100. Yokohama, Japan

And I finally fell asleep.  

Whatever sounds I faintly heard lulled me off into slumber. This time it wasn’t to the gentle, rocking feel of a boat afloat. However, in the early hours of the morning I involuntarily tuned into the reverberation of muffled drilling and various sounds of the many repairs our ship would undergo.  What?!  7:30 already?

There’s approximately a dozen officers entering the saloon at once. Chatter is all about the room; remaining ever-attentive to the crew’s needs, all the while I’m captivated by their tales, presented in a medley of perspectives.  

I have to admit, the earlier part of the previous 55 hours was well, so full of adrenaline the likes of which before, I had never known.  Perhaps only the shaking tree, the dark & rainy field at midnight, the near drowning and the Marines’ guns aimed at me would come close.

It was now my turn to enjoy breakfast.  By now all of you know how I ordered.  Once again, what a one man feast!  These days I can get full just thinking about how I would eat in my youth.  

Next the dining saloon was refreshed for lunchtime and that meant it was time for me to think about this evening… anticipation of what Japan might have in store for me.  

I was informed that so far, we had this 1st evening off and overnight in town was approved if we wanted it.  I wanted it!

Back home, I had heard that it was ideal to tell a taxicab driver what I wanted.  They would take us to the very best and so for whatever that was worth, I was going to give it a shot!

The cab driver took myself and a fellow crew friend whom I’ll name as ‘Bill’, to a fairly nice looking hotel. We were received warmly *(not for a single moment discounting Omotenashi) by the front desk staff.  Undeniably Americans have American dollars.  

💵 I mention this because during my months spent throughout the Pacific, American dollars were very much desired and it was a language most everybody spoke.  

Heck! I can remember how excited I was as a young lad back in Fiji when the American G.I.s would place silver dollar coins on to the palm of my hand.  In return they received my lunch; delectable rolled up rotis filled with veg curries which my sister-in-law had lovingly prepared, fresh every day.  Okay end flashback.

It was only in a moment when two lovely young Japanese ladies in bright-colored Kimonos approached the front desk clerk.  He gave them our room keys.  They briefly spoke something to one another in Japanese.  

They gently took our overnight bags and turned to face us with beautiful smiles, motioning that we follow them.  We were escorted up a flight of stairs to the 2nd floor.  They let us into our room.  We noticed quickly this was a room that was divided into 2 areas with paper walls.

At this point we both thought they’d bow their way out of our room.  Instead they went into the bathroom area and began drawing two baths.  Bill and I curiously peered in behind them to see what they were up to. They each added bath salts and scents into the bath waters.  Use your imagination for a bit here.  

I will admit to a bashful bit of part surprise and part expectation.  We glanced at one another.  One of the two girls came out and said in as few English words as possible, to undress.  She pointed over towards the bathroom and said, “Bath.”

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* Omotenashi defines Japanese hospitality; anticipation of their guests’ needs with an undeniable attention to details

16. I found a piece of my heart that was still available!

23rd May, 1954 – The week of tradition has passed and the time has come for me to bring Hemma home.  I saw her standing at the front door and when she noticed me walking up to her house, her face lit up immediately!  

Her greeting for me was one filled with warmth and acceptance as she gestured to me with an open arms greeting, inviting me into her parent’s home.  As I walked passed her into the house I sensed very strongly that she was most anxious for me to take her into our new life and this pleased me.  

We entered the living room together where I was greeted by the family.  The younger sisters and the 2 little courier pigeons aka little brothers now called me jija-ji -respectfully big sister’s husband- and the parents now called me beta (as in dear child**).

We shared pleasant conversation for a little bit and then lunch was served.  All the while we are talking, my stomach grumbled gently which I’m certain was due mainly to the delicious smells coming from the kitchen.

I knew I was in for a treat because the vegetarian phase had now passed and well, I’m not going to tell a lie, I’m not vegetarian as was my father and brother; no I couldn’t do it.  I did reveal that part of me while docked in Australia, remember?

Anyhow lunch was beautiful and the anticipation of the very next step was both Hemma’s and my dessert.  What can I say?  The time had come for the final departure from her childhood.  She would now take up the journey into her husband’s home** and her new life.

Goodbyes and all that stuff … a quick skip forward to walking down the street.

I realized this was the first time that she and I were completely alone, ever!  I took this opportunity to ask her a question.  As we walked along I solicitously asked her, ‘Did you miss me during this past week?’

We had been holding hands as we walked and at this point she looked into my eyes and said, “Very much.”  No further steps were taken and then Hemma added, “I love you and I want to spend all of my life with you so don’t ever leave me to go anywhere!”

Hemma then wrapped her arms around me and hugged me just as tight as she could.  I chuckled, quickly responding with, ‘Okay I will never go anywhere without you.’

I thought to myself at that moment, ‘I lost Sonia.  And then I lost Noori.  I will not lose you.’

We arrived at my house, now our home, to lots of huggie-buggies but not before a quick welcoming pooja* to bring in the new daughter.  Everyone was there to greet her, greet us, as the newlywed couple.

It wasn’t long before Hemma was being shown the various rooms in the house; now she would see where our bedroom is and of course the kitchen!

Speaking of which, after that delicious, filling lunch and the nice stroll home, this man was ready for his afternoon nap!  Without missing a beat, Hemma made certain no one disturbed my peaceful slumber, and I rested very well.

And so began our life as husband and wife; young and innocent!  I returned to work and Hemma slipped into her role at home perfectly.  We did all the fun things; enjoyed movies at the theatres, had picnic lunches at the beach, shopped, went for milkshakes on a perfect day and visited friends and family for tea time or meal time, whatever the time was!

