As a child, my family ate lots of potatoes – never rice. Another house rule was to not buy anything made in Japan. When my Mom and I went shopping, we would purchase things and before going home, carefully inspect them for labels. All made in Japan labels had to be removed before we could bring things home.
My Grandmother talked to me about our family rules once. She told me that Dad joined the service as a teenager and served in the Amphibian division of the Navy. One of his jobs was to take Marines to the shore so they could continue the war on the ground. My Dad was assigned to a small boat that landed with Marines; often he fought beside them as they made their way inland. This combat was gruesome, according to Grandma. Toward the end of the war, Dad fought with a group of Marines assigned to liberate soldiers held at a prisoner camp in Japan; Grandma said what he saw hurt him and he had trouble letting go. He also ate rice there, lots of rice while at the camp. This, she said, was why we didn’t eat rice and removed labels.
This seemed a reasonable explanation, so I accepted not eating rice and peeling off made in Japan labels. In high school, I had several Japanese-American friends and was reminded of my Grandma’s story. I didn’t bring my friends home or tell my parents their last names. I continued to hide all things Japanese from my Father.
My sister started high school soon after I graduated. She is a free spirit, living life in the now with blinders on much of the time. The “rules” were not on her radar. In high school, she, too, made Japanese-American friends. She invited her friends to our house. They were silly, fun girls who spent their time playing games and laughing. I watched my Father when they arrived. He would leave the house as her friends came to the door, staying in his garage shop until they left. This continued for two years.
During my sister’s senior year she was elected president of Asian Club and our house became a gathering place the club; they called her “Millermoto.” With more people in the house, Dad would sneak in the house. He’d sit in the kitchen and listen to the conversations and laughter. One time I found him chuckling at some of the things my sister’s friends were talking about. Eventually, he poked his head around the corner to watch. He looked at my sister and her Japanese-American friends and smiled – finally, my Dad was introduced to the frequent houseguests.
Since then, my Dad has learned to eat with chopsticks, enjoys Japanese restaurants and my Mom serves rice! I am so proud of my Dad; he changed, grew and healed a little. I am thankful my sister was unaware of the rules and brought her friends into our lives. Now, I believe in potatoes – and rice.
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