Mrs. Pitman · 18 August 2011

I have been thinking about the Pitman family for the last week or so. They have always been great friends for as long as I can remember. Part of that is because Dad and Mr. Pitman worked together. Part is because they had kids for each of us except Scott. (Tim and I are the same age; Dan and Russell are the same age; and Gail and Marcie are the same age.) It has been forever since we have seen each other but I am sure our next reunion would be like all the others. Whenever we see each other, it is like we saw each other just last week. It just takes us a little longer to catch up on the past events than it used to. It is great to have such great friends like the Pitmans.

As great of friends as the whole Pitman family have been to our family, I will always have a special place in my heart for Mrs. Pitman. Her wonderful smile and infectious laugh are her trademarks and are indelibly written into my memory. But as great as these memories are, Mrs. Pitman holds this special place in my heart because she has given me two great gifts in my life. She literally saved my life and she helped me to have an open mind when trying new foods and new experiences.

I do not know how old I was when Mrs. Pitman saved my life but I could not have been more than four years old. We were living in Grants, New Mexico at the time so Russell was already born. Our two families were at some place picnicking or camping by water. I know that at least two of us kids, probably Tim and I, were wading in the water. I can remember just being close to the edge and having a great time. My parents were not and still are not great swimmers but Mrs. Pitman has always been around water and was a lifeguard in her youth (which might be why I was a lifeguard too). I am sure that they were all being watchful parents but even so, nobody could have foreseen that there would be a deep spot right next to where we were playing.

Whether we were at a stream or lake, there was some sort of ledge right at the bank. As I said, Tim and I were wading around on some sort of ledge or lip and did not have a care in the world. And then all of a sudden, I must have stepped off the ledge. I thought that I was going straight and staying on solid ground but obviously, I was wrong. I remember very vividly sinking down under the water. I stepped off into nothingness and went straight down. I looked up and saw the top of the water above my outstretched hands. It was dark underwater but the sunlight shone above. And that is all I remember.

Sometimes I think that I recall a hand reaching down to get me and sometimes I think it is just the story my parents tell. At any rate, Mrs. Pitman reached down into the water from shore and grabbed me before I went too far down. There have been times when I have dreamed that I was ten or twenty feet underwater and there was an infinite depth below me before I was saved. Maybe those dreams of such a dramatic rescue rather than the reality of an alert parent grabbing a child who has just gotten into water somewhat above his head are what endear Mrs. Pitman to me. But it does not really matter whether her rescue was dramatic or not. She literally saved me from the depths and I will be forever grateful that she did.

After saving my life, it would seem that there would be nothing else that Mrs. Pitman would need to do be my hero but she also changed my life when I was a teenager. When Tim and I were in eighth grade (Dan and Russell were in seventh), the Pitman family moved up to Spokane. It was in the spring of the year and they decided that they would camp out until they found a house that they liked. Mr. Pitman moved up to take a job with Dad and so we all were going to be together again. That summer was one of the best that I remember. We camped out with the Pitmans. Tim, Dan, Russell, and I went to summer camp together. We played lots in the lake. And we just had great times together.

One time when we were camped out on the lake, we swam, caught fish, and ate cake the Pitman way. Swimming was great fun. The water was clear and the ground beneath the surface sloped gently out so that a person could walk out thirty yards or more before his head went underwater. And we caught as much perch as we could eat in one day, Dan even caught a catfish. Mr. and Mrs. Pitman liked to eat fish so we had some great fish feeds. We even tried the catfish. It is ironic but Tim and Dan did not like fish even though Mrs. Pitman was the one who changed my eating habits for the good.

