A Distant Love ~ February Guest Post



By Maurice “Mo” Gemme, with foreword by Priscilla Trinh (senior writing coach)

I never knew my biological grandfathers. One was a battleship captain lost at sea while escaping after the war, and one died from a bomb minefield when my mother was young. But I do know Pepère. That’s French for grandfather, pronounced roughly like “pep-pay”. He is my foster-grandfather, meaning he adopted my dad and aunt who were refugees. He is also a Viet Nam war veteran and currently working on a memoir about his first adoption (not my dad & aunt). Being so, I have decided to reach out to him for this month’s guest post and understand a little bit more about the impetus for his writing. Below you will find a transcribed version of the eight page letter he sent in the mail to me detailing the background story for his upcoming debut memoir:

Hi Priscilla,

It’s funny — what fate and choices can lead to in a person’s life.

It was the late “fifties” when I was a student in high school, and never heard of Vietnam. As the 1960’s approached there was more and more news of a “conflict” happening in a small country I had never heard of as a boy. In the evening news (we had no computers then), they were talking about a military draft because of there was escalating fighting in Vietnam. I had just turned 21 when I received my notice. I was to be inducted into the Army. While I was waiting in line with other guys for my physical and swearing in, a marine recruiter talked me into joining the U.S. Marine Corps.

Jumping right into the reason for this little story — In 1965, I was sent to Vietnam. It was hot there, but I didn’t mind. I was assigned to a 108MM Howitzer battery. The rounds weighed 94 lbs. Those big guns looked like large tanks and were self-propelled. My M.O.S. (which means the type of of job I did), was a field radio operator. Our outfit was supposed to have 120 men – we barely had ninety.

Since I went to church on Sunday whenever I could, the top sergeant “volunteered” me as Catholic layman. I had to get the guys to church on Sunday. The altar sometime was on the tailgate of a truck or a stack of crates. Sometimes we would go to an old French church with local parishioners. I also spoke French and I was used as an interpreter going on Med CAPS. I also had a 5 ton license so beside standing watch in the ejected bunker, I stood watch on our perimeter and went on forward missions. We were lucky to get 4-4.5 hours of sleep per night.


Since I was one of just a few who had a military license, I drove the water and trash run. I would attach the 500 gallon water buffalo to my deuce and half of which is a 2.5 ton truck, and go for a water run. Also, one of my duties was to take the garbage from the mess hall to a “drop” point. This area was a hole in the sandy soil approximately 8’ long 3’ wide and about 8’ deep. This area was in the rear of a cemetery where mostly Catholic refugees from the north settled using headstones as one side of a shelter for each family. It was so hot. By the time the mess hall got lettuce, for instance, to serve us – only about the size of a fist of it could be eaten. The rest was brown slime. The large metal G.I. cans were mostly liquid, with pieces of leftover or spoiled food.

The first time I drove through the area, young men somehow attached themselves to our truck even though I was traveling over 20 mph. My A driver yelled “Mo! Turn around! Look!” These young men were filling up their baskets and throwing pieces of food into their mouths as quickly as they could.

One time there was a little boy, oh – about 10 or 11, with a bright red apple sticking out of his pocket. He had a huge smile on his face and he said to me, “Numbah one, numbah one,” which meant “the best.” I smiled and said “yes, numbah one” with my thumb up. On the way out of the area he waved to me. I stopped the truck. He was eating that apple. I hadn’t seen but a small part of it peeking out of his pocket before. My heart stopped. I couldn’t hold back the tears that dropped onto that scorching sand to instantly sizzle. The apple was half eaten by a Marine earlier. Half of it was dark brown and slimy. He was so happy.

In the old French church I became friends with the Mother Superior of the school. She had the children sing for my friend, the 1st Lt. and I. By that time only he and I were the ones going to Mass. Those times were the most peaceful time while in the country. We started with about eighteen or more guys.

