Sunday, November 23, 2014

Konichiwa, Mr. Miyashita by Gary Ives

An ungrateful Baby Boomer rants about his parents boring stories about their past; by Gary Ives.

I suppose just about everyone of my generation, that's us Boomers, would admit that his parents had it rougher. But so what? Mom and Dad both grew up on farms during the depression. Instead of heading to college after high school Dad was drafted two days after his wedding and sent off to the war someplace over in the Pacific. Mom worked on her folk's farm. Yeah, yeah those tough times with all that hard work and privations; they're such a big deal now. That war, how long did it last? Four years? Whoop dee doo! But the way I see it theirs is the donkey work generation. We're the smart generation. I'll put my money on smarts every time.

My dad worked forty years as a machinist. Mom was a part time bookkeeper and tended my sister and me. It's true we grew up with television, toys, and plenty of free time and maybe even a little too much independence. But hey you gotta admit we've had it pretty tough too - Viet Nam, drugs, the oil embargo, inflation. Our grandparents never shut up about the Depression or the damned War. Jesus I got so tired of those stories, but Mom seldom talked about the old days and Dad never did. The Christmas I got my first bicycle Dad told me that as a boy he dreamed of owning a bicycle but the closest he came to a bicycle was pushing a wheelbarrow up and down the potato and turnip rows. Gimme a break. So he had a wheelbarrow instead of a bicycle - boo hoo. My sister and I blew off those hard luck stories from our grandparents and folks. Once grandma slapped Jeannie because she rolled her eyes after Dad said neither one of us had a clue to what it was like to be thirsty or hungry. But generally he just wasn't one to talk about the darker sides of the past. And if you wanna know God's truth of the matter I didn't care none, nether did Jeannie. We really didn't like Mom and Dad that much. Oh they were adequate as parents in the sense that we were definitely well fed, as you can see, and we wore decent clothes to school and had spending money too. But Dad was ultra boring and always seemed to me as old as Grandpa. He looked old and always limped on accounta some old injury to his foot. Every evening after work he'd park his skinny ass on the porch swing, knocking back a six pack while he read the paper while Mom fixed supper. Half the kids from my school walked by our house and he was an embarrassment to me and to Jeannie, boney-assed old fart smoking Camels and sucking down Pabst Blue Ribbons. Our cars were always second hand and we never took vacations like other families. Jeannie believed that Dad didn't like us because we were bigger than him. On Saturdays after he'd mowed the lawn he'd spend the whole afternoon drinking beer and watching the ball game on the TV with the other old farts down at the Hide-a-Way. Then come Saturday nights him and Mom would kill a bottle of wine with supper and watch Lawrence Welk. Me and Jeannie were too embarrassed to ask other kids for sleepovers at our house, cause Mom and Dad were so out of it. Mom's Lupus gave her as many bad days as good. Other kids' folks did things with their kids, you know, trips to the river, camping, and movies and such. Not our stick in the mud folks. Dad was quirky about food. He always insisted we eat every single morsel on our plates. On accounta Mom's Lupus he did the grocery shopping and he always asked Jeannie and me if we wanted anything special and of course we always wanted ice cream, packaged cookies, and candy. And despite the fact that both of us were way overweight by the fifth grade, he never refused our requests for goodies, and unlike my mom and grandparents he never got on our cases about being fat. Actually I blame Dad for us being so fat. It really is his fault. If he hadn't been pushing food our way and loading us up with sweets I'd probably... oh well, I reckon he was an okay dad; coulda been a lot worse. But he was one colossal bore and he never stopped embarrassing us kids, right up to the end, the skinny old fart.

Jeannie and I had the task of sorting out the household they'd spent their lives building, readying the house for sale. In an old cigar boxes we found letters bound with ribbons, letters Dad had written to Mom at the end of the war. Hell, we never even knew anything about Dad bein' in a Japanese prison camp. The letters were written in '45 and '46 while Dad recuperated in military hospitals following the liberation of the prison camp.

Dearest,

"The Very Thought of You" plays softly on the radio down at the far end of the ward. If my tear ducts were working, I'm sure the water works would be flowing. Starvation and dehydration do strange things. How I miss my darling. They tell us wives and parents will have been notified of the liberation, so I reckon you already know I'm safe and sound. Well maybe not so sound at the moment but that's temporary. My weight this morning was 77 lbs. There are quite a few of us skinny boys who Uncle Sam wants to fatten up before sending us home. All I have thought about, dreamed about, and lived for during the past three years has been you! You and food. Please know that every bite of this delicious and I do mean delicious food (eggs, fresh bread, pineapples, and chicken - I tell you it's heavenly) will bring closer the day we are at last together. I am in good hands and you can write me at..."

