“Some whale have teeth,” said the grizzled old shrimp boat captain.
“Oh,” said Lanh, his Vietnamese crewman, using up one of his twelve English words.
“How big?” using up two more.
Oh, about six inches or so,” responded the Captain.
“Oh,” replied Lanh.
“Yep, take the wheel, I’ll show ya,” said the Captain, moving down below deck.
The Captain returned holding an intricately scratched and pigmented whale’s tooth. The scrimshawed tooth contained a beautifully rendered New England port scene, with wharves and tall ships and stevedores and gentlemen and salt box houses and sea gulls and fish mongers. All in a space about six inches by three inches.
“Oh, no big,” said Lanh, using up two more of his English words.
“No, not big,” said the Captain, but beautiful, eh?”
“Yes, that,” said Lanh, coming dangerously close to the end of his usable vocabulary, he excused himself, wanting to describe the ivory cameo an American GI gave his mother all those years ago. He wanted to tell the Captain as a kid he thought the woman on the cameo was America…”
From “The Shrimpers of Matagorda County” By Franklin Cincinnatus
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