Newly ordained, I stand in front of a brightly decorated Christmas tree. Next to me is Nhia (Jonah) Xou Yang, former CIA collaborator turned minister. We are in the shared sanctuary of our respective Hmong and American congregations in a church on Saint Paul’s North End. It is Advent 1982. Soon the peacefulness is shattered. A rock band composed of Hmong teenagers arrives, rehearsing as they do each weekday afternoon. The noise drives us from our contemplation...

At the Sparkle Laundromat on Rice Street


The teenagers are bored, having nowhere else to go, but not wanting to go home to the drab familiarity of housing projects and apartment complexes. We too are directionless, but directionless in the same place and time—between jobs, between loves, between ambitions; we are loitering without intent. Hank Williams echoes from a small dusty speaker, quarters tumble from the change machine, pool balls click with soft indifference.

Nanny and Nanny’s Daddy


p>Nanny is my grandmother. Daddy is her husband, my grandfather. One day, years ago, Nanny and Daddy were out looking for the Winter Carnival Medallion. They watched others find the medallion on the grounds of Nanny’s old house.

Great-Grandma’s Fur Coat


As coats made from the pelts of animals go, the one that I inherited three years ago probably wasn’t that expensive: It isn’t mink, beaver, sable, or even fox. Rather, it’s made from the pelts of brown rabbits, dyed black. We figure it came to my Austro-Hungarian great-grandma in the 1930s; family lore has it that Great-Uncle Ted presented it as a gift to his mother. Inside, embroidered in champagne-colored thread on small slips of satin that match the lining, are her initials: M. L., for Mary (Peck) Laber. But there is a bit of mystery associated with the coat—a photo shows Grandma Laber in a dark fur that’s a slightly different style from the one I inherited.