The first night that I arrived in country was the day before Thanksgiving. Hanoi Hannah was on the radio naming our outfit by name saying the V.C. will be sleeping in our tents and eating in our mess hall within 90 days. We did have turkey the next day though. I was surprised — there in the middle of nowhere! I didn’t mind that it was the toughest bird I ever ate in my life….I was glad the V.C. didn’t come within those 90 days, but they did come.  

I awoke at about 2:30 AM with debris from mortars raining down on our tents. We had twelve guys who received purple hearts that night. The V.C. kept us busy while they penetrated the smaller 105 MM Howitzer battery across the road from us. They lost eleven men that night. I was asked to go to the funeral mass of the 105 the next day with the Lieutenant to represent our battery.

One of my friends – a little guy who worked on the 108’s – had a hard time lifting those 94 lb. rounds into the guns, once asked to be transferred. The first night at his new outfit he ran outside, going from tent to tent to see if everyone was awake. A mortar landed in front of him, he was decapitated. It’s strange – you just do what you have to do when you need to do it. I thought I would be afraid – but I wasn’t, although I tried be very observant.

Pepere letter

Part of the reason I joined the Marines was because of my “bucking heads” with my father. He was a good man, except when he drank. I said I’ll show him, and I joined the Marines. He was in the army in WWII.

I realized I never properly said a goodbye to my mother. My friends were going home in body bags. I, being a Catholic, prayed fervently to the Blessed Mother, asking her to let me go home to give my mother a proper goodbye. She was a wonderful gentle woman, unless you messed with her children. I said I don’t care if I’m missing limbs or dying, just so I can make it back in time to say goodbye. I prayed — I’ll do anything you ask me to do, just let me know what, and give me the strength to do it.

Well, I got back in one piece. I’m out of the service and I’m fine. I prayed harder again. I asked the Blessed Mother, what do you want me to do? I will hold up my end of the bargain. And so I got to love the people of Vietnam.

I remembered while in Vietnam, I also stopped by a small house where the family washed my truck. The water in the stream was pretty brown, but it did make the truck a cleaner even color. My A Driver and I had a warm bottle of soda each while waiting. I just wanted to give them a little monetary help. In those days a lame corporal made about $90.00 a month. The last day I saw the family, the parents in broken English asked me to take their three sons home with me so they could have a better life. One, she just gave birth to a few days earlier. One was seven and the oldest was nine. A [Vietnamese] boy had to register for the draft at ten years of age.

Some friends of mine were adopting children. One friend specifically said she was adopting a child from Vietnam. Is this what I’m supposed to do? The People of Vietnam were always on my mind. I prayed again even harder. Can I do this as a single male parent? Am I doing the right thing? After several meetings with the adoption agency, they could see I was unsure, they said they would give me six months to think about it.

Just before the six months were up, after attending workshops and meeting other adoptive parents, I was absolutely ready. The whole story will eventually be in my book. I became either the first, or out of the first single men to adopt internationally in my state. My first two children arrived in April 1975. They were on the first plane of children to make it out during the Fall of Saigon. The very first plane crashed during takeoff. It was called the “orphan airlift.” My sons have come home.




Pepere, Jason, Larry

Pepère with Uncle Jason (L) and Uncle Larry (R)

La Rotonde No. 5: Bellecour

by Katie Ward, senior writing coach


What: Bellecour

Where: Wayzata

Are you better than everyone else? Is the cheapest thing in your closet a $200 scarf? Are you on to your second husband and third nose? Have I got a café for you.

I said in my last post that if the Lost Generation were alive today, they’d frequent Munkabeans in Hopkins. That said, if the Lost Generation were alive at absolutely any point in time, they’d frequent Bellecour in downtown Wayzata. Wayzata is the perfect place for a Parisian café- sweeping views of Lake Minnetonka, gorgeously specific shops, the hotel that Beyonce and Jay Z booked for the Superbowl. Add to that French jazz, Plazaesque lounge seating, and Michelin-quality food, and you’re looking at a contender for perfection.