Dearest,

First, thank you for the picture. I cherish it. The Japs stole the wedding picture along with the wedding band so long ago. You are even more beautiful than before. The scales say 81 lbs! Yesterday Navy corpsmen cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on charcoal braziers for us. Oh the glory of the simple hamburger. Let's make our first meal together hamburgers on buns with mustard and pickles. Doc says to expect the malaria treatment to last three or four months. Umm, if I can continue eating and gaining at this rate I should be up to 150 lbs by then!! Ha. Ha. Tell my daddy that if he doesn't have a beef critter, think about getting one - cause I am going to eat an entire steer as soon as I get home.

My Dearest,

Weighed 83 lbs this morning. Bandages came off today and Doc says the arm should recover fully but one more toe on my right foot has to come off. Hey I never used that one anyway. I told him I'd need extra rations to make up for the loss of the weight of those toes. I treasure your picture. Whatever you do, Do Not Cut Your Hair, oh those long tresses I do adore. Beef stew tonight - I can hardly believe it!

(Next Day) The bad toe came off and the foot is back in bandages. Not as much pain with it gone and sleep is easier now. Sadly Charlie Stanoupoulas, who was in the bed next to mine never woke up this morning. We are all somewhat broken by this, he was well liked but starvation, the malaria and whatever other bugs he had were too much and liberation came too late for him. I cannot think of anything the Japs could do to make me ever stop hating them. I hate them. I hate them, I hate them."

It was from these letters we learned about Dad's time in the war.

Made me think back to my junior year when there was this exchange student from France who lived with the family of one of my pals. I remember him asking me if my father has served in the war. I told him he was in the Army over in the Pacific, I think. He was astonished that I could not tell him anything else about Dad's service. "But he is your father, non? And you know nothing? Quel domage!" Pissed me off and I figured he was just trying to make me feel bad because I'm American. They hate Americans, the French. Fuck 'em. Besides this wasn't none of his business. It was that Nazi thing over there. France wasn't against the Japs, were they?

Atlanta Constitution, 16 August 1983 Japanese Businessman Shot at Plant Opening. Tacoa, Georgia - Mr. Hideo Miyashita, General Manager for North America for the Toshisana Company was injured yesterday afternoon at ground breaking ceremonies at the company's new manufacturing plant in Tacoa. Mr. Miyashita was attacked while waiting to deliver the keynote address. His attacker shot the 70 year old executive twice in the foot with a .22 caliber pistol. Mr. Miyashita collapsed and the attacker, Mr. Andrew Anderson, 65, of Tacoa, was taken into custody. Mr. Anderson suffered a fatal stroke en route from the crime scene to police headquarters and was pronounced dead on arrival at Mercy Hospital. Mr. Miyashita's condition is stable.

Well I think the letters we found pretty well sizes up why Dad did what he did. He was a prisoner of war. I figure because of this he hated Japs, I dunno. Seems to me if you were a POW at least you were out of the fighting, you know, safer than out there with the shooting. After Mom died he went a little nuts and shot this poor Mister Miyashita on accounta him being Japanese. Jesus Christ, how long ago was that fuckin' war? Old fart couldn't let it go. Can you spell c-h-i-l-l. Jesus. Case closed.