I do not know why Tim and Dan did not like fish but they would not get it close to them. The funny thing was that Mrs. Pitman told Russell and me that we should not knock something until we tried it. I guess that she had told her own children this message too. So they must have tried fish sometime and not liked it. Anyway. The other part of the story is that Mrs. Pitman made a fantastic chocolate cake. She made it from sour milk and whatever other scratch ingredients were in the recipe. It was always delicious. Even when she made it in the camper oven! One morning after Mrs. Pitman had made her famous chocolate cake, we were deciding what to eat for breakfast. Tim and Dan wanted chocolate cake with milk on top. Russell and I were astonished. We ate dinner or lunch foods for breakfast but dessert? Yuch! But in her patient and loving way, Mrs. Pitman said that we should try it before we passed judgment. Tim and Dan nodded agreement with this admonishment (something that kids seldom did) so we tried it. Of course, we liked it. Who would have guessed that chocolate cake in a bowl with milk on top would be better than cereal? It was like having cake and ice cream except the cream was not iced. What a treat!

Since that time, I have tried almost every food that I have had the opportunity to eat. Sometimes I even try new things in restaurants. And every time I have chocolate cake, I think of Mrs. Pitman. As a matter of fact, that was why I was thinking of the Pitmans in the first place. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I introduced my own children to the wonderful treat of chocolate cake and milk. For breakfast. I will be forever grateful to Mrs. Pitman for her admonishment to try it. Both food and other adventures. And I can never thank her enough for saving my life. Thank you, Mrs. Pitman.

© 2011 Michael T. Miyoshi

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From Long Walks Home unpublished.


"Bakatare" Means ’Nice Man’ · 18 July 2007

Grandpa Miyoshi was a man of many talents. He was a truck farmer (which means he had a small vegetable farm from which he hauled vegetables in his truck, not that he grew trucks). He also did genetic engineering by cross pollinating different varieties of tomatoes to make his own. He was also a talented athlete. I remember playing stickball one time and Grandpa just took one swing and hit the ball over everybody’s heads and into the chicken coop. It was an out of the park home run! We kids also found a kendo trophy from long ago. Apparently, Grandpa had gotten second in a tournament in Japan before he came to America. He must have been really good because he was about 18 when he immigrated. Besides all of these qualities that I remember, Grandpa Miyoshi had two that stand out above the rest. He was a great fisherman and he was a funny man.

We used to go to Wyoming to fish in the summertime. Sometimes we would go for a couple days; sometimes we would go for about a week. On those trips, we used to have lots of fun doing lots of different activities. Sometimes we would float down the river. When we floated the river, we did not have float tubes or waders as they have now. We had a pair of Grandpa’s short rubber boots that we would let fill up with water and pull us downstream 20 or 30 yards (we learned to do that in the ditches on the farm). We also threw rocks into the water or skipped them in calmer water. When we were too close to where Grandpa was fishing, he would yell, “You bakatare kids!” We knew we should go somewhere else when he yelled that. It was the same thing he yelled at us when we swam in the ditch at the farm or did other dumb stuff. (We knew that “bakatare” was Japanese for “dummy” or “stupidhead” but we just replied in our heads, “Grandpa is upset at something we are doing so we ought to quit but we won’t just yet.”) We tried to catch horned toads (which we always called and still call, “horny toads”) and sometimes we even fished.

I remember having our own private fishing derby once. It was a given that Grandpa was the best fisherman because of the amount and size of the fish he always caught. But just this one time, I caught a bigger fish! I almost even lost it. As I was bringing it up to shore, it flopped back into the water. I had just taken out the hook so I jumped after the fish to get it. If the fish had not been worn out, I would have just had another fish story but instead, I had a huge trout. And it was lots bigger than the eight-incher that Grandpa had caught – both longer and fatter. I was so happy that I had beaten Grandpa and he was equally upset that he had been beaten. At least it seemed that way.

Another fun thing that we got to do on the fishing trips actually came on the trip from Greeley, Colorado to our fishing spot in Wyoming. We got to ride on the top part of the camper above the truck cab. A couple times, Russell, Greg, and I got to go with Grandpa and Grandma. Just the five of us. A couple times we rode in the camper and I remember a couple times just going in the car for day trips.

On one of the camper trips when Russell, Greg, and I got to go with Grandpa and Grandma, we went with their next door neighbors and good friends, Willie and Jean. Willie and Jean were farmers too so they could go fishing when Grandpa and Grandma could. We used to see Willie and Jean a fair amount in the summer. Usually after or around nap time (right after lunch which they all called dinner) in the hot part of the day, Willie and Jean would come over and everybody would visit. Everybody always had a good time just visiting. That was one of the fun parts about the fishing trip too.