Bellecour is all that and more. Named after Place Bellecour in Lyon, Bellecour is traditionally French inspired without any of the presumption that usually accompanies such a description. I’ve only visited the bakery side (reservations are infamously impossible at the restaurant), but the limitless array of food behind the display case is more than sufficient. I respect any café that offers limited coffee flavoring- the craziest you can get here is a chocolate or vanilla latte. The staff is infectiously sweet, helpful, and has just the right amount of humor to entertain you but never make you uncomfortable. In its year of existence, I don’t think anyone has walked out Bellecour’s doors without smiling.

Enter the catch-22.

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Downtown Wayzata is undeniably beautiful and is also what you will see if you look up “bourgeois” in the dictionary.  I mentioned that the Galleria was almost too upper income bracket for comfort, but at least people who go there know they’re rich. My fellow Bellecour guests could not possibly count below a six digit salary. We’re talking Rockefellers here.

It’s too bad, because I think everything about the restaurant makes it evident that it was not intended for debutante dialogue. The music, the seating that just begs deep conversation, the staff that could’ve been extras in Amélie- it all point to the timeless, genuinely eclectic, classless class that makes Paris cafés so legendary. And the protection of these traits, no matter who the clientele, gives Bellecour the power to stand up to the Hemingways.

  1. Le Goût- Eat your heart out, Starbucks. Everything at Bellecour tastes like three different highly trained artisan baristas labored over it for at least half an hour, even though it takes less than a minute to be served. The paradisiacal mirage of food that greets you as soon as you step through the doors is not all smoke and mirrors; my latte and éclair would hold up in the Latin Quarter. 5/5 Hemingways


  1. Le Style- Is there much to say? Any coffee shop can emulate Parisian cafés or luxury dining, but Bellecour is that authentic. Seriously. I’ve been in cafés in Paris, and some even of them aren’t as French as Bellecour. 5/5 Hemingways


  1. La Rotonde- I’ve never been so torn giving a rating. I can see Ernest and F. Scott roasting Zelda from the bar while Dalí and Picasso talk philosophy in a booth. This is it. However, with such idyllic swank comes the harsh reality of unbelievable waspiness. There’s just no overlooking it. Yes, you could write the next Chérie here, but you’d do it under the intense scrutiny of a table of rich white people. 4/5 Hemingways


Ladies and gentlemen, that brings Bellecour to a 4.5, which is, of course, the highest rating ever given here on La Rotonde. Bellecour is the perfect café. It does not have the perfect crowd, mais ça c’est facile de changer, non?


For more information on Bellecour, click here.



Cordially, your host, Katie Ward

Opportunity Update


by Alexis Zucker, sophomore writing coach

On this week’s update on the WC Blog, I want to give a few shout outs to some unique opportunities for you–yes, you!–to take part in.

To get you up to date: currently we feature Thursday morning blog posts (like this prime example you’re currently reading), as well as book and coffee shop reviews. We also have guest posts and Inspirational Iotas that are open to anyone.

Where do you come in? Right here. Seriously. Since I know you all are very busy people (or will be once you stop procrastinating whatever it is you’re doing right now), I’ll keep it short and to the point.

Option A) Reading Reviews Those reading reviews previously mentioned? No longer coach only! tonkawritingcenter@gmail.com is featuring guest writers casually commenting on any published work, so if you loved (or hated) something, let it be known!

Option B) Inspirational Iotas Get a handle on online publishing, and respond to our prompts at https://tonkawritingcenter.wordpress.com/inspirational-iotas/ for a chance to win prizes and be featured on Minnetonka’s Writing Center blog!

Option C) MUSE Magazine Now, if you’re a person of many talents, we at the Writing Center may have something for you, too! Our up-and-coming online magazine will be posting visual art and music, as well as literature written by you. All you have to do is click submit on our google form! ¿Hablas español – or any other language, for that matter? MUSE is also accepting multilingual submissions! Go to https://goo.gl/forms/jrUCv249hnoce46Z2

Option D) Books for Breakfast Club This is a great opportunity for those who love a good book. The first 25 students to sign up in the media center will receive a copy of the book, The Hate You Give, an award winning novel by Angie Thomas. The book club meetings are on April 17th and 19th in the writing center. Breakfast is provided.