The New York Times, 22 Sep 1983. Revenge Served Cold - Japanese Executive's Attacker former POW. Andrew Anderson 65 of Tacoa, Ga., the man who attacked Toshisana executive Hideo Miyashita,70 of Tokyo, Japan had been a prisoner of war for three years at the Cabantuan Prison Camp in The Philiippines. An investigation into the wartime service of Toshisana's leading North American executive revealed that Lieutenant, later Captain, Hideo Miyashita served as adjutant to the commandant at the notorious POW camp from 1942 until the liberation of the camp in 1945 - Mr. Anderson had been imprisoned after the fall of Corrigedor in April of 1942. Mr. Anderson suffered a stroke and died immediately after the attack on Mr. Miyashita who recovered and has since retired. Two survivors of Cabantuan who knew Mr. Anderson, Mr. Roger Quarells 59 of New Rochelle, and Mr. Lester Henkle, 61, of Brooklyn, remember Mr. Anderson and Mr. Miyashita. Mr. Henkle recounts, "He was a good fellow, kind of quite, a farm boy. Captain Miyashita was a real bastard. Major Tanaka the commandant had got home leave and had planned to marry while he was back in Japan but something happened and he didn't return. His being away put Miyashita in charge. We all had malaria and the Japs wouldn't give us quinine. Andy was suffering really bad and with the fever. One day Andy was in his cot down with the fever and didn't hear Miyashita enter. Miyashita shot Andy in the foot with his pistol 'cause he was too slow to get up and bow. When I saw on the television what Andy had done I felt real bad for Andy but not for Miyashita. Shoulda shot him dead." Mr. Quarells remembered the shooting at Camp Cabantuan as well as other incidents. "Andy had got married just before he was drafted. He had this picture of him and his wife together, I think it was took on their wedding day. It was real important to him. It represented what he lived for. Things like that become sacred when everything else seems hopeless. Well once a week Miyashita would target practice with that Nambu pistol he wore. One day Miyashita took the picture from him and used it as a target. He shot that little photo to pieces, the sonofabitch. Laughed in Andy's face. Andy lost it and yelled something at him and Miyashita had him put in the stocks and on half rations for a month. Andy came near to dying. The Japs let us bring him water and tend his foot but we couldn't even sneak him a spoonful of rice. I know in the Good Book says 'vengence is Mine,' but I don't wonder but that God turns a blind eye when it comes to people like Hitler and Miyashita. I understand why Andy did what he did. No American should be buying anything made by Toshisana. Imagine making a man like Miyashita a chief executive here in America. It's a sorry world, if you ask me." Requests for an interview with Mr. Miyashita and members of is family have been unanswered. Mr. Anderson is survived by son Charles Anderson and daughter Jean Anderson Washington.

That shooting, Dad's "fifteen minutes of fame," the final embarrassment, came shortly after Mom's death. Jeannie had just got out of rehab. I'd been let go at Home Depot in a downsizing move and I was on my last month of unemployment benefits. So all the shit fallout from "Dad's last adventure" came at a really bad time. The newspapers' photos made Jeannie look like the Goodyear blimp and put her fat ass right back in rehab. But now things are looking better. Mom and Dad's house is on the market and when it sells, I'm buying a Mustang and taking a long well-deserved vacation to Hawaii.

8 comments:

  1. This commanding tale is permeated by sadness throughout, but nonetheless highly meaningful for all that. An important comment on how little parents and children may grasp the contents of each others lives until it is too late. A mindful testimony to the history of the last century. Stylistically I would have preferred the first long paragraph to be subdivided, however that is just a personal thing. Very well done,
    Ceinwen

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  2. Gary really spins the contrast dial here, the black and white differences between the narrator's parents' lives and his vividly on display. And the sadness is well framed in the humor of the writing style. The ME, ME, ME generation in full living color. Nicely done.

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  3. Hi Gary, this made me think about how every generation carries a torch. I suspect us boomers are being overtaken by the media always connected glued to the phone or computer geeks. However your story does have a great feeling of closure for the Dad, he got his own back.. Regards, James McEwan

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  4. Really enjoyed reading this story from a self-centred, ignorant character's point of view. Interesting structure with the letters too. I also liked the long paragraph towards the start - I think it helped to develop the voice and give the reader the details without losing interest. Thanks. Charlotte Hayden

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  5. After reading Charlotte's comment i looked again at the opening paragraph, and I think that she's right - establishing the voice did need that continuity at the start,
    Thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  6. A thought-provoking story. We forget how much we owe the generation that gave up so much to ensure our freedom. Your writing is convincing and evokes emotions ranging from pity, sadness, anger (at the selfishness of Andrew's children) and understanding of his need for revenge. Well done!
    Beryl

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  7. Such an interesting place to go with a short story. I don't see many people tackling this generation, especially so convincingly. Enjoyed it very much.

    Tim Macy

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  8. Gary--A tough story and two things stand out for me that make it really good. The first is the grandmother smacking Charlie--Grandmothers are almost always the get-betweens of the feuding parents and kids and the other thing that I liked is that the narrator never changed, never saw the light or the error of his behavior and I liked that and for me it made the story more real.

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