Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Story for Valentine's Day

Today's coffee: meh.

Mom and I went out for sushi a few weeks ago with some people who are special to us: my cousins’ grandparents. Not the grandparents I share with them—the grandparents on their mom’s side. I’ve lost all my grandparents now, so I’m glad I have these two.

My cousins call them Ba (short for Obaasan) and Pa. He calls her “darling,” and she calls him “honey;” they are devoted to each other even after more than 60 years together.

I’ve always admired Vic and Yasuko, but now that I’ve been living in Japan, I especially admire Yasuko’s courage as she left her family and her home in Japan and made a new home in the US with her husband. Like me, she lives between two very different worlds.

Over lunch, we got the two of them talking about how they met. I don’t actually know my own grandparents’ love stories, so that motivated me to write their story down.

During Yasuko’s childhood in pre-war Japan, one of her relatives studied abroad in the US. When he came home to Japan, he brought clothes for her as a present. The style and quality impressed her, and she began to wonder what sort of place America was.

Yasuko’s older sister had an arranged marriage—she already had a boyfriend, but she had to break up with him and marry the man her parents had chosen for her. Yasuko suspected that she would follow the same path as her sister. She left home and found work as a telephone operator at an American air force base (Misawa, in Aomori prefecture) after the war.

Vic was stationed at Misawa from 1951-1952. Once when he was making a phone call, Yasuko connected his call. She has a cute voice, Vic thought to himself. He started asking around to find out who the cute voice belonged to. Eventually he found out, and asked Yasuko to meet him.

Yasuko didn’t know Vic at all, so she hesitated. A mutual friend reassured her: “He’s nice. And his family is nice, too. He always gets good packages from home.” So they met up in the “usual” way: “I’ll be the one wearing such and such.”

I interrupted the story at this point. “So what were you wearing?”

“A dress, one that was fashionable at the time, and a little bolero jacket.”

“And what was your first impression? Was it love at first sight?”

“Well, no… I certainly thought he was handsome, but there were lots of handsome young men at the air base. I knew that a good heart is much more important than good looks, so of course I didn’t know right away.”

(She was quite mature for age 18, I thought to myself.)

Vic chimed in between mouthfuls of edamame, describing one of their first dates. Vic loved soba, but strict rules forbade servicemen from eating local food—there were concerns about contamination from the practice of fertilizing fields with “night soil” as was done at that time. (No need to be worried, they don’t do that anymore…)

“Yasuko and I were sitting in a soba restaurant, and I was really hungry. We ordered our food, and out it came, and I was just about to take my first bite… when a big Texan officer threw open the door and started shouting at me. He dragged me back to base, leaving Yasuko crying her eyes out, thinking I was going to be executed or thrown in prison.”

“Did your parents oppose?” I asked Yasuko. It was right after the war, after all.

“They did at first… but then God intervened, and I got appendicitis.”

I looked at her blankly. She continued. “My mother came to Misawa to take care of me after I was discharged from the hospital, and Vic came every day to visit. He brought lots of flowers and presents. His kindness and care for me won her over. Then she convinced my father.”

There you have it. It's been a blessing to have these two as a part of our family.

No comments: