft blue water under a pale peach sky.
On the other walls hung woven tapestries
with geometric patterns in rust and dove blue.
In one corner, a low wooden platform held
colorful cushions to provide a bed, and nearby
stood a resting bench of the same style.
Kim Van crouched on the floor, using
heavy-duty doublestick tape to cover
the seagrass stall mats with colorful rugs
striped in orange, purple, blue, and spruce.
It should have clashed, but somehow
the repeating colors in different shades
merged together into a harmonious whole.
"Hi, Ansel," Kim Van said as he came in.
She waved a hand. "You like my room?"
"It's beautiful," he said. "I think that
using a platform bed is very clever."
She laughed. "I know, everyone loves
my bed! I think some will buy their own.
It's just a traditional bed, though, like
mine back home in Vietnam."
"You seem happy," Ansel said.
"I'm trying to be," said Kim Van. "I
know I can't go home, but I can bring
home here, a little bit, and that helps."
Ansel felt devoutly grateful that
Victim Services had made it possible,
even if most of the centaurs struggled
with making decisions after living so long
in a place that allowed them no choices.
They had people to offer emotional first aid
and assisted decision-making for now, and
plenty of things like home decoration where
there were really no wrong answers.
They were helping each other, too --
Lilita and Charli had eagerly tackled
the challenge of finding furniture and
decorations that would suit centaurs,
ferreting out personal preferences
buried under years of slavery.
Maybe they would decide
to pursue that as a career.
Several colleges in Missouri
offered interior design programs.
Heaven knew the world could
use people skilled in helping soups
find safe and pleasant furnishings.
Startled chatter went up like
a flock of birds behind them,
making Ansel turn to look.
His grandfather was striding
into the barn ... in a dress uniform.
"Oh dear," Ansel said faintly.
"What's wrong?" Kim Van said,
gazing at him with huge worried eyes.
"Not necessarily wrong, but serious,"
Ansel said. "Grandpa only wears
a dress uniform for special occasions."
Kim Van tugged at the hem of her blouse,
its blue cotton embroidered with pink flowers.
That was another import, its split sides
making a comfortable fit on her body.
"I look okay?" she asked him.
"You look fine," Ansel said.
"Grandpa thinks that this is
a dress-up occasion for him, but
he didn't tell anyone else to dress up,
so don't worry about it yourself."
Conrad stopped and knocked smartly
on the door of Kim Van's stall.
"Come in, please," she said,
opening the door for him.
"Thank you," Conrad said
as he stepped inside, letting
her close the door behind him.
"You sure spruced up this place."
"I'm glad you like it," said Kim Van.
"I never had so much money
to buy everything I wanted!"
Ansel winced a little, because
all she had was one room in a barn,
but if Kim Van was happy with that,
he wasn't about to burst her bubble.
Besides, a house built for humans
was too small and fragile for centaurs,
who were taller and much heavier.
Conrad smiled at her, then turned
serious again. "I got a call from
the Army," he told them.
"They find my family?
The Americans?" she said.
Victim Services had offered
the centaurs assistance in
tracking down their families.
Only a few had agreed to
a DNA search, but Kim Van had
been one of those, since she knew
that she had American relatives
whom she had never met.
"The Army has identified
your paternal grandparents,"
Conrad said. "I regret to inform
you that they are both deadbeats."
"What ...?" Kim Van's face crumpled.
"They refused to own up to what they did,
even with proof," Conrad said. "They do
owe you support, but getting that could be
more of a hassle than you might want."
A whole lot of American soldiers had
gone around Vietnam making babies --
and then making tracks. As a result,
some laws had been passed to offer
concessions to their descendants.
They hadn't found everyone, though,
and not all the soldiers wanted
any part of their war babies.
"They don't want me,"
Kim Van said. "Nobody
wants me but the monsters."
"I want you," Conrad said firmly.
"I'm offering to adopt you, Kim Van.
