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Excerpt: War Ready: In My Father’s Shadow

12961695by Mary Lou Darst

“The first week of school was difficult for me. I had to walk several long blocks from our house to the intersection of a main street. A military bus would stop and pick me up before heading to the top of Mount Kurokuyama, where the American school was located. When I walked to the bus stop in the morning, there were no adults or children out walking. I was the only one on the wide brick street. No one else came and waited for the bus. I stood all alone on the side walk.

In the distance I noticed large groups of uniformed Japanese school children on their way to school, staring at me while slowly crossing the street closer to the bus stop where I was standing alone, and they could have a better look at me.

By the middle of the week they walked to the bus stop, where they stood and stared at me for a long time without smiling, or moving, or speaking- which terrified me. No on had ever stared at me in that way. My mother taught me that it was very rude to stare. I perceived them as suspicious and threatening. I looked for a place to hide, but there was no hope for an escape; in front of me were two empty lots across the street, and behind me was a row of locked gates and doors.

The students never took off their eyes off me and never smiled, but the group moved toward me slowly until I was completely surrounded. I could not have escaped even if I had tried. Without showing any emotion and avoiding any eye contact, a group of students put their hands on me with great care, rubbing their hands back and forth on my arms, watching and feeling my skin. After touching me, the first group moved on, but behind them others took their place. Each student took a turn touching and rubbing my arms, but no one smiled, no one spoke, and no one looked at me directly. I was so terrified. I stood as still as a statue, staring at the ground while my heart nearly palpitated out of my chest. Finally, the last students moved on. I could not endure this every day. I wanted to run home and never leave the house. When I stood alone trying to decide whether to head home or go to school, the bus arrived. The door opened and I ran up to the stairs, sat down, and felt a rush of relief. I was too young and too frightened to know that people care for each other, even when they do not speak the same language. I realize now how kind and caring the students were to show their concern for me. They may also have been very curious about the American student. It was quite different with adults

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