Japanese boys in our little California town were as rare as snow, but we shared more than the fence between our yards.
My Friend, Ta
My older brother, Larry, used to hit empty tin cans off my head with a baseball bat. Don't worry, he never missed. Maybe that's why he always had a hitch in his swing? It was probably the price I paid for the right to play in the games he organized in our neighborhood.
In the fifties, I didn't have many girlfriends before my teen years because girls wanted to play dress up or dolls. I grew up in Imperial Beach, California, the most southwesterly city in the United States, as the city's tourist brochures proclaimed. I liked to go beach combing or fishing, play sports, ride bikes, and create cities with Lincoln logs-- anything-- as long as I could tag along with Larry.
During spring break, Larry got his tonsils out, so our family friend babysat us while our mom worked. I was expected to play with the next door neighbor's daughters. But I didn't know how to play their girly games, with Betsy McCall paper dolls, the Tiny Tears baby doll, or the very disgusting to me, Betsy Wetsy doll. I wanted to go back to help Larry put together the biggest ship model my father could find, an aircraft carrier with about 1000 parts.
Later that year, the Chuhays moved in next door, and I found a new best friend: Takanori Chuhay, a Japanese boy whose mother had married an American naval officer. This was just a year after "Sayonara" made such a splash in theaters across the country.
Even though Ta was closer in age to Larry than to me, Ta and I shared many interests. We both liked to create things, to build things.
For my ninth birthday, he gave me a book of "100 Great Projects." These all involved wiring, hammers, screws, and intricacies I didn't know how to attempt.
I complained to my mom, "This isn't a very good present for a girl."
"He chose something for you that he probably would like to have," she assured me.
In third grade at Imperial Beach Elementary, I needed a drawing or a sketch of a submarine for a report I was doing. Ever the perfectionist, Ta built a 3-D model out of cardboard and masking tape for me. The submarine had a periscope and a torpedo that moved in and out. It was a work of genius. I told my teacher, Mrs. Brown, that Ta had created it for me. She invited him to come to the class to tell us how he made it. He was embarrassed, but so pleased.
That summer, Larry, Ta, and I decided to construct a clubhouse from scrap lumber. There was plenty of space in our grassy backyard behind the clothesline. Since my mom was still working at Rohr Aircraft in Chula Vista, we were not allowed to go to the beach. The clubhouse was a good project for restless, elementary-age kids.
Larry and Ta designed a house with a long entranceway (probably 4 feet long) that we considered a room and a larger sitting room (about 8 x 8 and 3 feet high) where all three of us could fit if we crawled in and sat cross-legged. Larry put a small hinged door in front and two hinged windows, one on each side. I was very worried that Larry would get into trouble for using our father's tools and borrowing things like nails, screws, and hinges, but Poppa seemed somewhat proud of our ingenuity in creating the little shack.
I couldn't sew with the sewing machine yet, but I used leftover fabric and safety pins to make curtains. We spread a rough, wool Army blanket as a rug. We lined the floor along the walls with books, small rocks, and our mom's old perfume bottles. I don't know if the club had a name--it was probably a secret between the boys. Larry was president; Ta, vice-president; and I was the secretary. I kept minutes of our meetings since Larry, as our school's student body president, knew parliamentary procedure and insisted that we follow the rules of order. Larry and Ta were allowed to spend the night out there with sleeping bags, flashlights, and marshmallows. But not me. As usual, I was prohibited because 1) I was too little; 2) I was a girl. No wonder I always wanted to be a boy with a boy's privileges.
We moved to Florida the next year, and when we came home, Ta was different. It seemed like our friendship had evaporated in the months we were away. I think now about what prejudice Ta must have experienced in our little Navy town edging the Mexican border and why he went through an American adoption. He was no longer Ta; he was Tommy. Maybe the name change eased his way through junior high and high school. I hope so. He had intelligence, creativity, and a kind heart. I'll bet he grew up to be an architect or an engineer.
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"My Friend, Ta"
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|Reviewed by J Howard
|all experiences shape our lives and runs as a two way street-as Ta affected your life, do not to forget...You affected his life-
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|well done enjoyed the read|
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