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"If you tell Mama ... all right for you!" my sister Keiko threatens.
I haven't the vaguest idea what she means by "all right for you," but I certainly don't want to find out.
"If I catch you telling ... all right for you!"
I don't tell'. I'd never tell. Not in a million years.
Keiko is four years older than I am--a worldly ten when I am still a first-grader six. She is bold and daring. She does everything better than I do, from climbing trees, to roller skating, to playing the piano.
I think she is so smart that when she takes a piece of chewing gum from her mouth and shapes it into a fishbone, I actually believe she can lure a cat home with it.
I do everything she tells me to, like an obedient slave. If I want a new deck of playing cards, but she forbids me, I simply give up and say, "Never mind."
It takes a few more years of growing up for me to realize that she can sometimes be pretty mean, and I start fighting back. One day we have a big fight and she chases me around the house with a coat hanger. If that's what "all right for you" means, well, I decide I can live with that.
But the trouble with being a younger sister is that you can never catch up. When I am finally ten, she is already fourteen. She has learned how to dance and has talked Mama into letting her take "popular music lessons." She drives us all crazy with her endless rendition of "In a Little Gypsy Tearoom," while I am still stuck with boring "Minuet in G."
She will always be older, always ahead of me, even though I skipped half of the second grade. Still, we played together quite well. We had good times, and she eventuallybecame, and still is, my best friend.
We grew up in a sunny three-bedroom bungalow in Berkeley, California. There was a large yard in back with two peach trees that only gave us hard green fruit. There was also a more generous apricot tree that bore so much fruit we had to call in the neighbors to help us eat it all, and a fig tree I only tolerated because it was there. We also had wild sour rhubarb and a blackberry bush that rambled over the back fence, providing endless amounts of berries for Mama's wonderful jam.
Papa was a cheerful, friendly, and confident businessman who was the assistant maner at Mitsui & Company (a Japanese import-export firm) in San Francisco. He commuted to his office across the bay each day on the ferry.
He loved being with people and spent much of his time helping anyone in need. He also loved working in our garden and grew enormous white chrysanthemums that measured fourteen inches in diameter and giant sweet peas that filled the air with their sweet scent.In our front garden he grew exotic yellow calla lilies, lavender London Smoke carnations, and prize-winning gladiolas that passersby often stopped to admire.
The flowers were mostly for Mama, a gentle, caring, reflective person who not only loved poetry and books, but just about any plant or flower that Papa could grow.
There was plenty in the backyard for Keiko and me as well. We had a large sandbox, a pair of swings that hung from a beam as high as our house, and a striped canvas hammock that Papa bought to comfort us when one of our dogs died.
Our neighbors to the left, the Harpainters, were a lovely Swiss family. Mama and Mrs. Harpainter had friendly chats over the fence as they hung out their laundry, and I walked their two young boys, Teddy and Bobby, to school. They seemed almost like relatives. So did our neighbors to the right, the Dorans, a Norwegian family whose two blond daughters, Marian and Solveig, were our best friends.
Keiko and I spent hours playing with the two girls, and in the 1930s when we were growing up, our pleasures were simple. We left notes for each other in a cigar- box on the fence, we put on shows for the neighborhood kids dressed up in our Halloween costumes, we roller-skated down the block together, and often enjoyed with them the delicious root beer their father made in his basement.
Cops and robbers was one of our favorite games, and I often ended up being a robber, with my hands and feet tied up so I couldn't escape. Once when their boy cousin played with us, and was one of the cops, he commanded me to "Get over by the garage."
Of course I obeyed. The trouble was, I couldn't walk very well with my bands and feet tied up. I fell flat on my face and broke off half of my front tooth. The dentist patched it up with a pin and some cement, but after that I could never bite into a piece of chewy candy because half my tooth would then end up in the candy instead of on my tooth where it belonged.
It was one of those hardships in life I had to put up. with-like braces, which came later. But I suffered most on those days when Keiko and I went to the comer store with a nickel or dime to spend on penny candy. We would sometimes spend a half hour poring over the glass containers filled with such delights as caramel chews and Tootsie Rolls and licorice and peppermint sticks. I hated having to pass up the jujubes that stuck to every tooth, so I had to poke in a finger to scrape them off.If we didn't come in by supper time, Mama would come out to the back porch and ring a little black bell to call us in. The Invisible Thread. Copyright © by Yoshiko Uchida. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.