Wednesday, July 31, 2013


The road from Altavista to Evington is a narrow, sometimes very curvy two-lane highway, 10 miles of country road.
For a long time, I was never actually sure when I’d arrived in Evington. It’s more of a zip code than a defined place. But the longer I live in this part of the county, the more defined it becomes.
I visited Evington Monday evening to cover a community meeting for the newspaper. One of my regular beats is county government, and one of the issues facing government is how to help people in the county who are experiencing well water problems.
The county has come up with some options to consider, and the meeting was to get some early feedback from residents who would be affected by any decision made.
I’ve already done several stories on the issue, and I looked forward to attending this meeting.
But it wasn’t just the meeting that drew me. Part of the reason I looked forward to going to Evington was because I enjoy the drive.
I was behind the wheel Monday night, so I couldn’t take many photos.
But I noticed the hay and corn fields, the way the land rolled along in hill after hill.
I noticed the round bales of hay out in the field or, in one place, lined up beside the barbed wire fence that ran parallel to the road. I thought of my fellow bloggers who are busy raking and baling hay.
I noticed how the early evening sunshine still lit most of the fields, while the trees at the edges were growing darker green as the light faded.
I arrived at the intersection where the Evington post office is and turned left. That’s where the road becomes very curvy, almost turning on itself as it weaves down to the railroad crossing. 

Then I was at the building where the meeting was held.

Field in Evington, Virginia

I was there for over an hour and a half, but the time flew by. I listened to people express their concerns, for themselves and their neighbors. I saw people from all walks of life, from different backgrounds, discuss common concerns.
I felt community.
One of the blessings of my job is the way I have become more of a part of the community. I’ve met people I never would have met, chatted about the mundane, asked questions about the serious, struggled to capture the essence of a story for the readers.
I’m an introvert. I tend to shy away from anything resembling a crowd. I have depression that sometimes makes me question my reason for living.
But times like Monday night remind me that I’m part of a community—really, more than one community—and part of my purpose lies in those communities. That’s a comfort.

It was a comfort, too, to step outside at the end and look at the beautiful land around me becoming dark. I caught a photo of the red rail car that sits beside the long graveled driveway and then drove back along the same narrow roads. I couldn’t see the fields as clearly, but I knew they were there. I knew the people working hard behind those fields were there, somewhere.

And I went home.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Interview with Grace Peterson, author of "Reaching: A Memoir"

Grace Peterson. (Submitted photo)

I am very pleased to present an interview I did with Grace Peterson, author of Reaching: A Memoir.
I met author Grace Peterson through an online writers’ community called She Writes. That led me to her blog Subplots by Grace, where she blogs about writing, does book reviews, and discusses mental health and spiritual and religious abuse.
Grace also writes about gardening, one of her passions, and has a blog called Gardening with Grace where she shares her experiences among the plants in her garden.
Grace writes beautifully, whether it’s about mental health, memoir or gardening. And she has been a good friend. She has been very supportive of me and of others facing mental health issues and just the hardships of life.
When her memoir Reaching was published by All Things That Matter Press earlier this year, I was anxious to read it.
I was so impressed with Grace’s honesty in writing about her difficult childhood, the years she spent under the influence of a cult leader, and her recovery through the help of her loving family, good therapy and her garden.
And as I wrote in my book review of her book, Grace not only “reaches” out for healing in her book, she reaches out to connect with others and help them not feel so alone.
You can read my review of Reaching on Amazon here.

Grace, Please introduce yourself to us.
Thank you Tina, for inviting me to share a little about myself and my book. I’ve been married to my best friend since 1980 and we have four grown children, a boy and three girls. I live in western Oregon. Writing and gardening are my two passions.

