Pine Nuts: A cube of ice

As Mark Twain tells us, “It’s the little things that smoothes people’s roads out the most.”

And so it happened back in 1966 on a hellish afternoon in a Vietnam village, that a Montagnard woman handed a Marine a cube of ice. There was no electricity in that village, nor was there enough money to purchase a generator, so how could this guardian angel have manufactured a cube of ice?

Knowing I must be wondering that very thing, she smiled an eloquent smile that comes with holding an answer to a riddle. Her teeth were black and red from chewing betel nuts, yet her smile was enchanting, and her eyes twinkled with merriment and mystery.

While smiling a smile of genuine gratitude, I took a hard look at that ice cube before rubbing it on the back of my neck, and in the time it took that cube of ice to melt down the back of my neck we were bonded by what she knew, and what I wished I knew.

Perhaps her husband had stolen a generator from us, and that was her way of saying thanks, I don’t know. But I bowed a low bow to show my gratitude, a gesture that elicited another beautiful betel nut smile, and the fog of war was lifted for a brief moment by a cube of ice.

She must be a rather mature woman by now I can only imagine, and if I had her address I would send her a box of dry ice with some ice cream bars for her grandkids, and a note: “Dear kind lady, your thoughtful gift of an ice cube will never be forgotten by this former Marine. The way I’ve got it figured, you stopped time for me just long enough to keep me from wandering into the path of a wayward bullet. And as Mark Twain reminds us, ‘Prov’dence don’t fire no blank ca’tridges.’ Others were not so lucky.”

I feel as close to that gracious Montagnard woman as I do to my old great Aunt Hazel. It took an outstretched hand, a cube of ice, and a betel nut smile to unveil the humanity we hold in common, and the absurdity of warfare that we might never comprehend.

Just as we send the Webb Telescope out to the edge of the Universe to take a peek into the past, and are reminded of our towering genius, we stand in bewilderment, as yet another country invades a neighbor to remind us of our egregious assfulness.

Here’s a prayer for a world governed by law and not by force … I do wish I could give that wonderful Montagnard woman a hug and thank her for possibly the luckiest gift anybody ever bestowed upon me, the gift of a cube of ice on a hellish afternoon in a war zone. Thank you, Dear Lady, wherever you are …


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