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.


mac said...

Hi Bill,
My mother-in-law always used to blame my husband and his siblings that they lost their sweaters and other stuff, and defended "her Mary" when they said they thought she took it. Years later, when the inlaws had been living in Virginia for a couple of years after retirement, I drove her to Mary's home in Stamford, CT for a visit. Afterward my mother-in-law, with clenched teeth, admitted she recognized a lot of things in that house.....

Bill from NJ said...

Hi mac-

Nice hearing from you. It's not often that we get confirmation - one way or the other - when it comes to "sneakthieves."


allan said...


I somehow missed this when I read the Mt. Fuji post. I'm glad you mentioned it in your email, because it was certainly worth reading.