What is your memoir about? How would you describe it to potential readers?
Reaching begins with the story of a very fearful girl tentatively navigating a confusing world. At 14, I have my first of many sleep disorder episodes and an increasing sense of impending doom. By adulthood I’m living a double life, trying to look normal to the world while constantly dealing with panic attacks. When my fourth child is born, I’m convinced that my postpartum visions and impulses are the work of the devil. I seek the help of a modern-day exorcist I call “Brock.” For the ensuing seven years, I am blinded by my cult-like adoration to Brock and his very cult-like teachings. Eventually I seek legitimate treatment for my mental health issues and reenter society.

Why did you decide to write your memoir?
In the beginning, my intention was to sort out my thinking and come to terms with a very difficult time in my life. To do so meant going back to piece together my messed up childhood. Although I have a very good memory, I needed to clear the pervasive fog and look my history square in the face. As I wrote, I realized my project would be good for my kids to read at some point. Eventually it dawned on me that I was creating something more universal and that if I structured it well enough, it could be a best seller. Well maybe not, but hopefully people can relate to it.

What difficulties did you face as you wrote your memoir?
There were a few times when I really had to psych myself into opening the vault. For example, in my earlier drafts, I had decided to skip the Hawaii years altogether. It was just too painful to go there. And also in my earlier drafts, I skimmed over much of the Brock years. Not only was it painful and embarrassing to come face to face with that era, most of it was spent in a stupor so recall was really sketchy. Fortunately I kept journals during those years which helped tremendously. 

What is the central message of your memoir?
To humanize mental illness. It’s all too easy to judge someone based on a snippet of observation. We’ve all seen that person who is a little “off.” We shy away because we don’t know what’s wrong or how to respond, or we’re too busy to care or grossed out. But all human beings have a story and there is a depth of compassion and empathy that comes with knowing the circumstances that surround that person. My hope is that my story, like so many others, will help humanize mental illness.

Did you experience any kind of catharsis or relief after writing your book?
I experienced catharsis at points all along in the process. As I mentioned, I had bolted the Hawaii vault pretty tightly so prying it open was no small feat. I went to the library and hauled home as many books about the Big Island as I could find. Reading about the history of the Hawaiian people helped me understand their animosity towards people who have my physical characteristics. Another form of catharsis was rediscovering the music I listened to during my teen years. I played songs over and over, re-feeling all of those buried emotions. Somewhere along the way, I was able to find closure from that very difficult time in my life which was very cathartic.

What kinds of responses have you received from your readers?
I’ve been extremely grateful for the positive feedback I’ve received and I make sure those kindnesses reach that scared, lonely kid from yesteryear. I’m an introvert by nature so I was a little worried about having my story made so public. Two powerful cult tenets are keeping secrets and not trusting “outsiders.” It’s taken a lot of years to muster the courage to break those tenets and the encouragement I’ve received has been a precious gift. It has restored my belief that most people are decent, caring and generous.  

What’s next for you in your writing life?
A calming counterpoint to my chaotic life was my pursuit of gardening. Last winter I wrote my second book, a gardening memoir. It is a much lighter read as I discuss my thirty years of blisters and blunders and how sweet it feels to have a plant actually do what the magazine says it’s supposed to do. I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you. 

Thank you, Tina, for inviting me to talk with you and your readers.

Feel free to leave comments and questions for Grace in the comments section. And please check out her book Reaching, and her blogs, Subplots by Grace and Gardening with Grace.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Vitamin deficiency, an unwelcome visitor and other randoms

It’s Friday, and it’s time to link up with Nancy’s A Rural Journal for Random 5 Friday, where, as Nancy says, “you can share 5 random facts about you, your day, your pets, your kids, whatever!”
It’s lots of fun and a great way to meet other bloggers. I encourage you to join in!

Here are a couple of squirrels that visited the yard recently. These visitors were welcome. Read about the unwelcome visitor below.

I finally got the results of some blood work my psychiatrist ordered. My vitamin B-12 levels are good. My thyroid numbers are good. I’m not anemic. But my vitamin D is low.
So he’s starting me on a prescription dosage of vitamin D—50,000 units once a week.
He said researchers were learning more about the link between vitamin D and mood and fatigue. And from what I’ve read, a vitamin D deficiency can also cause bone pain, muscle weakness and joint pain.
Larry has vitamin D deficiency, too, and is on the same prescription. So I guess once a week we’ll toast to our health with water and down the supplement together.