You'll be my granddaughter, if you like."
"Why would you -- why?" she stammered.
Ansel just stared at his grandfather.
He sure hadn't seen that coming.
Conrad sighed, looking older and sadder
than before. "When I was a wild young fool,
I went to war in Vietnam," he said. "I did a lot
of things I am not proud of. I killed a bunch of
people, some of whom did not deserve to die.
I'm ashamed to admit I also cheated on my wife."
"Did you have baby there?" Kim Van said.
"I don't know," Conrad said, dragging
a hand over his face. "As God is
my witness, I do not know. I fooled
around with several girls -- any one
could've got pregnant. I did look,
later, but I never found anything.
Guess I'll never know for sure."
"So I could have aunts or uncles
out there that I've never even
known," Ansel said, startled by
the sudden connection to himself.
"Maybe cousins too, by now."
"That's right," Conrad said.
"Kim Van, I can't do anything
about my maybe kids or about
your deadbeat grandfathers. But
if things had gone different, you
might've been mine. That's why
I'm offering to stand up where they
won't. It's one thing I can put right."
Kim Van burst into tears and
flung herself into his arms. "Yes!
I want family!" she sobbed.
"Then you got that," Conrad said,
wrapping his arms around her.
"Welcome home, kiddo,"
Ansel said. "I'm happy
to have a new cousin."
More than that, really --
she did have grandfathers,
and they might be deadbeats,
but that didn't necessarily mean
all of their relatives were too.
Ansel would have to look into
that, quietly, in case some
the others might want
to make contact later.
Conrad let Kim Van
cry herself out, fishing
a handkerchief out of
his pocket when she
started to slow down.
"There now, dry your face,"
he said. "Everything will
work out all right in the end."
Kim Van sniffled. "Why you
doing this, really?" she said.
"We are a continuum," Conrad said
as he cupped her cheek. "Just as
we reach back to our ancestors
for our fundamental values, so we,
as guardians of that legacy, must
reach ahead to our children and
their children -- and we do so with
a sense of sacredness in that reaching."
Ansel wasn't a father, but he was
a guardian of the peace, and that
was similar enough for him to relate.
He was also, quite suddenly,
Kim Van's older cousin, and that
gave him responsibilities too.
"Come on," Ansel said. "We'd
better go give Grandma the news."
Conrad looked a bit daunted by that,
although he must have discussed it with
Norma Jean before ever asking Kim Van.
Ansel knew his grandmother, though;
he'd seen how she looked after her family.
Norma Jean was going to be thrilled.
* * *
"We are a continuum. Just as we reach back to our ancestors for our fundamental values, so we, as guardians of that legacy, must reach ahead to our children and their children. And we do so with a sense of sacredness in that reaching."
-- Paul Tsongas
Read a description of the Nicholson family farm.
An average (15 hands tall) horse can be comfortable in a 10' x 12' or even a 10' x 10' stall. An inside width of 6' (a trailer quoted as having a 6' width may vary by a few inches) with a height of 7' (square sided roof rather than rounded), and a total stall length of 10', will fit a horse from about 14 hands up to about 16 hands.
The small portable barn will comfortably house about four centaurs inside if they want to block out personal space, more if they prefer huddling together. It's not really big enough to make stalls a good idea.
This barn is big enough to be divided into six individual stalls, with common space at the end of the barn. It also has a hayloft overhead for storage.
Although most of the centaurs prefer sticking together, stalls are available for whose who want more privacy. These modular stalls are assembled from panels that can be fitted together as desired. The stall front has a wide grill on the door, a small metal door for the water bucket, and a tall grill for the hay rack. All can be closed and locked for security. These have been modified for control by the stall's occupant instead of by a human groom standing outside. Here you can see that the grill on the sliding door flips down, while the water bucket and hay rack both rotate out. This gives the centaurs more control over access.
See Kim Van's Vietnamese wall hanging with swans. The woven ones look like this.