You know our backyard is the heavenly Pacific Ocean and so there are lots of secluded stretches of gorgeous sandy beaches to laze around on.  Our climate being of tropical nature allowed for most any day to be a fabulous beach day!

I can tell you at this point in my life, I was very happy.  We did fall in love with each other, I am certain.  I had a loving companion to go forward with and together we dreamed and planned; everyday was fresh and exciting with the prospect of a hopeful future.

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*** usually used for either gender although beti is feminine

**   It is customary the wife moves into the husband’s home and becomes part of that family  going forward; the honorable role of daughter-in-law.

*     pooja – prayer

15. One Last Song For Gary

Saturday evening had arrived and it was the 15th of May.  Noori has asked my brother if she could sing a song for me -well, presented as a song for all- before we leave the house and I enter my new life.

He said yes, seeing no problem with that.  Earlier Noori excused herself with my sister, she would not attend the wedding ceremony or celebrations.

Her passionate voice sang a song from an Indian movie made only the year before and it went something like this:  *Raja ki aayegi baaraat, rangili hogi raat, magan main nachoongi ho, magan main nachoongi…”

She sang it all the way through but by the middle of the song I have to tell you, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the house, especially mine… and Noori’s.  Only later did I find that my mother knew why.

It was like I was wearing lead shoes not to mention the heaviness of my heart but I also knew, the promised **baaraat had to leave my house now in all its pageantry and head directly to the bride-to-be’s house.

Goodnight dear, sweet Noori.

The marriage ceremony took place as planned.  It lasted about an hour and a half.  Yes it does and can even go up to 2 hours in some instances.  Another time perhaps.

At the end of the ceremony my bride was taken into her house and I did not see her again the rest of that night.  At this point of the evening, amidst the congratulations and what-have-you, the entire baaraat and all guests were fed a wonderful and fulfilling vegetarian dinner.

Arrangements have been made for myself and a few male members of the wedding party to slumber outdoors.  Of course for me and some others, we slept underneath protective mosquito nets.  Don’t worry, this is Fiji; it’s nice and warm!

The women from my side of the family have returned to my household for the night; there will be much to do when they awake!  Sunday morning arrived swiftly and ^kichari was the traditional meal which was served.

It was about brunch time now.  I have not yet seen Hemma since we were wed last night; we will not be sharing this meal together either.  Tradition.

Although the delicious food has been laid out on the table before me and my guests, no one eats.  I have to take the first mouthful.  But even I cannot start because I must wait.

You must be wondering, now what?  So I’ll tell you: in the tradition (at least it was practiced back then and before that even) the guests put money on the table in front of the groom, one at a time; a gift-giving game in good fun.

And from just beside me, I’m being pinched and coached:  Very much in the capacity of a best man, my adopted+ brother’s given duty was to take full & proper charge of all my needs.  This responsibility was met with great honor and dignity for him, as it was for me to receive it.

So he sits beside me to watch closely each denomination laid in my presence.  With each note I got a pinch from him to say, “That’s not enough!”

And so the cash keeps coming in until the note laid down is big enough to stop the nipping, thank goodness!  Finally my brother approves and says, “Now you can eat!”

Good thing too because by this time we were all very hungry and so I take the leading bite!

Not long afterwards my bride Hemma comes out of her house, escorted by the ladies.  It is time to wrap this part of the wedding up neatly and make the initial journey to my house; our home.  The goodbyes are said.

Whoever is still here from the baaraat goes with Hemma and myself to our house.  The first part of the journey was by car and then we walked the remainder of the way; it’s not as far as it sounds.

It wasn’t a bad walk for that path had been cleared out for the most part – it was now nothing like the school boy days when I had to ‘hike’ through there;  you remember that, right?!

That evening my wife sleeps in another room with the girls of my family; we are still not together.  The next morning her family comes to take her back to their house.  Yes you guessed it, tradition.

Before they can leave however the in-laws are invited in and served a variety of fresh & hot, delicious and hearty snacks with tea of course.  About an hour later, they have left with my new and still very young wife.

The remaining folk in my home now are those who live here, a few family members and some friends to hang around, help out and enjoy the petite celebrations and with more eating of course!  Now we can go back to our regular diet and have a drink= or two if we wanted.

It’s also time for me to wrap my head around thoughts of my new life.  Hemma is away for a full week.  Last of the ‘tradition’ call and …I am really married.

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*Raja ki aayegi baaraat (the king’s wedding procession will arrive), rangili hogi raat (the night will be colorful-festive), magan main nachoongi ho, magan main nachoongi (transfixed, I will dance),… and as song approaches its end,  the lady is singing that she’ll be dancing alone because of something like, a blow to the heart, rainfall (tears) in her eyes, the night will be dark and so she’ll dance alone.  Pretty darned sad if you ask me.

1953 Credit where it’s due:    LYRICS: Shailendra & Hasrat Jaipuri    MUSIC: Shankar Jaikishan                     ~  If possibly there’s an error with these credits, someone please let me know – thanks much!

**baaraat    Groom’s wedding party

+adopted brother    elder than my blood brother, he was the son of (one of) my father’s best friends.  My mother practically raised him.  This relation was born from a very strong bond forged on the ship which my father traveled from 🇮🇳 on;  you would’ve read about those relationships in the Pilot Episode (archives).

^kichari    traditional dish served day after the wedding.  It is rice and dal (spiced lentils) prepared  together; see?  A symbol of unity.

= a drink    as with the mandatory vegetarian meals, so too alcohol consumption is not allowed.

And there is more thing:     LBM never, ever liked for his food which was served hot, to become cold.  To this day he still very much does not like that, not one bit!  Just imagine him as a restaurant owner?  LOL – think you would be let back in as his guest if you did not dig-in immediately upon being served?