Several times over the last few years, I’ve talked with my family doctor and my gynecologist about leg pain. The bones in my legs sometimes ache badly, especially when I’m tired.
The doctors checked my circulation and the exam stopped there.
I wonder if some of the pain could be coming from the vitamin D problem. I wish a doctor had thought to check it before now. I wish I had known to ask about it.

I attended a workshop on health literacy this week for work. I studied health literacy when I was a health educator years ago for the health department. It’s a big interest for me.
This workshop was so interesting. It’s really amazing how having a low level of health literacy can affect people’s ability to take their medications correctly, to understand their doctor’s instructions and to complete medical forms.

My husband and I have been enjoying watching the second season of Longmire this summer. If you haven’t watched it, it’s about a Wyoming sheriff named Walt Longmire. The plots and characters are wonderful, as is the scenery in the show.
The series is based on the books by Craig Johnson. I’ve read a couple of them so far, and they are just as good as the TV show.
If you’re interested in watching Longmire, it comes on Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on A&E.

We had an unwelcome visitor in the yard this week. Larry saw a snake, a black one with yellow stripes down its sides, near the AC unit in the backyard. It disappeared between the pad the AC unit sits on and the landscaping material that acts as a liner for small rocks we have around the house.
I was not happy when I learned about it. I am not just scared of snakes. I am terrified.
So I have been extra wary as I walk across the yard. I hope the snake was just visiting and has returned to his home—far, far away.

How do you react with you see a snake?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Finding wildlife with a camera, or—Please don’t fly away!

Sunday was very hot and humid. Most days lately have been like that, the same kind of weather that many of you have experienced.
But I’m not complaining. I’m setting the scene.
Around noon, Larry asked me to come out into the backyard to check the position of the frame for the raised bed garden we’re putting in. He had put together the basic frame and while it was still moveable, he wanted to make sure I agreed with where he placed it.
I admittedly dragged my feet. Like I said, it was hot and humid. But I grabbed my camera and went out with him. I wanted to capture some shots of the frame and continue my documentation of our new project.
I noticed the bird bath was dry, so I filled it up from the outside spigot. I hung around, hoping to see some birds, but it remained empty.
Until I went inside.
“Tina, there’s a bird in the bath,” called Larry from the porch.
I picked up my camera and hurried out the back door onto the enclosed back porch, then out the screen door to the yard.
I walked as carefully as I could and got as close as I could.
The bird flew away.
The bird came back.

I snapped some pictures.
The bird flew away.
The bird came back. Another bird joined him.

One flew away. Then the other flew away.
“They can see you standing there,” said Larry.
He went to the porch and dragged out two chairs for us to use to sit in the shade and watch. I captured some more shots.

But I admit I was hot. Sweat was running into my eyes. My nose started to itch with allergies. The birds were staying away. They even left the tree above us.
So we went in.
I put away my camera.
I looked out the living room window. A bird was in the bath, splashing away.
I got my camera and tried to quietly walk out again. By the time I got to the middle of the yard, the bird was gone.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
I stood there, thinking that if I was very still, the birds would think I was part of the landscape and come back.
It sure was hot.
Larry came back out, laughing.
“The birds are texting the cats, and the cats are rolling on the floor laughing,” he said. “The birds are telling them, doesn’t your mom know we can see her?”
(Note: Yes, our cats have cell phones. We’ve never actually seen them. But the cats seem to know everything that goes on. They must have something.)
I went back inside. Sat down with a bottle of water to cool off. Looked out the window. A bird was back.
This time I sneaked out the side door and walked around the house. Once again, I could only get so close and get off a few photos before they flew off.

I need a longer lens. I need to be stealthier. I need a birdfeeder.
On the stealthy side, my cats said they will teach me what they can.
Meanwhile, I suspect the birds are still talking about me. And laughing.

