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Copyright © 2010 by Margaret Dilloway
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
How to be an American housewife / Margaret Dilloway.
eISBN : 978-1-101-18924-5
1. Mothers and daughters—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
FOR MY MOTHER, SUIKO O’BRIEN, 1932-1994
Once you leave Japan, it is extremely unlikely that you will return, unless your husband is stationed there again or becomes wealthy.
Take a few reminders of Japan with you, if you have room. Or make arrangements to write to a caring relative who is willing to send you letters or items from your homeland. This can ease homesickness.
And be sure to tell your family, “Sayonara.”
—from the chapter “Turning American,”
in TAMIKO KELLY AND JUN TANAKA,
How to Be an American Housewife
had always been a disobedient girl.
When I was four, we lived in a grand house with a courtyard and a koi fishpond. My father worked as a lawyer and we were still rich, rich enough to have beautiful silk dresses and for me to have dolls with real hair and porcelain faces, not the corn-husk dolls I played with later.
We even had a nanny to help my mother. One day, Nanny told me she was taking my baby brother and me on a picnic. We walked for what seemed like miles, until my small feet were blistered. In those days, people expected more from a four-year-old than they do now.
“Where are we going?” I asked Nanny.
“To rest from the heat,” she said. “By a pond.”
I did not like Nanny. I didn’t trust how she eyed my brother, Taro, like he was the last bowl of rice. She always hugged him tight, so tight he wailed, like she wanted to absorb him into her body. She had never had a son of her own, only daughters. Sometimes she called Taro “my little peach,” like he was the peach boy out of the old fairy tale, granted as a wish to the old woman.
I told my mother that Nanny made me uncomfortable. She dismissed it as the whining of a spoiled child. “You don’t like Nanny because she makes you behave,” Mother said. “Now go with her. I have business in town, and your father is busy, too.”
Nanny was old and had a crippled leg; she moved slowly. We stopped by a tree-shaded pond to play and have lunch. Afterward, in the high-noon heat, she took us under a willow tree to nap. Day turned to night. I awoke with a start to see the moon rising above the fields. “Where are we?” I asked.
“Shush,” Nanny said soothingly, smoothing my bangs back. “We’re going on a trip to my hometown.” She looked down the road as though waiting for someone, or something. Her eyes glittered black onyx in the dim light. Taro began wailing and Nanny stuck a bottle into his mouth. “Go back to sleep, Shoko-chan.”
Something was not right. We had missed supper. Mother didn’t allow us to stay outside past dark. I stood. “You take us home right now!” I screamed.
“Sit down, sit down,” Nanny said, trying to push on my shoulders. “You bad girl, listen to Nanny.”
“No!” I kicked her in the shin as hard as I could, then pushed Taro’s pram back up the road. I knew the way home, even though it was far.
Nanny’s hand grabbed my arm and she lifted me up. Now she looked like a terrible witch, her wiry white hair free of her scarf, her jagged teeth bared like a wolf. “We’re going on a trip. You must listen to Nanny!”
I bit her hand, bearing down hard in desperation. She yowled and dropped me. I stood up and pushed Taro away again.
This time she didn’t follow. I looked back once and saw her standing in the middle of the road, holding her hand. Taro wailed.
Mother and Father were outside the wall of our house, looking left and right. They’d sent servants out looking for us. When they heard Taro, they ran to meet us. “Where have you been?” Mother cried, sweeping me up. Father cradled Taro to his face. Taro quieted.
“I told you she was no good!” I said, and recounted what had happened.
Some mothers would have not believed their child, but mine did. Mother said she had tried to steal us. Or, at the very least, steal my brother. Who knows what she would have done with me.“If it weren’t for Shoko,” Mother would retell visitors, shaking her head,
I was a hero. All because I wouldn’t listen.
WITHIN A YEAR OR SO AFTER THAT, Father tired of dealing with bad people in his business. “Too much cheating,” he told my mother. “All anyone cares about is money. Money is God.”
He was always so busy. Perhaps he felt guilty that a nanny had almost made off with his children. He decided to sell the house and his practice and become a priest in the Konkokyo, the Konko Church.
In 1859, there was a Japanese village where people feared a god called Konjin, who brought misfortune. One farmer named Kawate Bunji had a streak of bad luck. Once when Bunji fell very ill, he was visited by the god Konjin, who told him that people shouldn’t fear him, that he was good, and that his real name was Tenchi Kane no Kami, “One True God of Heaven and Earth.” When Bunji became well, word of his visit from Konjin spread. People came to the farmer Bunji for help, and Tenchi Kane no Kami would speak through him. Bunji’s name became Konkokyo Daijin, and he became a god, too. The Konko Church was born.
Mother never made a word of complaint when Father became a priest. Instead, she sold the house and all of our fine possessions, bargaining a more than fair price—“It goes to the church and brings you honor, what more could you wish?” she told the buyer. She let me keep one doll, my Shirley Temple with curly hair Father had bought in Tokyo, the one that melted later when I left it too close to the fireplace.
We moved to a tiny house with dirt floors covered by tatami mats. It was near the church in Ueki where my father would serve as priest. My sister, Suki, who was born that year, never knew a different life. I think that was why she was such a happy person. Or maybe it was because our parents never acted differently, rich or poor. Mother always made arrangements of flowers to brighten the room. We celebrated the festivals, with a little less feasting. Only I, with my memories of dolls and dresses, felt resentment.
Taro and I always played together. We were good friends until it began to bother Taro that I could hit a ball farther than he could, or climb a higher tree, or beat him in every race.
When Father decided I was too old to be a tomboy, around age thirteen, he made me take dance lessons, like all young ladies did. I did what my father told me to do. I was disobedient, not foolish. I learned how to flip open a fan with a flick of my wrist, peering over it at the audience. I also learned the shamisen, which was a little harp. The teacher said I was a beauty, and very talented. I didn’t quite believe her until I saw how the men watched me at our talent show.