Now, this isn’t a multiple choice test–it’s multiple answer! Feel free to try out a couple of the opportunities from this article. To get started, check our other posts on Writing It Out at https://tonkawritingcenter.wordpress.com/ or reach out to someone through tonkawritingcenter@gmail.com. Try something new! Get creative! Best of luck to you in all your writing endeavors.

Cool Winter Milestones


by Daniluz Schueller, sophomore writing coach

Being a Minnesotan, there are lots of things I look forward to in the winter. There are pleasures like drinking hot chocolate while cozying up with a comfy blanket, the long winter breaks we get in the middle of the school year, and so much more. But, every four years, one event that I really look forward to is the prestigious Winter Olympics.

While also being an excuse to put off homework, the Winter Olympics going on right now in PyeongChang, South Korea (Feb. 9-24) give many countries a chance to represent themselves in fantastic ways that I, personally, admire a lot. Watching these games, I’ve realized that just by watching the TV, curled in my comfy blanket, witnessing these talented people making their mark on the world, I am also witnessing history in the making.

*pause for dramatic effect*

Recently, I decided to sacrifice some of my studying time to take a closer look at big moments that were truly memorable in Winter Olympic history.

While researching golden moments in history, I noticed that one factor that made these moments iconic was the time period in which they took place. One moment that was recognized for many years to come took place in 1980, when the U.S. hockey team defeated the superior Soviet Union team 4-3, later on winning the Olympic gold. This achievement was to be called “The Miracle on Ice.” While I’m not a big enthusiast of or expert in hockey, I thought this part of history was truly inspirational. Through grit and perseverance, a country that was seen as unstoppable was somehow surpassed by an underdog team, showing what true strength is.

People who have watched the movie Cool Runnings will know what I’m talking about when I mention what happened in 1988 at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, when the Jamaican bobsled team made their Olympic debut. In my mind, for a island of sun like Jamaica, practicing a winter sport without winter weather is just incredible. Although the team crashed in the four-man event, they were met with cheers and grand applause as they pushed their sled across the finishing line. For me, as well as bringing a sentimental tear to my eye, this also proves that no matter where you come from, if you have the courage to confront adversity, you have the strength to accomplish anything.

Honestly, looking at all that has happened throughout Olympic history makes me think about what have I done with my own life with surviving school and all that shebang. It made me think about how extraordinary people are and about their will to reach the limits of human ability, accomplishing something that not only represents pride in their country, but also in themselves— let’s see what other milestones are yet to be created in the 2018 Winter Olympics! Go team!



Valentine’s Day? More like Valentine’s Week!


by Mari Ferrer-Lugo, senior writing coach

Isn’t it interesting that Valentine’s Day started as a day to celebrate Saint Valentine and after a while it has become so popular that we celebrate it for a whole week at school?

Valentine’s Day, or should I say week, is coming soon. With this romantic celebration on its way, I have been more than curious to find out how it all began. According to the History Channel’s Website, Valentine “was a priest who served during the third century in Rome” (History). He, as well as other priests, rebelled against the Emperor Claudius II when he had outlawed marriage for young men “because single men made better soldiers that those with wives and families” (History). He continued to perform marriages in secret, but after a while he was caught and turned into a martyr. There are many different theories on what exactly happened to him considering how long ago this occurred, but they are sure that “he appealed as a sympathetic, heroic and -most importantly- a romantic figure” (History) . Even though this day is to celebrate Saint Valentine, it is also said that this holiday was originated from a Roman festival of Lupercalis/Lupercalia celebrated on February 15th. In the attempt to turn this holiday into a Catholic one, the Pope during this time, Pope Gelsaius, changed this festival to February 14th and turned it into the holiday we now know and love, Valentine’s Day (TheHolidayPost).

