Category Archives: Childhood

The Scent of a Mouse

When I was a little girl, thousands of miles from here and a million lifetimes away, in another century come to think of it, my family lived in a beautiful brick farmhouse built in yet another century all together. The house was five miles south of Absolutely Nowhere, Pennsylvania. (This is a recent picture. There were more trees and bushes when we lived there. It was a nice house, a nice place to grow up.)

Berlin house
Photo courtesy of Sony Hambrick. Thanks, sis.

Among our many childhood toys was a pistol made of black crayon. I don’t remember where it came from, nor playing many bang-bang games with it. We really weren’t gun people, but my brother and I did think it was cool that we could write with it.

One day, he tied a long piece of string to the gun and started swinging it from the front porch of the house. I was running around on the grass below. Being the good brother he was, he said, “Don’t go under the porch where I can’t see you.” So naturally, the first thing I did was run under the porch, and naturally, the gun hit me in the head. It left a big gash in my left eyebrow which probably spurted blood as head wounds usually do and probably scared the bejeezus out of my mother. I don’t remember that part, either.

The next thing I do remember is being at our GP’s office in town. I remember Dr. Killius, a nice man with a most unfortunate name. I remember my mother watching and quietly tut-tutting because, being a country doctor, he was used to setting bones that had been broken by kicks from ornery cows and stitching together limbs that had been mangled by harrows, or so she tells it. She was concerned about the lumpy scar he was no doubt going to leave me with.

Funny, that. Mom’s not and never has been a girly-girl, although she is a product of her time and probably had certain biases. Little did she know what effect the 60’s were about to have on the world and that I would be left with choices about important things like whether or not I would pluck my bushy eyebrows.

On the plus side,  there have been a few occasions when I’ve been forced into conversation with someone who cares about things like that, and I’ve been glad to sigh and say, “Alas, I can’t pluck them. I have an ugly, lumpy scar under one of them.” And I always believed that to be true.

Then I looked in the mirror last night and noticed that my eyebrows are nearly gone. There are a couple of stubborn strands left, but chemo continues to have its obnoxious way with me. I felt oddly humiliated by this, yet another loss, yet another neon sign advertising my condition, yet another brick knocked loose from the wall of my pride and my privacy.

But then I looked closer. The dreaded scar, the ugly, lumpy mess I’d used for so many years as an excuse to avoid cosmetics in all forms, is barely visible. You’d have to really, really want to see it, just like the silver linings that somehow keep cropping up and making cancer bearable.

I guess if my eyebrow can smile, so can I.

eyebrow hair retouched
Yeah, that’s an eyebrow hair in all its glory, captured for posterity in a good mood.


Interesting side note: Years ago, we noticed a strange smell upstairs in our house here in Tokyo and I said, “Huh. Smells like dead mouse.” Rochi looked at me like I was gaga, not bothering to ask the obvious question. A few days later, he found a mouse buried in the laundry basket, a gift from the cats we assumed. I know the smell because my father used to pay us a nickel a corpse to collect dead mice and birds from the attic of that beautiful old house in the country.

I can also tell the difference between the odors of cow and horse plop, a skill that has proven almost as useful as high school trigonometry.


Life Is Berry Peachy

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, one of the best times of year was late summer when peaches came into season. Now, Georgia can go on as much as it cares to, but I doubt their peaches can hold a candle to Pennsylvania peaches. Perhaps a very small candle, like a birthday candle. Or maybe just a match. A damp one.

Anyway, my dad would buy peaches by the bushel, plump yellow peaches complete with fuzzy skin. The whole family would eat them, outside and leaning over, so we wouldn’t drown in peach juice. We ate them and ate them and ate them until the whole family had diarrhea. And it was worth it.

I’ve missed those peaches. Peaches in Japan are invariably white varieties, very juicy and sweet but unfortunately tasting only of sweet juiciness. I’ve seen yellow peaches in cans a couple of times, but even those are rare.

So imagine my surprise when the neighborhood veggie stand had yellow peaches.


They’re some unfamiliar variety, not as sweet as Pennsylvania peaches, somewhat more tart, closer to nectarines, but I won’t split hairs. And the selfsame veggie stand also had strawberries. Mountains of strawberries. I would guess 2kg of strawberries for less than $3.


I was suspicious.

That very veggie stand has been known to pass off some rather questionable produce, so I asked why the ruby colored gems were so cheap. The woman explained that they were restaurant quality strawberries from California, destined for strawberry shortcakes, but slightly too ripe and would need to be consumed ASAP.

I hesitated.

California? Most likely they were raised on Monsanto genetically modified fracking chromium. But when was the last time you got to gorge yourself on strawberries at the end of August? I always have to bid those glowing embers of heaven’s bonfire a tearful farewell in late spring and pine for them over the next ten months.

So I bought them. And the peaches. And picked over them to see which were most in need of immediate consumption. Those that didn’t survive the culinary culling made their way into a tart, a tart the likes of which all other tarts will strive to equal.


As my very wise friend and mentor Meditation Cat has so wisely said, it is the unexpected that makes life so spicy. Or something like that. Blueberries a few weeks ago, then nectarines and now strawberries and peaches. Things could be a whole lot worse.