Late one night we heard a knock on the door of our zinc shanty and Charlie opened it while we held our breath in fear, when a young Japanese trooper informed him that light from the coal fire was filtering out the door and must be put out to avoid it being seen by enemy aircraft. The boys engaged this friendly security guard, Takeuchi San, in broken Japanese much to his delight.
It turned out that he understood some English and was a law college student who was drafted by his country.
In the following weeks it is difficult for me to remember how many times he would provide an excuse to drop by for a chat, and soon we kids, especially Norma who had a talent for languages and who, some of us imagined (!) he had a crush on, would talk to him and ask him to teach us Japanese songs which were very melodious and sung by groups of soldiers passing past our hut on their way to a large swimming pool in the compound of the Ba Thu Brothers who had a thriving coffee factory in Nawkangyi village, a couple of furlongs away.
Takeuchi taught us the military anthem of his Kiku butai or battalion, and other songs of a romantic kind such as ‘Shee ina no Yoru’ and ‘Amayo furay furay’ i.e. “it’s always raining” which made me think nostalgically of Gladys…, But he stopped short of ‘Tabako Musume’ or Tobacco Girl, blushing that it was not a nice song for kids to sing. We sang it parrot- like anyway when he was absent, not knowing then, or now, the meaning of the words of that rousing bar song!
A handsome fellow about Charlie’s age of 24, my memory of him brings to my mind our dear friend Eiji , who we met with his lovely wife Mitzuho and sons in Hartsdale , New York in 1982,and who have become our dearest friends, ‘Mitzie’, and my wife who is from West Virginia,, claiming to be sisters.
Takeuchi became like an older brother to me, taking an interest in my attempts to manage my growimg poultry and duck farm ,and, if my memory serves me, presenting me with a pair of male and female Japanese Nagoya chickens. These birds were golden brown, beautifully full feathered, love-birds and so were promptly named by Sheila as ‘Yum Yum’ and ‘Nanki Po’, lovers in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado”.
Memories of Takeuchi came back especially poignantly to me when I first met Frank Kimura of Tokyo who became a buddy of mine, who along wth James Bhonsu of Ghana, foreign graduate students at Marquette University in 1959, would meet at the Keegan’s, our dearest host family’s place, in Milwaukee.
The Keegans, who were a large family then (and who are, not surprisingly, a larger one now) would provide us a family atmosphere and love, a home away from home, which convinced me that we are all, after all, a human family the world over, despite the occasional deadly machinations of individual personages who ferment mischief and hatred among peoples and nations in the name of a false patriotism.
Copyright 2008 by Joseph Alwyn Valu. All Rights Reserved.