What I love about this holiday is that it is celebrated throughout the world. No matter how countries differ, most of them celebrate this holiday similarly. This celebration is to express your love towards others; it is about showing your love to those around you, whether it is your significant other or friends or parents; this day is celebrated around the world to demonstrate to others that you are thankful for them.

Our school loves the spirit of Valentine’s Day considering we celebrate it throughout an entire week. I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to this week. I am very excited to attend to the dance and I am also super excited to hear and see those singing telegrams! And What about that Friday fun day?? I am looking forward to that senior showdown. Underclassmen, don’t worry, you get to also have a lot of fun. You get to choose to get out of a class and attend to very entertaining activities. This week is all about for you having fun as well as be able to show your appreciation for others.

I hope you all have an amazing Valentine’s Day as well as a great week, and I also hope you were able to learn some of the background of how Valentine’s Day became to be.

Don’t forget to express your love to those around you during this holiday!!

History.com Staff. “History of Valentine’s Day.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day.

History of Valentines Day.” TheHolidaySpot – Holidays and Festivals Celebrations, http://www.theholidayspot.com/valentine/history_of_valentine.htm.

A Potato Flew Around My Room

by Faith Quist, sophomore writing coach

To be honest, the beginning of the New Year has been a bit rough for me. Maybe it’s because I am faced with the reality of the Vikings not going to the Super Bowl, maybe it’s because I stained a pair of my favorite jeans, but it’s probably both. On the more serious note, school can be demanding and draining. While I am grateful and fortunate to be attending such a remarkable high school, I would be lying to say that sometimes the pressure isn’t exhausting. The past month included the glorious winter break and a three-day weekend, all in which I took full advantage of, and to say getting back into the groove of things was hard would be an understatement.

As noted in previous blog posts “Finals” by Saahil Chadha and “Humans Are Not Robots” by Jai Chadha, finals week can be draining due its stressful nature, and the start of the new semester brings along new stress factors. When I’m stressed out, I usually turn to one of three things: reading, playing the piano, or listening to music. I try to complete one homework assignment followed by a fifteen minute break as a way of preventing myself from becoming overstressed. This system not only helps my brain relax for a moment, it also gives myself a little bit of “me time.” During one of my breaks this past weekend, I came across an infamous Vine which later turned into a meme that people know as: a potato flew around my room.


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In 2012, famous singer and rapper Frank Ocean, released a song titled Thinkin Bout You. A Viner mistakened the lyrics “a tornado flew around my room” for “a potato flew around my room.” This prompted another Viner to tie a potato to the ceiling fan while playing the mistaken lyric audio, and thus, an internet meme was born. Though I had never listened to Thinkin Bout You prior to watching this Vine, I couldn’t help but to laugh at the silliness of this Vine, not to mention the tune was pretty catchy.

As I walked into MHS on Monday, the harsh reality of school seemed to hit me a bit harder than usual. I had to take a standardized test in the morning causing me to miss multiple classes and already made me feel stressed out about the upcoming week. The forty minutes prior to taking this test, I could not stop singing, “A potato flew around my room before you came, excuse the mess it made; it usually doesn’t rain in Southern California, much like Arizona…” on repeat to the point that my friends forbade me to continue.

There will always be things in life that cause stress, but it is important that we all take the time to relax and allow ourselves to laugh. I found that as I was stressed out about the standardized test, missing class, and multiple other things, this six second video aided me with a small reminder to relax and allowed me to take a second to smile and laugh, and that alone made me feel immensely better. I suggest we all find our own “a potato flew around my room” to help us get through life’s difficulties because after all, life can’t be all work and no play.

So here’s to an internet meme that through its six seconds of life, it has brought me loads of stress relief. May we all sing “A potato flew around my room” as a new remedy to relieve everyday stress.

Click here to see the Vine!