The original reason I started this blog was to tell my children stories of my childhood. This is one of those stories.........
I am 7 years old dancing in the back yard. I spread my arms wide and the soft red silk of the kimono sleeves hangs down from my arms like wings. I spin around and around, as the sun shines down on me and the bright colors. I am a butterfly dancing in the wind.
My grandmother had gotten this kimono out of her cedar chest. She had a cedar chest in her room and it was full of mysterious surprises and secrets. We are never allowed to go into her room and open it up without her. But this day she has opened it and she had taken these precious things out. Some kimonos and a flag from Japan. The flag had a big red circle in the middle of it.
All these things were mysterious to us. We lived in a little town in north Louisiana and we didn’t know any Asians. Our first Asian exposure would come later with Hop Sing on Bonanza. Yes, very mysterious things.
(Photo - me in my normal attire)
We were told by our grandmother and our mother that these things were sent back from the war by my Uncle Buddy who was killed in World War II. I didn’t think of it at the time as I was very young but later when I was older I thought it strange for several reasons. For one thing Uncle Buddy was in Europe not Japan. He was in General Patton’s army and was killed there. He is buried overseas in France. I didn’t think he had ever been to Japan.
Also I could not understand why my grandmother would let us play with things her son had sent home from the war. Buddy was her only son, my mother’s only brother. These things should have been too precious to be turned over to kids for dress-up play. It seems to me there was a sword in a scabbard also but it may be that my memory is not correct on that. I wouldn't have been allowed to play with it, but I have a picture in my mind of my older brother looking at a sword as I stand over his shoulder.
We played with the kimonos and the flag until they were tattered and thrown out. And as I got older that was the biggest point of confusion for me. Why did they let us destroy these things from Japan, these souvenirs my uncle had sent home? But I never asked about them. I’m not sure why.
Years later when I was grown and had my own children I was at my Dad’s mother’s house. Grandma Hattie told me she had something for me. She went into the bedroom and came back with a small white box. Maybe 4 x 5 inches in size. She opened it up. It was lined with soft white silk cloth. She took out the silk handkerchief that was in the box and spread it on the table. You could tell it had been in the box a while; it had creases set into the silk. On the handkerchief was a painting of my mother. I had never seen this before although I had seen the photograph it was copied from. My mother was young and beautiful, her blonde hair long and curly. There was a signature of the Japanese artist that had painted the portrait.
Grandma Hattie told me that Mama had given this to my grandfather many years ago and that she wanted me to have it. I asked her where it came from. She said my mother’s first husband had had it painted in Japan when he was there during the war.
The first thought I had was that the mystery of the kimonos was solved. These treasures had not been sent home by my Uncle Buddy. They had been sent to my mother from her husband while he was in Japan. That is why my grandmother and mother let us play with them. They were not as precious to them as they would have been had they come from a lost son and brother.
I didn’t know my mother had been married before. As it turned out none of my siblings did except my older brother and his wife. Grandma Hattie had told him shortly before she told me.
I’m not sure why Mama would not have ever told us. It wouldn't have made any difference in our lives or in the way we thought of her except to maybe surprise us that our mom had a life outside of us! It was just another layer of the woman she was. But my mother was a keeper of secrets. And until she died my brother and I kept the secret with her. I felt it was not my secret to tell and I guess my brother felt the same. I waited for her to one day bring it up. She never did.
But I sometimes thought about this young man that my mother had married. She came from a very small town in Louisiana. There were only 13 kids in her high school graduation class. Sometimes you marry who is available; not necessarily who is suited for you. I wondered if he had survived the war. Did he have a family that would have wanted the kimonos we so childishly played with? Was he a nice person or a bully? Did he find a true love like my mom found with my dad?
Did the photograph of my mom he carried in his wallet comfort him during horrible times of the war, so young and so far from that very small Louisiana town? I hope so.
(Photo - me, Mama, and my sister Kathy)
One day my brother and I were visiting with my mom and he asked her where she met our dad. She said they went to school together. He said he didn’t know that. That’s because they didn’t go to school together; they met at a church function when they were grown. My mom’s mind had confused the memories in her life and she was talking about the boy from Epps, Louisiana. Your mind takes trips back in time when you live with Alzheimer’s.
Shortly before our mom passed away, I told my other siblings what Grandma Hattie had told me. Mama had kept her secret but it didn’t matter to any of us. We all keep our own secrets.
And it mattered not one bit to the little 7 year old butterfly with the bright red silk wings dancing in the wind.