Henri successfully eats his feelings thanks to Chico’s new Hmong food truck
Chico, CA 95928
Poor Miss Marilyn.
One day she’s lying peacefully on the couch watching All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 on Netflix, and the next she’s unsteady on her feet and having trouble breathing.
“I think we should take her in,” Colette said.
I nodded, holding her in my arms, her little tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth. “I’m afraid you’re right.”
We arrived at the hospital a half-hour later, the nice lady taking us straight to an examination room. We’d only waited a few minutes when the doctor came in. He looked into her eyes and mouth, took her temperature, and shook his head. “Doesn’t look good,” he said. “She’s what, 14?”
“And a half,” I said.
“I think she should stay the night.”
I fought back a tear, and then stroked her crusty little nose. Fortunately, I’d thought to pack her little overnight bag just in case. “See you tomorrow, girl.” An assistant carried her out of the room and shut the cold heavy door behind her.
“We’ll call you in the morning,” the doctor said.
We walked out into the bleak afternoon. A cold spring wind blew, and dark clouds rolled in across the valley. It smelled like rain.
“Let’s get something to eat,” Colette said. “Maybe that’ll cheer you up.”
“Taste of Hmong,” she said. “The Hmong food truck. It’s just down the street. I’ll buy.”
One of Henri’s early thrills upon arriving in Chico 12 years ago was learning that Butte County was home to a large population of Hmong refugees and their families, among the hundreds of thousands who fled the mountains of Southeast Asia in the 1970s after being promised asylum in the U.S. and other countries, in part for assisting in the CIA’s “Secret War” against the North Vietnamese.
I love the Hmong kiosks at the farmers’ markets—the leafy greens and Asian beans, especially, as well as the colorful floral bouquets—and I have great respect for their traditional “religion,” animism, the belief that animals, plants and inanimate objects have souls, spiritual essences, and that there is no division between the physical and material worlds.
Traditional Hmong food is similar to Thai food, with most dishes cooked with chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and other herbs and spices—and served with a generous side of sticky rice. We ordered the egg rolls ($5 for six), with pork, rice vermicelli, cilantro, green onions, carrots and cabbage; two angel wings ($3 each), deboned chicken wings stuffed with vermicelli, carrots, green onions and cilantro; and the papaya salad ($5), shredded papaya, with chili peppers, tomatoes, tamarind paste, lime and peanuts. All was delicious, the salad cool and refreshing, perfectly complementing the piping hot egg rolls and angel wings. (The combination special is $10 and includes samples from most of the menu.)
As for Miss Marilyn? The good doctor did indeed call the next morning—with bad news. She hadn’t made it through the night. Henri was heartbroken. We’d been through so much together.
We debated about whether to have them save her ashes for us but in the end decided it would be too depressing to have them around the house. Instead, we drove over several days later and picked up her little leather collar with pink rhinestones.
We also picked up some lunch, the delicious Hmong sausage ($8), which came with a side of extra-long-grain sticky rice, and spring rolls ($5 for four), with shrimp, cucumber, lettuce, carrots, and vermicelli in paper-thin rice wrappers. Like the papaya salad, wonderfully cool and refreshing.
It’s been a couple of weeks now, and I’m doing OK, merci beaucoup. Even Mr. Theo seems fine, although several times we’ve found him sitting on the couch staring across the room at the mantel—at Miss Marilyn’s collar and a portrait of her as a young girl.
He, too, must know that her soul lives on.