First Life Lesson
A cute tow-headed 3 year old boy was having fun. I was chubby too, but I try to stay away from that chit chat. While exactly what I was wearing isn’t clear, I'm sure I was in a pair of shorts and a horizontally striped T-shirt and wearing no shoes; but, if I was wearing shoes, they were probably those little leather "booties" little kids wore back in those days…you know, the ones with 3 shoe string holes on each side and went up to your ankle….kind of like a larger pair of baby booties or a micro pair of hiking boots….whatever.
I was playing in a sandbox near the back door of my parents' ground floor apartment in Yokota, Japan in 1949. It was one of hundreds of apartments inhabited by military families in post-WWII occupational Japan. They were just converted barracks buildings and each stairwell had 4 apartments. The sandbox wasn’t a big one, just a wooden circle about 4 or 5 feet across and 9 or 10 inches deep. I was playing with a cute little red-headed girl named "Tootie". She was a little older than I, but only a couple of months. How do I know she was cute and older? My mother told me so. We were playing together with our little shovels and pails. We would pack the pail with damp sand and turn it over, making a "castle" in the sand. Of course, it was more like a misshapen igloo than a castle, but who knew? Life was good.
My mother looked out the kitchen window overlooking the large, communal back yard and called me for lunch. "Buzz. Buzz. Come in now. Time for lunch." I was a very well-behaved little boy, according to my mother, and always liked my meals; so, I stood up, wiped some sand from my shorts and started for the back door. As I stepped up on the small porch to open the screen door, Tootie called to me, "Buzz. Buzz. Come in now." mimicking my mother. I turned and looked at her…I'm not really sure why...to see what she wanted. She had stood up and approached me, smiling all the while. Then, with that pretty little smile on her face and no rhyme or reason I've been able to discern since that memorable day, she pushed me down.
She didn't JUST push me down. She pushed me down on a small cactus one of the other tenants was sunning on the small porch. It was calculated move. She knew exactly what she was doing and she got a real belly-laugh out of my pain. The cactus needles penetrated my cotton shorts and I had a behind full of those cactus needles. She was pointing and laughing …hard. I started crying, so my mother came out to see what the problem was. She took me inside and gently RIPPED each and every cactus needle from the cheeks of my ass. Later, she told my father about the incident and said that I was “a brave boy”, that I didn’t cry….much. Well, I may not have cried much; but it hurt like Hell and I was mad. I never played with Tootie again…ever.
Four months later, at Christmas, my father had made a very nifty jeep for me. Two small kids could sit in it, while one pedaled. It was made of wood and painted olive drab and looked just like an army jeep. I still have a photo. It had a white star decal on the hood and a small American flag decal on each side. It was all the rage with the other kids, so I gave them rides in my jeep…except Tootie. After several unsuccessful attempts to talk me into a ride, she whined to her mother that I wouldn’t give her a ride; so, of course, her mother approached my mother about the issue. I don’t know what was said, but Tootie never rode in my jeep. Nanny. Nanny.
And so it was… my first recollection of any kind of anyone other than my parents. This experience embedded deeply into my psyche. It was a lesson was well learned; and, altho' I have been figuratively "pushed onto a cactus" several times since, only the most naïve part of me would ever disclaim the realities of a young girl’s nature. This experience taught me that girls were not to be trusted, that they were mean-spirited and focused on the pain and anguish of others, particularly boys, but sometimes girls, to create their own amusement. This was a truth that served me well.