I live in Millbrae, California, a small suburb about 10 miles south of San Francisco. It’s got a nice shopping area in easy walking distance from my house. Every now and then, I will walk past some random item that has been abandoned on the sidewalk. After I walk by, I always think, “I should take a picture of that.” Last night, I finally did because this piece was truly random.

Now, when I die, Now don't think I'm a nut, Don't want no fancy funeral, Just one like ol' King Tut.

This unlucky pharaoh was left on the bench outside the Kohl’s that closed about a year ago. He’s had a rough time of it, but whoever abandoned him thoughtfully placed him face up and left a portion of his broken beard beside him.

It’s such a “Wait. What?” moment when you pass by something like this. There’s no store nearby that sells such items, so it had to be carried there, but why? Plot bunnies hop around items like this, wanting to take you down the rabbit holes of possibilities.

Is Broken Pharaoh’s appearance on a suburban mall bench mysterious or mundane? The great thing about random items is, it’s all up to you.

Past is Present

We all have some claim to fame, often in the form of a distant relative of some distinction. Mine is Homer Laughlin. He’s my great-granduncle (or something like that) and founder of Homer Laughlin China, the company that produces Fiestaware.

Homer Laughlin - ancestral potter

Homer Laughlin – ancestral potter

Yes, Fiestaware. That is my claim to fame. Hey, it’s all I got!

On the other hand, my husband, Khanh, has an ancestor of great distinction. He is a direct descendent of Nguyễn Văn Tường, a powerful mandarin who ruled as the regent of Vietnam during the mid-nineteenth century.

Nguyễn Văn Tường - actually made history.

Nguyễn Văn Tường – actually made history.

He is a controversial figure, comparable to Richard III of England. Some see him as a king slayer and a traitor, selling out the country to French colonialists. Others see him as a hero and the man who tried to stop the French from colonizing Vietnam. History, of course, is written by the winners and much of what information is available in English about Nguyễn Văn Tường favors the French version of events.

Khanh’s family denies most of the allegations made against Nguyễn Văn Tường. My father-in-law did extensive research and authored a scholarly biography of his ancestor’s life that ultimately dispels many of the accusations made against him.

Family altar of Nguyễn Văn Tường.

Family altar of Nguyễn Văn Tường.

Every two years, the descendants of Nguyễn Văn Tường gather to honor his memory. Khanh and I attended the ceremony this year. The past was indeed present as the family showed pride and reverence toward their maligned and vindicated ancestor. It was an honor to be there.