This type of floor cushion also works great on beds, chairs, benches, and so forth. They fit together well and can be fastened with vrip. The stool underneath it is a sample of rustic Vietnamese furniture, and that's the style Kim Van has chosen for her bed platform and bench. The natural tone of wood and straw makes a great match for the bright colors of the textiles.
A traditional Vietnamese bed is a solid platform of wood or bamboo covered by a sleeping mat woven from reeds or straw. In modern times -- especially with air conditioning -- some people cover the platform with blankets, cushions, or a mattress instead. But in Vietnam's sweltering climate, the traditional mat is cooler.
Vietnamese people make seagrass into various types of mats and carpets, which may be left in their natural straw color or dyed in other hues. These make great natural stall mats for centaurs who don't want rubber ones. In T-America, these are a popular fair-trade product, easily found at Asian import stores or BoHoMe.
BoHoMe is a Terramagne-American store that sells clothes, jewelry, furniture, and home decorations. It has a Bohemian and hippie flair, with lots of bright colors and quirky shapes.
Kim Van's Vietnamese rugs use bright colors. They are easily fastened in place with doublestick rug tape.
On a large farm, it is not feasible to run plumbing everywhere, nor to interrupt work on the outskirts to find a toilet. An excellent solution is the use of outhouses and dry urinals. While it is certainly possible to make these permanent installations, it is cheaper to build temporary ones from round or square straw bales. (See how to assemble a urinal from square bales, and various configurations to use.) When the receptacle fills up -- or the work moves to another location -- simply remove the hardware and let the straw rot down to compost. It may also be collected and moved to a central composting location, if the site is accessible for hauling. Another advantage over standard plumbing is that facilities can easily be built in any configuration required. While it is very difficult to modify a standard toilet for nonhuman users, modifying a straw bale outhouse requires nothing more than a discussion of desired features and the ability to lift bales.
The difference between a home decorator and an interior designer is mainly the level of education. Anyone can become a home decorator. Take a look at the Interior Design program at the University of Central Missouri. Redecorating can also help reclaim your space after a bad breakup or other trauma. You can decorate a bedroom or a whole house. It is better to start small and work your way up to larger projects before you try to get a job as a home decorator or study interior design.
(Some of these links are harsh.)
Feeling overwhelmed is a common result of facing too many choices. It can cause choice paralysis. Slavery and other forms of imprisonment greatly exacerbate these problems, impairing people's ability to function in the outside world, which can be a temporary or permanent disability. Some survivors struggle with passivity and difficulty making healthy decisions, while others become aggressive and over-controlling. Cope with choices by simplifying and breaking things into chunks. Know how to handle overwhelm too. Narrowing choices to two or three equally good options is a basic skill of assisted decision-making.
See Kim Van's blouse. Áo dài is a traditional Vietnamese garment, a tunic blouse or dress. It is typically made from light, cool cloth such as cotton or silk and may be embroidered with colorful designs such as flowers. The sides are split partway up from the hem, making it a comfortable style for centaurs.
(These links are sad and include racism.)
Kim Van is 2/4 Vietnamese and 2/4 G.I. Jockstrap. The red hair is a dead giveaway. Almost all Asian people have dark eyes and hair. Genetic dominance means the majority of Vietnamese/American children would also have dark eyes and hair, regardless of the father's coloring. Only a few had colors dramatically marking them as part foreign. But the next generation has recessive traits popping out whenever you cross two V/A parents together. And they very often wind up pairing up with each other, because the "pure" Vietnamese rarely tolerate them, let alone marry them.
Scorned as "con lai" (half-breeds) or "bui doi" (children of the dust), V/A children have been abandoned, bullied, denied education, and trafficked. Local-America put forth some efforts to reconnect those children with their American families, but it soon petered out. T-America did better, but even they couldn't find all of the war babies.
Given that background, it's no surprise that Kim Van's family sold her. :/