Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sentinel column - 8-3-13

Last week I shared one of the pleasures of volunteering at the market – getting to visit the farms. Little did I know that an extraordinary pleasure was waiting for me and market volunteer Marilyn Thornberry the very next day. We were invited to a Xa Noob Ncoos/Tsoog Laug. Yes, it was a new one on us, too, and please don’t ask me to pronounce it. Our long-time vendor and friend Der Hang Lor (photo left) invited us to this special party given in her and her husband’s honor by their children. Although I was scheduled to drive to Fort Worth to visit my parents, I could tell by the invitation that I needed to at least make an appearance at the party before heading south. It was a formal invitation, printed and embossed and included the following: 2 pm Doors Open, 3 pm “Khi tes”, 4 pm Dinner, 6 pm Entertainment, Midnight Doors close. Now that’s a party!

The invitation also said “proper attire required” and as we got ready I told my husband Phil that I was pretty sure that didn’t include the shorts he was wearing. He changed to slacks and a polo. When we arrived at the Neosho Civic Center I turned to him and said “uh oh, you’re still underdressed in a big way.”  In the lobby were Der’s three sons, all in suits, giving each guest a special drink. At the door to the banquet area were Der’s daughter-in-laws pinning a silk rose on every guest. They were dressed in long silk and satin brocade dresses with sashes over one shoulder, beautifully made up and bedecked with jewelry. Once inside we saw round tables with seating for about 250 people, all of whom were equally beautifully dressed, even the children. The tables were covered with white cloths and broad golden satin runners. Each table held a tall pedestal topped by a floral arrangement. The chairs were draped in white covers with matching golden satin sashes.

As soon as we stepped through the door, Nhao Hang, Der’s sister-in-law and fellow vendor at the market, spotted us and took us to a table at the front. Der and her husband, Nhia, appeared almost immediately, exchanging hugs and handshakes with us and much to our surprise sitting down at the table on either side of us. 

Though they obviously hoped we could stay till midnight, they graciously accepted that we would have to leave on our trip before long and insisted that we eat dinner early. The appetizer tables were covered with fresh fruits and desserts – some of which were familiar like cupcakes, some of which I’d never seen like silken slabs of neon colored firm puddings.

Directly in front of the stage was a huge table loaded from edge to edge, primarily with fruits but also bearing two of the  four pigs roasted for the event and other ceremonial items like two roasted chickens complete with heads and feet and the tail of the beef roasted beef for the event. A niece had carved melons into bouquets with the unpeeled section serving as the vase and the peeled section carved into patterns. I asked Nhia the purpose of the table which was so loaded that no one could possibly eat on it. It was to be used for the Khi tes, a ceremony where each child gave their parent the end of a string keeping hold of the other end while giving a formal speech of thanks (below).

I also asked Nhia about the entertainment planned. He said that there would be dancing and that he and Der had never danced before in their life but their children had informed them they were dancing tonight!  The entertainment also included a professional Hmong group from Alabama.

The party is, as best I could tell, a traditional event that children give for their parents when they are old – Der and Nhia are younger than me (which I don’t think of as being all that old). The age of celebration is probably a traditional one based on the shorter life spans of an earlier age.

We were able to stay for the first of the ceremonies which involved all nine children and their spouses standing on stage while Nhia gave a very long talk, which I assume was about their family and their family history in the Hmong language, which made sense since Phil and I were the only non-Hmong in the room. There were several touching moments that had pretty much everyone in tears, including me even though I couldn’t understand a word. Then Der gave a much shorter talk. I'm guessing that Nhia had already pretty much said it all.

By that time our departure was overdue so with hugs and thanks we headed for the door only to run into Marilyn and our friend Cindy LaMere walking in the door. After they were appropriately pinned with silk roses and given their special drink I took them to the places of honor that we had vacated. Later Marilyn told me that she had never had so much fun in her life. They stayed for four hours of music and dancing.
It was the party of a lifetime, which is exactly what it was meant to be. 

We market volunteers are so blessed to know these kind and generous people. And we’re all lucky to enjoy the fruits of their labor. 

Today at the market Extension folks will demonstrate and sample Fresh Peach Smoothies. (Yes, I said it – Peaches!  We’re expecting two truckloads from Pates Orchard today.)  Patrick Byers and Shon Bishop with Extension will answer gardening questions. Granny Shaffers at the Market serves home style chicken and noodles, chicken salad sandwiches and fruit plates. The Sours play traditional music.

Tomorrow, the Civil Air Patrol serves breakfast. We always enjoy working with these teenagers looking forward to a future in flight, particularly the Air Force. William Adkins performs. Don’t forget to drop a dollar or two in his tip jar. He comes a long way from Arkansas for the meager amount the market pays. Market Lady Susan Pittman will demonstrate and sample Summer Black Bean Pasta Salad.

Tuesday, of course, we’ll have music and lunch and short lines.

A week from tomorrow is our annual Tomato Contest. If you’d like to enter, stop by the information table for an entry form or go to our web site,, for details.