And as a side note, Sunday was a bad day for me with depression. I was feeling hopeless and down. But my backyard nature antics made me feel better. Yes, nature is one of my treatments.

Any suggestions on how to capture wildlife with a camera?

Monday, July 22, 2013

86 years

Today is my mother’s 86th birthday.
I don’t write a lot about my mother. We’re not close, for many reasons that I won’t go into now. We used to be close, but in an unhealthy way. I’ve accepted that our relationship is what it is.
But I’m thinking of my mother today and considering her many talents that, though I didn’t inherit many of them, blessed me and many others through the years.
I am using the past tense when I speak of her use of her talents because most of these she can no longer do. She lives in an assisted living house and has her meals fixed for her. It’s very difficult for her to do handwork because of the arthritis in her hands. She gets around slowly with a cane or walker.
But I think her talents still live within her, and if she could physically do them, she would again bless people with them.

My mother was, as my father called her one time, a “top cook.” I don’t remember ever tasting anything she cooked that tasted awful—unless it happened to be a food that I already detested.
She loved to read cookbooks and experiment with new foods. She seemed to have a sixth sense about what ingredients would work together and produce a tasty dish.
Presentation of food was important to her, too. She liked to transfer dishes from the pans they were cooked in to pretty serving dishes, even for a common supper on a Wednesday night.
If she again had the strength to “put a meal on the table,” as she would say, I would ask her to cook her fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green peas and yeast rolls.

One of the afghans and the double wedding ring quilt made by my mother.
My mother is creative and used that creativity to sew many an outfit for me as I was growing up. She made most of the dresses I wore growing up. She almost always made a new outfit for me for the first day of school.
She made her own clothes, too, and shirts for my brothers and father. She could also repair and mend anything brought to her by family and friends.
My mother also quilted. She quilted a blanket that had been pieced together by my father’s sister. Some of the pieces in the quilt are snippets of my grandmother’s dresses.
She also made a double wedding ring quilt for me.
Crocheting and knitting were also some of my mother’s talents. She made many afghans, including a purple and lavender one for me.

My mother walking the edge of the garden in 1988. She usually visited and worked in the garden several times a day.

My mother’s thumb is green. Pure green. She was legendary in our community for having a beautiful garden that produced mountains of food, much of which she shared with others. She also raised a variety of flowers and shrubs that enhanced the landscape. She freely gave away clippings to others.
She became a Master Gardener when she was in her 50s or 60s and volunteered her time to help others learn about gardening.

Nowadays my mother enjoys reading, especially mysteries and thrillers. She participates in activities at the home she lives in. She especially enjoys lectures that visitors such as the Lynchburg Museum staff give on a variety of subjects. She goes out to lunch with her sisters. She keeps busy.
Except for reading, I haven’t carried forward my mother’s talents or interests. I don’t cook much, and I don’t enjoy it like she did. I can’t seem to get the hang of sewing or knitting, though I can crochet. I enjoy plants, but I don’t yet have the knowledge that my mother does.
I wish I had the relationship with my mother that I know many people have with their mothers. Of course, wishing for something that isn’t likely to be doesn’t help anyone.
But I do admire many of my mother’s qualities and talents, and I’m grateful for the blessings she’s given to her loved ones and beyond.

Did you inherit any of the talents and interests of your parents or other family members?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vacation week and Random 5

I’ve had a wonderful week off from work. I admit I’m dreading going back to work on Monday, but I’m not going to let that keep me from enjoying my last three days.
I’m linking up with Nancy’s A Rural Journal for Random 5 Friday. She hosts such a fun meme. Check out the others who participate and don’t hesitate to join in!

On Thursday, Larry and I spent several hours in Lynchburg, running various errands. Some we had to do. Some we wanted to do. It was the third trip we made into the city this week.
Lynchburg is not that far from Altavista—about 20 miles. The trips take longer depending which part of the city you’re going to. I used to work in Lynchburg and made the trip to and from my office—about 52 miles round trip—each day. I’m just not interested in doing that anymore. I’m glad I work in Altavista.

