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Saigon Kids™ Stories: My most memorable Saigon Christmas

by Deborah (Spohr) Martin (ACS)

I believe it was 1961 Christmas in Saigon Vietnam. I was 11 years old. My father Henry Spohr was the assistant operations manager for Esso oil company, and he supported a child through Christian Children’s Fund. This child lived in Saigon. We had the child’s address so my father decided to invite the child and his family to our home for Christmas day. We prepared gifts for the parents and children. We included food soap tooth past and other hygiene items. We also had some clothing. My father went to pick the family up in our car. I was very nervous, proud and self conscious and wanted to make a good impression on the family. I remember when they arrived they had no shoes on and very simple clothing. They were very poor, I could tell. I felt awkward about inviting such poor people into our home.

After my father drove them home in the evening he described what he saw of their home to us. The five of them lived in a small hut about 10 foot by 10 foot with a corrugated metal roof, and a mud floor. No furniture was in their home but they had some straw mats rolled up in the corner. Nothing was on the walls except the large photograph of our family. This showed their love for us. I remember feeling so sad for them and wishing we had done more for them. I felt so rich and unworthy of all we had. I think of this experience every Christmas and it makes me want to reach out to those less fortunate than myself.

My mother and brother about 10 years ago returned to Saigon and went looking for our home. Everything had changed so much that it was very difficult for them to find the house but at last they found it. They said our drive way was lined with bicycles and moped motor cycles. In our home of 4 bedrooms, a large living room, a family room, a kitchen, servants living quarters and a two car garage now lived 12 families! They walked into the home and saw this. Many of those very poor families had moved into out home when the communist took over.

While we lived in Saigon, my mother wrote and illustrated a children’s book about our dochound pet dog. She titled it “Little long tail in Saigon” It was a story about a dog whose family left Vietnam and were returning to the United States. The dog wandered around the city looking for his family. There are many great illustrations showing what the city was like. If anyone cares to read the children’s book we could probably post it on line. My mother Elizabeth (Betty) Spohr ,was the American Community School art teacher for a while. I have photos of students in her classes working on art projects.

I have many other stories about our family is Saigon.

5 comments to Saigon Kids™ Stories: My most memorable Saigon Christmas

  • Juris Jurjevics

    Wonderful story. Would love to hear them all, and read Little Long Tail in Saigon.

  • frank

    Deb, Such a nice recollection.

  • Carolyn Cathey Castelli

    This is a precious and powerful story. I, too, would like to hear more from you and read Little Long Tail in Saigon. Is it in print anywhere?

  • tom rushton Vietnam 1966-1973

    Deb, what a delightful story, and so well told.
    I would love to see your mother’s book, especially those illustrations of ‘old saigon’.
    Thanks again.

  • Maile Doyle

    Hi Deb, I am years late in reading your story. My daughter-in-law is a history teacher and is teaching about Vietnam. She asked me to provide her with some stories from my time living there. (1961-1963) I have told her some things about that amazing two years. Anyway, I wanted to read what all of you have written to stimulate my own memories. I have read Les Arbuckle’s book and Sandy Hanna’s book which are marvelous. Anyway, I love this story about your Christmas and the life changing effect it had on you. Plus, I was wondering if you knew the Laughlin family who were also with ESSO. I have tried to find Michelle Laughlin for years, but no luck. Thanks in advance for any help. Maile Doyle

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