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  • by Karen Cummings

A Hometown World Traveler

Every child likes to hear about the things he can't remember--the stories of his birth and his infancy. Not every child gets to hear a story as interesting and as exciting as young Sam Markham's. Sam is Carroll Reed's grandson, the son of his youngest daughter, Stefi Reed Markham, and New York Times writer, James Markham. But that's not the nine-year-old's only claim to fame.

Sam was the last child born of American parents in Vietnam before the fall of the South Vietnamese regime. "We wanted to leave a little earlier," explained his mother, "but I was so close to delivery the doctor was afraid to let me fly." Instead, the family, which included an older sister, Tinka, three years old at the time, stayed on in Saigon in spite of the growing chaos around them to await Sam's arrival.

As babies are wont to do, he took his own sweet time and Stefi's Vietnamese doctor finally induced the delivery so the Markhams would be able to make it out of the country before the imminent collapse. Sam was born in a primitive clinic attended only by the doctor and a few nurses.

Five days later, Stefi, still weak from the birth, was informed by her husband that the time had come to evacuate the country they had called home for the previous two years. The flight they were able to take was to be leaving immediately. Finding it difficult to carry her newborn, Stefi packed tiny Sam into a small basket his sister used when playing with her dolls, carried him onto the plane, and the whole family was transported to safety just a month before Saigon fell.

Three of the Markhams are currently spending a much more leisurely time at their camp on Lovewell's Pond in Fryeburg, Maine. Stefi, the children, Tinka, 12; and Sam, 9; will be joined by the family patriarch, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times this Friday when they will all take a break from their travels for a few weeks.

Stefi grew up in Mt. Washington Valley, and throughout her life she has returned to this area each summer to enjoy her hometown and its environs--her favorite place on earth. Often Stefi has had to travel from the opposite side of the world to come back, but still she has done it. "We've come back every year," she said, "whether we had to fly from Nigeria, India, or Vietnam."

Those who remember the Carroll Reed catalogs from the mid to late 60s might be aware of some of Stefi's travels. A family-run business at that time, there would always be a short write-up about what each member of the Reed family was doing. Mention of Stefi's travels were often accompanied bythe clothes she bought in India or Africa to be sold in the catalog.

Ever since her marriage to James in 1966, after graduating from Smith College with a degree in anthropology, Stefi has lived all over the world. "On our honeymoon we drove from Afghanistan to England," said Stephanie, "and we were the first ones to do it." Only the beginning of her adventures, Stefi and James lived in India for two years before moving to Nigeria where her husband covered all of West Africa for the Associated Press.

From there the couple moved to New York for two years before James was sent to Vietnam by. the New York Times to cover the last days of the Vietnam war. Although she lived in the hot spot of the world with her husband constantly in the thick of the action, Stefi says she was only afraid once. That occurred when James was arrested by the South Vietnamese after spending, two weeks in the bush with the Viet Cong. "They definitely didn't like journalists," she said, "and they were nervous about everything. I didn't know what they would do." He was released unharmed after a few days' incarceration.

Immediately after their escape from Vietnam, the couple was sent to war-torn Beirut. "This time I was a little more cautious," said Stefi, who had two young children in tow. James went on ahead and called for the rest of his family to join him. "It was just before the outbreak of the civil war, although no one expected it to be as bad as it was, and I told him it was too dangerous," said Stefi. Practicality of a sort won out and the family went anyway. "James told me he had just paid a year's rent on an apartment, so we just had to come," Stefi explained, "and we did." Stefi and the two children arrived in early August 1975, and growing hostilities hastened their evacuation in early October. They headed to Greece where they lived on their own for almost a year while James covered the war in Lebanon.

Things have gotten a little more peaceful for the Markham family in the last few years. Still living in Europe, they made their home in Spain for six years and are currently in Bonn, Germany, where James keeps up with the activities of America's ally as well as following the action in the surrounding Communist bloc countries.

Despite all their travels and adventures, the Markham children admit to missing a few American "treats." Can you imagine that they have made it to their advanced years without ever feasting on a TV dinner? Tinka and Sam have had other adventures that may make up for missing out on what other children their age take for granted. They've had the opportunity to meet political dignitaries that the rest of us only read about. Much to Tinka's surprise, the young princesses from Spain were sent to the same Maine summer camp as she was last summer, after her mother got a call from a government official. "I didn't know who it was that wanted to know about the camp," Stefi said. "They just said it was a good Spanish family."

Always enjoying her annual visit to Mt. Washington Valley, Stefi, an occasional travel writer for the Times, is angry with the paper for neglecting this area in its travel section. "I think the Valley is one of the best kept secrets around," she said. "Everyone only thinks of Vermont as a vacaton area and doesn't even look at all there is to offer up here. We've been all over the place," she added, "but every year we couldn't stand to miss our trip back here. It's still one of the nicest places I know.


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