One stop we made was at a home center where we bought supplies to begin building our raised bed garden. I admit that I didn’t recognize some of the parts Larry bought to put together the frame and fencing. He’s the carpenter in the family.

Supplies for the frame of the raised bed garden.

A lot of deer visit our backyard. They’ve become comfortable enough with the motion lights that the sudden light doesn’t make them run anymore.
I wonder what they’ll think of the new garden. Will they think we’re putting in a salad bar for them?
It will be salad bar if we don’t put a fence around the bed!
The other night I finally managed to get a photo of one of the deer. I looked out the window and saw her lying in the grass. I carefully opened the back door and went out on the enclosed porch, then opened the screen door. I took a couple of shots before she got up and ran.
It’s not a good photo. I wasn't steady or close enough for a good shot. But I’m glad I finally have a picture of one of our favorite visitors.

Another stop we made was the bookstore, where I found a book on gardening in Virginia. I have a decent gardening book from years ago, but I wanted something more up-to-date. I like the new book’s reference section and advice on when and how to plant.
I also bought a book by Margaret Roach called The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life. It will inspire me, I’m sure.

On another trip to Lynchburg, I got my annual mammogram.
I say annual because I’m supposed to get one every year. My mother is a breast cancer survivor, and that’s the advice I’ve been given.
I haven’t been faithful in doing that, though. I thought it had been three or four years since I had one. I discovered I haven’t had a mammogram since 2008.
I will do better from now on. And please, ladies, follow the advice of your doctor and get mammograms as prescribed. There—that’s my health education message—and my heartfelt advice—for you this week.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I’ve got some energy!

The last remnants of a day that was busier than usual.

The other day over lunch, I asked Larry if he had noticed any difference in me over the past two weeks or so.
He laughed.
“You vacuumed,” he said. “And you put away the dishes that were in the dishwasher.”
It’s embarrassing to admit that my doing those things would make seem different. But he was right.
I’ve been doing more just within the last several days. I feel more energetic and motivated.
What gives?
I’m not sure. But I’m hoping it’s a new supplement routine I’m on.
Almost three weeks ago I saw my psychiatrist for a regular visit. I’m on an antidepressant that has worked really well in lifting me out of the depths of depression.
But as I told my doctor, I’ve had a lot of trouble with energy and motivation. It’s hard for me to summon the energy and desire to do much activity beyond what I have to do: go to work, take care of the surface things at home, do some writing, sleep.
I haven’t been doing my share of the housework. I haven’t wanted to do anything extra. I’ve felt blah.
The doctor told me we could try adding another medication, something we’ve tried with two medications already. Or we could change the medication I’m currently on.
Neither of those choices appealed to me. This antidepressant I’m on has worked well. It’s just the stubborn lack of energy that bothers me.
Then the doctor suggested that I try taking a B complex supplement. He said he didn’t know if it would help, but lack of B vitamins could be affecting me.
For over two years, I didn’t eat any meat. Lately I’ve added back some seafood and chicken. But I could still be lacking in vitamins such as B12.
He was almost apologetic in suggesting the supplement. But I was willing to try it.
He ordered some blood work to check my thyroid and my vitamin levels, among other things. But he said wanted me to go ahead and take the B complex.
I still haven’t gotten the results from the blood work yet. (That’s another story. I’m not happy about that.)
I started taking a B complex supplement about two-and-a-half weeks ago.
It contains a large dose of B12, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folic acid, biotin and pantothenic acid.
I also take a multivitamin, per my doctor’s advice, and flax seed oil pills for the omega-3.
I’ve been religious about taking the supplements every day. And by golly, I’m feeling more energy. I take on tasks instead of just looking at things and walking away. I feel better.
If it’s the vitamins that are helping, that’s great. If it’s not—well, what does it matter if I’m feeling better?
Please note that I am not advising anyone else to take supplements of any kind. I am not a medical doctor. I am not an expert. Each person should consult his or her physician and make the decision about what to take, if anything.
All I can report is what I’m doing. I’m happy with the results so far.
Depression can be a stubborn illness. But I’m pleased that a variety of treatments, including in my case an antidepressant, monitored by my doctor, can help.

