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Out of the past

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That marvelous farmer stood there in his rice paddy, wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat, tan shirt and jodhpurs, puttees and boots - a vision from the past. My past. I could hardly believe what I was seeing from the bus.

I was on my first visit to Japan, reveling in the discovery that the countryside looks just the way the Japanese have always painted it and trying to pin down my own impressions in a sketchbook - when this vision appeared. The farmer was real enough. It was the sudden link to something I thought had gone out of my life forever that really startled me.

A rush of memories nearly obscured the sight of the present landscape, for there stood Oda-of-my-childhood, ostensibly a gardener but actually a passionate photographer who constantly followed me around, setting up his tripod and hiding under his hood while he frantically changed the plates in his big camera. He was fascinated with a birthmark on my left forearm and cajoled three-year-old me into all sorts of contorted gestures so he could get that mark into the picture. I, in turn, was fascinated by him and his equipment.

Later, Roy Nakahiro used to rumble along to our house in an ancient black model-T Ford pickup which held not only the tools of his trade but usually the youngest members of his family as well. While his father worked, Toshio and I played with toy cars and argued about such things as whether you could eat ants if they crawled into your salad. We adored each other, but one day he announced he couldn't play with me anymore. I was a girl and not worthy of his attention. He went off to school and a boy's life, leaving me desolate.

Toshio's sister Frances and little brother Fumio turned up to take Toshio's place, but eventually they too progressed beyond my ken. Eldest sister Mary now came to keep an eye on me the evenings my parents went out.

Sometime during those years my grandfather brought me a little flowered kimono, thonged sandals, and paper umbrella from one of his trips to Japan. My first-grade teacher went to Japan also, and upon her return taught the class some Japanese songs and dances. I performed them for Roy one day in the driveway , dressed in the kimono and zoris, twirling the umbrella. I remember his pleased excitement as he corrected my mistakes and rehearsed me by the orange tree until I got it absolutely right.


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