The Andersons, Part 1

Note: The focus of My Name is Fox is on the history of my parents, but I am including a mini series of posts about the Andersons because they are important to my family. Part 1 was very much written as a personal essay, while Parts 2 and 3 will fit more with the theme of this blog.

 

I think I get it from them. 

For most of my life, I have felt different from my family. From a young age, I took to creative activities, such as writing, drawing, and eventually music. This was not welcome in my family. As I got older, social justice and community service grew as the center of my life. This was not welcome, either. 

“You need to put yourself first,” my mother would say. 

“You think of others too much,” my father would say. 

I understand that they were saying this in my best interest. Naturally, parents want their children to not only survive, but be successful and stable as adults. Although I can admit to being naive at a young age and lacking the proper understanding of self care, I have evolved to better understand boundaries. And while I still care about these things, no one else in my family does. People have asked me, “Where do you get it from?” 

Two unexpected obituaries helped me understand where all of this came from: those of Mr. William Anderson and Mrs. Melba Anderson. 

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Family lunch in the early 90’s

William Anderson, or Bill, was my father’s sponsor when he first arrived in the United States as a refugee from Việt Nam. Old enough to be his father, he took my dad in like his own son and helped him get back on his feet – not that my dad was the type who needed that much help. He stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Anderson for only six months before he became fully independent, moved out and married my mom, and continued his life as an entrepreneur, a homeowner, and the father of two daughters in the Silicon Valley. 

Growing up, my family didn’t see the Andersons very often, but when we did, it was with great fondness. They were like grandparents to my sister and me. Our parents occasionally drove us two hours north to Larkspur to visit. We would arrive at their house in their quaint, leafy neighborhood and eat lunch together. I remembered Mrs. Anderson, Melba, would make this amazing pumpkin bread for my sister and me, and then our mother would scold us for eating too much of it at once. 

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A typewritten letter from Mrs. Anderson including the recipe for her beloved pumpkin bread

Being children, we took everything for granted and didn’t ask questions. I never asked Mr. and Mrs. Anderson where they were born, how they met, what they did before they met our parents… I didn’t know anything besides the extremely generous and courageous thing they did: taking care of my dad, and several other Vietnamese refugees who fled the war. 

 

Mr. Anderson passed away in 2008, and Mrs. Anderson in 2010. 

In late October 2018, I moved to Washington, D.C. I did this for many reasons: to live on the east coast and pursue happiness, to experience change and growth after having spent most of my life in California, and to pursue work in the social impact sector, where many of my favorite nonprofits were headquartered. There was significant resistance from my family, but I eventually made the move. 

Later that November, I was riding a bus on Veteran’s Day to Philadelphia. I knew that Mr. Anderson was a veteran–vaguely that he had fought in WWII. There was actually a lot about him that I didn’t know. And then I remembered that I never read his obituary after he had died. So I Googled it. 

This is what I found: 

William Abbott Anderson died at home on September 28, 2008 after a short illness. He was born in 1921 in Rockwell, Iowa to Eva and Horace Anderson. He spent his teenage years in Tennessee; his brother Donald died in 1962. In 1942, Bill enlisted with the US Army in the 146th Combat Engineer Battalion. As First Lieutenant he led his Company C in the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day. They fought numerous other battles; Bill received seven medals and merit commendations. But it was the freeing of Nazi concentration camps as a member of military governance in 1945-46 that caused Bill to “grow up fast and hard” and provided the focus for the rest of his life. While attending school in Washington D.C. he met then married Melba Avery. They returned to Europe; Bill pursued graduate studies and worked for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). After Leslie was born, they returned to the U.S., settling in Larkspur, where daughter Erica was born. Bill worked for Bechtel Power Corporation for 22 years as the head of Administration and retired in order to head IOM’s west coast resettlement of S.E. Asian refugees after the Vietnam War. He continued his humanitarian and social justice focus, including as a Witness for Peace in Nicaragua, and peace walking three times in the Soviet Union. Bill was a member of the Larkspur Corte Madera American Legion Post 313. His wife of 59 years, Melba, his daughter, Leslie, his daughter Erica Beedle and son-in-law, Brad Beedle, survive him. 

Published in Marin Independent Journal from Oct. 5 to Oct. 6, 2008

I had no idea that he lived in Washington. I had no idea that Mrs. Anderson did, too, and that was where they met. I had no idea that the organization that took my father in was the International Office of Migration (IOM), which has an office in D.C., and I had no idea that Bill was in charge of the west coast resettlement efforts of Southeast Asian refugees. 

I don’t think my parents knew, either. 

Naturally, I quickly looked up Mrs. Anderson’s obituary to see what else I could find. 

Melba Louise Anderson passed at home February 10, 2010 following a brief illness. Born Melba Avery in Illinois in 1920, she grew up in Indiana with younger sisters Thelma and Martha Nell, who live there still. An adventurous spirit took her to Washington D.C. where she resided in a Quaker-run boarding house. The basement housed WWII veteran William Anderson whom she married in 1949. They spent seven years in Switzerland and Germany where she worked for the International Labor Organization; William became involved in refugee work. After daughter Leslie’s birth they returned to the US and settled in Larkspur, where daughter Erica was born and they spent over 50 years. Melba became “mother” to numerous refugees – Vietnamese, Polish, even displaced friends – who lived with them until they got on their feet. She volunteered with the Larkspur Heritage Committee and was a faithful member of Redwoods Presbyterian Church. Survivors are her daughters, and son-in-law Bradford Beedle. 

Published in Marin Independent Journal from Feb. 21 to Feb. 22, 2010

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The Andersons with their extended Vietnamese family

I couldn’t believe it. Everything in my distant memory was so simple and left unexplored. I remembered taking delight in how much Mr. Anderson loved eating bánh cuốn, especially since it was soft on his teeth in his old age. I remember bringing a carrot cake for lunch the last time we saw them and hoping that they would like it. I remembered how my father would call them Mom and Dad. I didn’t realize that two humanitarians with lifetimes of achievement were sitting across from me at the table. 

I was filled with so many more questions, but one thing felt certain: I was meant to be here. Despite the resistance, the risks, and the many challenges that came from uprooting my life to move to D.C., I felt like I made the right decision in dedicating my life to social justice. And now there are footsteps for me to follow. There is history here for me to uncover, and I’m only just beginning. 

Even though we are not related by blood, I like to think that I inherited this love for the world from the loving couple who cared for my father, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. 

 


 

Coming Soon:

Part 2: my quest for knowledge. With the bits of information I had, I tasked myself with finding the house where Mr. and Mrs. Anderson met, and remaining parts of their history. 

 

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