Do you take any supplements? Do they make a noticeable difference in how you feel?

Monday, July 15, 2013

A garden

I’m going to be getting my hands dirty, and I’m excited about it.
Larry and I are planning to build raised beds in our backyard for a vegetable garden next year. We’ve walked the yard and decided where to put it. We’ve talked about size and design. We’ve discussed dirt. We’ve considered how to keep the wildlife from eating everything in it.
We’re making plans for a garden.

Site for our raised beds. Larry's shop and a tool shed are in the background.

At one time, I never could have written those words and been happy about them. I was so consumed by fears of contamination that I engaged in compulsive hand washing that left my hands and wrists red and raw. I avoided anything that might get my hands dirty, including garden dirt.
My fear of contamination was rampant when I was a teenager and young adult. Over the years, with treatment for OCD, my fears have greatly subsided.
I’ve even had flower gardens and potted plants. I enjoyed working in the dirt and watching plants grow.
So why haven’t I taken the next step and put in a garden before now? I grew up on a farm, after all. My parents put in a garden every year, usually a huge one. They always planted extra in case neighbors or family didn’t have a good year.

My parents' garden on their farm in rural Virginia in 1985.

Another view of my parents' garden, circa 1985.

My parents' garden in 1988.

Larry and I have talked about putting in a garden. One year we even grew tomato plants. Unfortunately, the deer and groundhogs ate all but a few of them.
What has really kept us from moving forward has been my reluctance to commit to it. One way depression affects me is to drain every bit of motivation out of me. I become married to just a few activities that don’t take a lot of energy and don’t ask too much of me.
Even when depression is treated with medication and therapy, old habits of procrastination and complacency die hard.
But this year of contemplating “letting go” has led me to want to do more, to not waste time.
So along with getting good treatment for my depression, I’ve been making more of an effort to do things.

Unbeknownst to me, Larry started researching raised beds. He began thinking how he could build the frame, how he could build a fence around it. A couple of weeks ago, he broached the subject to me and since then, the ideas have been percolating.
We’ll build it this summer or early fall, then nurture the soil to get it ready for next spring. I’ll have to do some research to figure out what to plant and when to plant things.
Having a garden to care for will be a challenge for me. I will have to work in it whether or not I feel like it.
But I know it will also give me a sense of accomplishment. It will give me a much-needed connection to nature. And it will give Larry and me fresh produce to eat and share with others.

Do you have a garden? If so, do you grow flowers, vegetables or both? What do you enjoy the most about having one?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Disjointed week

That’s what this week has been: disjointed. Busy, bored. Busy, bored. Worried, calm. Worried, calm. Just one of those weeks that jumped and started.
My Random 5 kind of matches my week. I don’t have an overall theme, so these are rather disjointed thoughts that came my way as I sat down to write this.
I’m linking up with Nancy’s A Rural Journal for Random 5 Friday. Link up and join the fun!

Rain. And more rain. Nearly every day, we’ve gotten rain here in Central Virginia. Even when it’s not raining, the air feels heavy with water.
We’ve had dry conditions for a number of years, so we welcome the water. But so much has made the ground sodden, and conditions are ripe for flash flooding.
It’s pouring rain as I write this Thursday evening, and there are news reports of area flooding. We’re OK where we are, but my thoughts go out to those affected by it.

I spent a good two hours Thursday evening looking for a photo. I know it’s here somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. I sifted through pictures I’d forgotten I had.
For example, I barely remember visiting Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s retreat in Bedford County, years ago. But I found a whole packet of photos I took while there.
And I found the photo I’ve included in this post. I took a journalism/graphic arts class my senior year in high school. We were allowed to borrow the school camera (a 35 millimeter) to take photos to develop in the school darkroom.
One of the photos I took was of the old mill in the rural area where I grew up. You can’t tell from the black and white photo, but it was a painted red. You could give people driving directions by mentioning “the old red mill.”

