Much of my earliest childhood memories form a mosaic of images and places unconnected by any narrative or larger meaning. There are some that have no distinct chronology at all, more like snapshots found in a shoebox, jumbled and confused.
My dad was a Marine. I don’t remember ever seeing him in dress uniform, but I recall being on base at least once and seeing tanks which I believe he worked on. Before I was born, he shipped out to Japan with Korea as his ultimate destination. It must have been 1953. He never made it to Korea. His orders were changed, and he spent his entire tour in Japan. His tour included support for at least one nuclear test on a south Pacific island. He had photographs of the mushroom cloud formed by the explosion. He also had a black-and-white photo of my mother colorized by a Japanese artist. That photo, treasured by my mom, hung in the great room at Walcutt Road. My dad was an accomplished marksman and had several awards from Marine Corp competitions. He always said that never drinking alcoholic beverages gave him an edge because he could hold his gun steady and take aim without any tremors. All his Marine Corp paraphernalia and photos were lost in the fire that destroyed our Walcutt Road home.
I remember being small enough that when my mom was folding laundry and put one of my dad’s undershirts on me, it hung down to my ankles. My dad was my hero.
Because my dad was in the Marines, we moved so often that I can’t even count the number of places we lived. I know that we lived in several places in California, at least one place in North Carolina, and at least one in Hawaii. My only memory of Hawaii is an indistinct impression of the Honolulu Zoo. They had crocodiles (or maybe alligators) in a big open pit. I’m told I ate the large garden snails that could be found in our yard. Perhaps “ate” is not quite the right word since my mom managed to get them out of my mouth before I swallowed them. Two of my sisters, Lani and Kathy, were born in Hawaii. Lani’s name is Hawaiian and means heaven or sky.
I have a few distinct memories of North Carolina. We lived in a house on stilts on the beach. While we lived there, a hurricane came ashore and we had to evacuate to a nearby city. The only thing I remember about it was seeing house roofs sticking up out of the water. It struck me as highly unusual. In advance of the hurricane, there were public service announcements on the radio advising people to put valuables and linens on the highest shelves to be out of reach of flood waters. My mom dutifully did just that. Our house did not flood despite being so near the sea, but the gale-force winds drove rain under the eaves. Everything she put up high to keep dry got soaked.
Due to a pay mix-up, my dad didn’t get paid for several weeks when we moved to North Carolina. A buddy of his who worked in the mess hall would leave a sack of potatoes and cartons of milk outside the back door for my dad. We ate a lot of potato soup. I still love potato soup to this day. But it was also in North Carolina that I acquired a distaste for fish. I don’t remember the details, just that we had fish sandwiches that tasted very fishy indeed. After that I could not eat fish for many years.
Another incident from North Carolina was told and retold in our family so often that it became family legend. Once when we were sitting down to eat, my mom sent me and my sister, Marsha, to wash our hands. I washed my hands, but I saw something move in the shower, so when I returned to the table, I announced, “There’s a bug in the shower.” Marsha came back a few minutes later and dissented. “It’s not a bug,” she said; “It’s a worm.” My dad went to have a look and found a rattlesnake! Our shower drain emptied out on the sand underneath the house. The snake had slithered up the drain and into our shower. My dad drove it out of the house with hot water, then crawled under the house and killed it. Did I mention that my dad was my hero?