Dad brought us from Japan to the United States in 1962. At the airport at Narita, Mama and I had to leave about half of our things at the airport.
Mama was furious and then sad. She was furious because the US Air Force had a limit to the weight of luggage coming from Japan to the US. And of course, Dad loaded most of his things first. Mama and I had to live with many of our memories and treasures being left at the airport. She always blamed Dad’s “American selfishness’” for the mistake. After a long plane ride in the Flying Tiger propeller-driven airliner, we arrived in Los Angeles. Then because Dad wanted to please me, his son, we rode a train from Los Angeles to Albuquerque. He knew I wanted to ride on a steam train but at Los Angeles Union Station, as we waited for the train, he said that there weren’t any steam engines operating in 1962 anymore in the USA and everything was diesel. We had to ride the beautiful streamlined El Capitan of the Santa Fe Railroad. It was a shiny silver and sleek beauty driven by the red and yellow warbonnet-designed diesel locomotive pulling from the front. I loved my Dad for this. Mama was also more comfortable on a train.
Mama and I stared out of the window the whole time on the train ride through the western US. The US was so enormous and expansive. Hours and hours and hours would go by and there would hardly be any people, unlike Japan. Hours of mountains, and fields of all kinds. Then some forests and rivers and lakes. What an incredible difference from Japan! When we rode through the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, each with their distinctive colors and moods, Mama and I were amazed. We had seen nothing like it. And Mama and I would mention to each other that we wanted to eat miso shiru and rice or some rāmen. But none was to be found for awhile.
If I remember the passing of time correctly, it was after a month or so of living in Albuquerque together as a family at first at a friend of my Dad’s, then on Kirtland Air Force Base, that Dad took Mama and me on a cross-country trip in the family Volkswagen bug. I began hating long car rides on this trip; and so did Mama. Mama liked train travel and bus travel but cars and planes were not for her. On the plane to America, she spent most of it vomiting or clutched to Dad’s arm. Dad was now taking us on a car-trip around the southern US and the Midwest and to Colorado, so that Mama and I could understand that this would become our country. Part of this would be to visit Dad’s family and dearest friends. We drove to Iowa, Nashville, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and Denver.
When we arrived in Detroit, we drove to a certain part of Detroit where most of the residential area was African-American. Most of the houses were made of brick, looking the same, and with white or tan-colored wooden doors. Most of the houses were well-kept and clean. We arrived at a medium-sized brick house with a small grass lawn and a low stone wall surrounding it with beautiful flowers. Dad told us that my grandmother, his mother, lived at this house. As Mama and I followed Dad’s lead, getting out of the tiny, cramped but strong Volkswagen, some of the neighbors saw us and stared. Dad was waving at some folks and some said “hi.” They were quite friendly. They were all Black. But I didn’t feel any communal feeling at the time. Community has not much to do with color. It’s more about collective experiences of oppressions. And I was too young to know or understand others’ lives or the history of Blacks in the US. All I knew was that Mama and I had traveled across the Pacific Ocean to a somewhat strange and huge land where Japanese could be heard only between Mama and myself and the way people acted were not the same as what we were used to.
The three of us, with Dad leading in front of us, walked up to the front of the door. Grandmother was there at the door to greet us with open arms and a huge smile. Her name is Grandma Irma. She is a husky, jovial woman. And nothing could’ve prepared me and Mama, for Grandma’s love. Grandma grabbed Mama and hugged her, kissing her six, seven, eight, ten times all around her cheeks and forehead and kept hugging and squeezing and saying how beautiful Mama was and how glad she was to see her. Mama looked embarrassed as she smiled. This kind of greeting would be impossible in Japan! I became kind of scared. Kowai!!! All of a sudden she was on me!!! Grandma Irma was kissing me all over my face and hugging me to her so tightly I thought I’d die. There was so much! Her kisses were a little wet and I could feel a bit of a mustache! Ugh!!!!! kowai!!! It was funny and scary. But I was sensitive enough to not make a grimace in front of her or do anything. Or perhaps I did make a little face? When Grandma let me go and all three of us were in the house with Dad’s brothers, my “new” uncles were laughing at me for making faces during the kissing binge. After I sat down next to Mama, I had the time to wipe the wetness of the lightly-mustached kisses off my face. Yuck!! ooooh yuck! But . . . . I couldn’t help but continue to smile. I felt a love and warmth I’ve never felt before. Mama and I secretly loved the mustached-kisses and longed for them to never be finished. Never. Mama and I looked at each other and giggled. We had arrived.
Later that same year, Mama and I talked about Grandma Irma’s kisses and hugs and we both giggled again. She told me that she was surprised and at the same time she felt guilty.
This post is completely copyrighted. All Rights Reserved. Fredrick D. Cloyd.
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