Friday, January 23, 2009


Function: noun
Date: circa 1955
: How my Mother used to refer to our Japanese maid whenever she couldn't find a missing keepsake.

In my previous post, I sketched in our Asian tour of duty. When we first arrived there, our family lived in the Rice Paddies, a hastily constructed group of cottages on land 30 miles from the Tachikawa Air Force Base purchased for just that purpose while housing and facilities to support dependant families were built on the base. We lived there, cheek by jowl, with 20 other families who arrived there on various ships that had arrived from San Francisco and Seattle. We lived there for 6 months before the building project was finished.

The new housing was a series of rowhouses, 6 two-story apartments with a one-story apartments at each end of the structure for the enlisted personnel and single- family structures for the officers. Ironically enough, we lived right next to a fenced in structure where the base commander, a one-star general named Hudnell lived. His son Billy was in my second grade class and I was welcome at his house. In his front yard was a meandering creek with foot bridges crossing with koi in the creek. A really beautiful place.

This was less than 10 years after the end of World War II and several hundred people had been displaced by the base and had constructed rude housing within walking distance from the base. They had ingenious ways of making money. They took beer cans, cut them open, producing small pieces of sheet metal which they bent into various items like trains and cars that they handpainted and sold to the base personnel. They also bought solid colored Christmas ornaments and hand painted them with scenes of Christmas and Santa Clauses and sold them too. It has been 50 years and we still have 20 or so of these ornaments as prized family possessions.

The Japanese nationals who lived in those structures had jobs on the base in different capacities, some worked as laborers for the military but many others worked as maids and gardeners for the people stationed there. Imagine enlisted personnel with a maid and gardener! This was a first for them.

We had a full-time maid who cooked and cleaned and provided day care because my mother worked as a bookkeeper for the NCO club. My mother was slightly paranoid and, whenever she couldn't find a small piece of jewelry she used to call the maid a "sneakthief."

I'm not sure if Betty-san was a sneakthief or not but we were forced to let her got when my mother caught my father taking pictures (without film) of Betty-san topless! I was just old enough to have a glimmering of understanding of what was involved in that little escapade.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Forgive me Father for I have sinned, it has been nearly four months since my last post. Jesus, on how many levels can a nice Jewish boy like myself blaspheme!

I continue to lurk and occasionally post on several different crossword blogs, particularly on Rex Parker's, if and when the spirit moves me, mixing pieces of my life when they intersect with things that are related to the puzzle at hand. I couldn' t resist when Minot North Dakota reared its head one day last week and a Commenter posted that his grandfather was a rabbi in that community in the 1910s and he couldn't imagine a Jewish enclave in that part of the world.

Well, it just so happens that I have first hand knowledge on that subject as that was where my family was stationed after we returned to the United States after spending five years in Japan as part of the US Occupation Forces. My father was a career military man in the Air Force and we were one of the first families to accompany a serviceman to the Orient in the 1950s.

My father went over first and that left my mother, a 27 year old mother of three sons, ages 7 (me), 5 and 2 to get our household goods packed up, shipped to Japan, and to drive from Dover Delaware to Seattle Washington to meet the USS Gaffey, a refurbished troop ship, and sail away with her three children to meet her husband in Yokohama Japan. All this in the pre-Interstate days in a 1952 Mercury. Not bad for a country girl from Easton Maryland!

After our tour of duty ended in 1958, the emphasis in the world had shifted from containing the Japanese to confronting the Russians. Since my father's area of expertise was aircraft maintenance, sending him to where the airplanes were made a lot of sense. Minot (the natives pronounced it MY-nut) Air Force Base was part of the nuclear umbrella that protected the United States. My family had spent the majority of our time on the East Coast which meant we were surrounded by Jews. We believed that being in the Upper Midwest would leave us cut-off from our people.

We were right and wrong. The Jewish community was sparse, true, but, we found out, close-knit. We joined Temple Beth Israel in nearby Eastwood Park and found people who were just like us - far from home and disconnected. The natives were sympathetic to our plight and friendly.

This post was prompted by a random comment posted on RexParker's blog that sparked a memory.

Go figure.