Some Houses Live In Our Memory Forever, Part 1

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No matter how many houses we live in, there are always a couple or three of them we just can’t forget. The reason is plain enough, I suppose. When we think of them it’s not as “the house in Karachi,” or “the house on Okinawa.” It’s “our house in Karachi,” or “our little place on Okinawa.” It’s the “our” that counts.

I’ve lived in a lot of houses, but I had no idea how many until I sat down to count them. I made a rough guess and decided it was perhaps two dozen, so when I came up with a total of 39 I thought I had made a mistake.

And I was right! About being wrong, I mean. 

I had left out places in Japan, Texas and Phoenix — which brought the total up to an even more surprising 42.

Think of that. Forty-two different houses.

“Different” is the right word for some of them. There was one in Japan — the one I forgot in the count — that was very different. I can see why I forgot it. It was two years before I met Lolly, so it’s not one I remember well. I was taking advantage of the NCO privilege of living off-base and getting away from the troops when off-duty. It worked as far as that was concerned, but there were some minor drawbacks to that place.

The first drawback reared its ugly head on the very first morning. I wasn’t due at work until eight and the town where the house was located was only 10 miles from the base, so I planned on getting up at 6:30, dressing leisurely, driving to the mess hall for breakfast, and then strolling over to the job.

Surprise! At 5:15 a train went by and woke me up!

“Oh, boy!” I thought as I listened to the loud two-tone whistle of a train going by. “Looks like I got taken.” 

There was no time to scout around that morning and it was after dark when I got back “home.” Next morning, right on time, the same thing. And the next. But the fourth day was Saturday and I was off, so after the %$#@! train woke me up I got dressed and wandered around the neighborhood looking for the tracks. 

Guess what? No tracks!

Determined to find the %$#@! tracks, I stopped a Japanese fruit seller pushing his cart down the street and used my still rough Japanese to ask him where the trains were. He pointed down a road opposite to the one I took to the base each day, so I hopped in my car and drove around until I found it.

But “it” wasn’t a train; it was a train station. I decided that the thing to do was to park at the station and walk the tracks in the direction that seemed likely to lead to my place. 

Total bust! The tracks soon turned off and ran in the wrong direction. So I tried following them the other way, not an easy thing to do by then with everyone in the little village wondering what the crazy American was up to. But still no tracks!

So how do you find a sneaky train, Johnny?

You get up early and wait for it to try sneaking by.

Which worked.

The trouble is my “train” turned out to be a little guy on a bicycle which had a stack of white porcelain bowls balanced on its carrier. And the incredibly loud “train whistle” came out of the v-shaped thing stuck in the little guy’s mouth. I watched him as he peddled up the street blowing on his train whistle and stopping now and then as people came out and bought bowls of hot noodles. 

After that, I listened to the 5:30 “freight” as it went by, and then rolled over and slept another hour — some mornings. 

On others there was something else that woke me up.

One of the first things I noticed about that little house was that its polished wooden floors were incredibly flexible. When I inquired about it I found out that it was unlike houses in the United States, which either have two thickness of boards in their floors, or have joists placed quite close together to allow the use of plywood. Japanese houses have widely spaced joists spanned by a single layer of thin boards, which makes floors very springy.

No big deal, right Johnny?

I hope you know me well enough by now to say, “Says who?”

My! My! You should see what it feels like to wake up in bed, look around, and see the furniture —and bed — dancing around the room! The first time it happened I could hardly believe my eyes. My bed felt like it was floating on the North Atlantic in a storm. 

It was an earthquake, of course. 

My landlord told me they were “very small; not so many,” but the third time it happened that month, tired of putting everything back on the shelves, I decided that there was a lot to say for the solid comfort of an American designed — concrete — NCO barracks.

However, that’s not one of the houses I meant when I said that some houses are unforgettable. In fact, as odd as that little house was, it was one I forgot to count. 

So what makes a house unforgettable? In a word — love.

I recently got an e-mail from Kim Chittick. Kim and her husband have just finished remodeling their home, and in her e-mail she said, “I was with my husband every step of the way, and neither of us would have had it any other way. Many people asked how many fights we had, and we were perplexed. Fights?? None! Now, how many times we ended up hugging each other while we laughed like hyenas over some silly thing or another? Too many to count!!”

Says it all, doesn’t it?

I will never forget the first house Lolly and I had in Karachi. It wasn’t “our” house, of course. It was just a rental, and in truth it was our second rental. I don’t count the first one because we both knew it was temporary, and so we marked time — or “marked buttons” as Lolly puts it in British English — until we found a rental we could turn into a home, no mean trick in 1960 Karachi, where they were hard to come by.

Actually, it was good that we stayed in that first little place. It was basic training for life “on the local economy” in Pakistan. You see, if I had arrived in Pakistan as a married NCO, the Air Force would have supplied us with a very nice place, but there were no provisions for housing those who married while in Pakistan. We were strictly on our own.

In a city which had a population of 100,000, but grew in just six months to a population of five million as India and Pakistan separated, finding a house was....

...shall we say difficult? 

Next week?

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