The picture I wanted to find—the one I didn’t find—was of my first car, a Ford Maverick. Kathy at You’ll ShootYour Eye Out and I found out this week that we both owned a Maverick as our first car.
That connection made me think about that car, and I wanted to see it again.  
I have no visual for you, but mine was a 1977 model, light gray with red interior, with an 8-track player. I bought it in 1983 and kept it for two years.
What was your first car?

My current car is a Pontiac Vibe and has over 100,000 miles on it. 100,298, to be exact.
I am so disappointed that I didn’t notice when it tripped 100,000. I was going to get a picture of it.
They don’t make them anymore, but this car has served me well, and I still enjoy it.

Work at the newspaper has been slow. We have slow times throughout the year, but July is historically slow.
My service date is coming up, and I checked with our HR department to see how much unused vacation time I had. I discovered I had more built up than I thought I did. So with my editor’s blessing, I decided to take next week off. I wasn’t sure if I should at first, but my stories for next week lined up nicely.
I’m looking forward to being off!
  If you suddenly had a week stretching out in front of you with no obligations, what would you do?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Visitors from Japan

Tiny painted dolls from Japan sent to me by my father's Army buddy about the same time this story took place.

This story becomes a different story when I consider what I knew then and what I know now.

What I knew then:
I was about 7 years old, and it was suppertime. My brother closest to me in age—two years older—ran with me into the house at my mother’s call, and we began to wash up at the little sink in the corner of the kitchen of our farmhouse.
I could tell my mother was not in a good mood. She was frowning, she wasn’t saying much, and she moved quickly to place bowls of food on the table, letting them slam a bit as she set them down.
I knew better than to say anything, so I just joined the rest of the family at the table.
Later in the evening, my parents told my brothers and me the news: one of Daddy’s Army buddies was sponsoring two Japanese students on a tour of the United States, and he wanted to know if the young women could stay at our house for a few days. Mama and Daddy had said yes.
I was ecstatic. Company! And two girls, college aged! And they were from a foreign country! What could be more fun?
My contamination OCD hadn’t touched me yet, so I had no concerns about strangers in the house or strangers using the bathroom.
So that summer Yoko and Famiko stayed with us for several days. They were wonderful guests, kind, always eager to learn something new about the U.S.

Key ring given to me by Yoko and Famiko. Its woven ball has a bell in it.

I followed them around, awestruck at being around college girls who came from a place far away.
We showed them around the countryside. They were interested in the crops that we grew, especially the tobacco that many of the farmers in the community still raised back then. We took them to some nearby sights, including Natural Bridge.
When they left, I went with the rest of family to see them off at the bus station. My mother gave them each a tube of hand lotion.
When we got home, I remember my mother immediately tearing off all the bedclothes from the beds they had used and washing them.
Yoko and Famiko sent us Christmas cards for a few years after that, sometimes with little crackers included, sometimes an origami figure.

What I know now:
My mother did not want the Japanese college students to visit us.
It was only years later that I connected my mother’s bad mood on the evening we found out about their visit with her feelings about having them visit.
She was a teenager during the years the United States was involved in the conflicts of World War II. She harbored resentment against Japanese people, even though the war had been over at least 25 years by then.
My father was a World War II veteran. He served as a medic in the Pacific Theatre. He was wounded in battle.
But he made the decision that, despite my mother’s resistance, we would host the two Japanese college students.
I don’t know why Daddy was so willing when my mother was not. My mother told me once that part of the reason was because Daddy thought so much of his Army buddy.
What strikes me as impressive, though, is that neither parent discussed any of their possibly conflicted feelings with my brothers and me. My mother never said anything about not wanting the young women to visit.
My parents treated Yoko and Famiko with respect and tried to make their visit fun and educational.

It’s a better story with what I know now.

Have you ever had visitors that changed your view of the world?