In the mornings of those fishing trips, Grandpa would always get up early to catch his fish. Then around noon, everybody would eat dinner and sit around and visit. We kids would fish whenever we got up and whenever we were not floating down the river, throwing rocks, or catching horny toads. In the evening after we had eaten the fish we all caught that day and after the sun had gone down, we all sat around in the camper enjoying each other’s company. Just visiting.

One night, Grandpa, Grandma, Willie, and Jean were all sitting around the table in the camper visiting and having a few drinks while Russell, Greg, and I were above the cab watching them. After a little whiskey and beer (I don’t think that Grandma ever had any that night or ever), the adults were a little rowdy. There was no singing or dancing but the conversation that night was hilarious to everybody.

I do not remember what they were talking about that night but sometime during the visiting, Grandpa called Willie a bakatare. It was all in good fun and Grandpa laughed when he said it (you can get away with saying just about anything when you smile). Willie asked what that meant and Grandpa said, “Bakatare means ‘nice man.’”

Willie looked at Grandpa’s smiling face and said, “No.” Then he looked to Grandma who had almost laughed and could hardly keep a straight face, “Hamako, what does bakatare mean?”

She went along with the gag but the laugh came out as she said, “It means ‘nice man.’”

Willie seemed to be satisfied So he said, “Well, Charles, you are a bakatare too.”

Grandpa laughed, slapped Willie on the back and said, “No. You bakatare.”

Willie thought that Grandpa was just being modest and deferential so he insisted, “You are bakatare too.”

Grandma was laughing so hard that she was crying and Jean was hooting with everybody else. Up in the bed above the cab, we knew what bakatare really meant so we were laughing too. Willie thought that Grandpa was pulling his leg about the meaning of the word but Grandpa kept insisting that bakatare meant ‘nice man’ so Willie kept insisting that Grandpa was a bakatare too.

Looking back, I think that Willie and Jean knew almost from the start that bakatare was not ‘nice man’ but Willie enjoyed the fun of calling Grandpa bakatare and being called bakatare by Grandpa. They had so much fun that it did not really matter what bakatare really meant. They called each other bakatare all night it seemed and everybody laughed until their guts hurt.

I have come to find out that in Japan, bakatare is not a very nice word. And I know that in this day and age, it is not acceptable to call people “dummy” or “stupidhead.” But because of that one night on that one fishing trip, I sometimes still think that bakatare really does mean ‘nice man.’ I am sure that it did for Willie and Grandpa.

© 2007 Michael T. Miyoshi

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From Long Walks Home unpublished.


The Chimes · 30 September 2000

When the chimes outside our house ring, I remember the farm and the love that was always there when I was a kid. I remember sleeping in the camper, trips to the benjo, and swimming in the irrigation ditch. I remember getting yelled at by Grandpa and eating Grandma’s bread! I remember family. I can still feel the love of that big happy family.

It has been a while since Grandma died and the family sold the farm. I am sure that it was a difficult decision but one that had to be made. It makes me sad to think that I won’t sit at the dining room table with my Aunts and Uncles and cousins eating dinner and talking and laughing. We won’t get to eat Grandma’s good food or hear Grandpa sing. And we kids won’t get to join in the old penny-ante poker games that the grown-ups used to play. Life has moved on. The farm has been sold.

But the love that the farm represents lives on in the lives of my grandparents’ kids and their kids too. My grandparents were simple farmers who not only raised vegetables but a loving, caring family. They left the world no buildings bearing their names. Instead, they built a lasting monument of love — they built a family. The circle of love which started as my grandparents has blossomed to my generation and will continue into the next. Maybe the farm is gone from our family, but the love lives on.

I guess that I don’t need to feel sad when I hear the chimes. I can and will still remember the farm. But I will also remember my grandparents and the love that they gave to their family. I will remember the love they gave to me and I will continue to spread that love. Blow wind and ring those chimes. Those chimes of love.

© 2000 Michael T. Miyoshi

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From Musings of a Mediocre Man published September 2000.