Tag Archives: Guam Mariana Islands

Christmas in the SAND

Living on Guam in the 50’s is everyone’s dream life, from kid to adult. We go to the beach, we party, we play, we bond. In later years whenever the subject comes up, my parents always refer to this period of our life as the time when everything is perfect.

We ride out typhoons, one a direct hit. I vividly recall Dad taking me out in the eye to show me how calm everything is. Only moments before the wind is blowing with such ferocity that anything not tied down (he and fellow crewmen have spent hours tying down planes so that they will not tumble like weeds) gets carried along.

Typhoon preparedness on Guam 1953

Almost every night that the weather is good, there is an outdoor movie on base. Folding chairs are set up. Attendance is always full, even if it’s a repeat show. There’s no bathroom so you either endure or go home, which isn’t too far away. Everything on base is within walking distance.

On Saturdays, all the base kids pile onto a bus and get driven off base to a local theater somewhere short of nowhere. We fill the theater, dozens of screaming wild ones with pennies to spend on candy and popcorn that if selected wisely will last the entire morning. I am sure the only adults around are the bus drivers and the film operator. We form new friendships, dissolve old ones, fight over seats, food, and anything that strikes us as worthy. We love it all.

I go to school off base that is a series of quonset huts, one per class all connected by a concrete sidewalk. There is a big hut to serve as an auditorium. And in the middle of the complex a walk in refrigerator where cold milk is served to go with bag lunches. No cafeteria. We eat on the porch of our classroom hut.

On base we entertain ourselves by running behind the DDT truck spraying for mosquitoes, getting as close as possible to the back of the truck so to be entirely enveloped in the cloud of poison. You have to hold your breath, the smell is so awful. I am bad at it and give it up after a few tries. Still our kids marvel at why they are not malformed head to toe.

We sneak into the sugar cane fields behind the base, always leery of the possibility of lurking Japanese soldiers, to get stalks of cane to suck on. The sugar taste is so good.

Dad brings me exotic dolls and clothes from Japan whenever he goes there. A doll with wigs to change her status from young unmarried, to geisha, to wife; covered cloth slippers with a separation for your big toe. And straw open shoes with a velvet thong between the big toe and the rest, you would know the design as a flip flop, but then the concept is totally new to all of us. Learning to walk in them is hard even if they are pretty, the strap is annoyingly uncomfortable.

But the absolute best of all for a kid on Guam, is Christmas. The Navy shipmates decorate their ships within an inch of their smoke stacks. They are gaudy beauties to behold. I never tire of a trip to see them.

Decorated Navy ship on Guam 1953

A huge hanger is set up with presents for every kid on base. We get a collapsible cheap glass wind chime packed in a flat cheaper cardboard box lined with thin tissue. It smells divinely of the orient. I am always sad when mine breaks. We get a mesh stocking full candy. And, as if that is not enough, there are individual gifts. There is a line by age for girls and one for boys. The presents, identical according to specific sex and age, are wrapped and hidden behind screens and carefully handed out by an adult as you reach the front of your line. This glory stops at age twelve. I have figured out that the twelve year old girls get a toy red piano. I really want a piano. I’m only ten plus I won’t be on Guam when I’m twelve, our tour will be up. I get in the line for twelve year old girls and lie my way forward. I have not one bit of guilt about my deception. Mom doesn’t know how I have come by my treasure, she’s clueless about the details of the process, so I’m spared any inquisition.

Christmas 1953 on Guam. Me holding seven month old sister, Suzanne. Note the red piano behind my left shoulder. And next to my knee, the unique Japanese forerunner of the now common as sliced bread, flip flop.

The piano is only eclipsed by a German doll that I get for Christmas. I have sleuthed out my gifts, so this doll, a last minute addition, is a complete surprise. Mom tells me later that she initially passes on one for me because she’s done her shopping. But when she realizes that I will be the only doll age girl on base without a German doll, she picks a simply dressed one for me. It seems that a ship has come in mere days before Christmas with the dolls and there is a scramble for the most elaborately outfitted ones. I am impressed with the girls who get dolls dressed in over the top clothes and accessories but I love mine, simple dress and all. She’s absolutely beautiful.

Just as is life on Guam for those of us lucky enough to have our Christmas moment in the sand.

EPILOGUE

When your past gobsmacks you, in a good way, you just have to laugh and pay attention. Preparing to start a post about Christmas on Guam I see feedback from from the youngest daughter of Dad’s pilot partner in crime.

She has happened upon my blog post about her dad. She’s my sister’s age so I really do not recall a lot about her. Both born on Guam, they were but babies. Her older sister, still younger than me, I very much recall as cute and fun.

Normally I write and rewrite and put a draft aside but like I said when you’re gobsmacked you rise to the occasion, so Merry Christmas Yvonne aka Bonnie and Marianne!

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Two Girls TRAVELING Life

lighter us

Mom, me & Dad 1952 near Hickam AFB in Honolulu

We live in paradise, Dad, Mom & me. No, we really do. Dad is assigned to an eighteen month air rescue tour of duty on the remote island of Guam in the Mariana Islands. Family is allowed on this tour and so off we go, the three of us.

Well, to back up a step, Dad goes ahead. Mom & I follow after getting all of our belongings shipped from Texas and safely tucked away in the far reaches of the partially above ground immense basement at 6416 in Richmond. Our boxes and barrels and my beloved bicycle are stored next to the dirt garage section, out of the way from the simple all wood rooms designed for doing the family laundry, holding the coal furnace, and housing the gardener.

It is 1952, I am eight, when we land on Guam, after a stop in Honolulu where Dad meets our ship, and where we get a preview of what life in the amazing tropics is like. This Guam that we find ourselves on is so new to all but natives and a few hardy government employees that Mom gets to pick all of the trappings for our just completed house down to the fabric for our living room furniture. This Guam is not the one that my best friend’s Dad declares he is never so glad to leave. His, no families allowed, tour just a few years prior to ours is on a rough uncut diamond Guam.

We are dropped eyes wide open into a paradise so pristine and beautiful that it defies description. It is the first bloom on a hibiscus that will bear many blooms but never again a first one. There are no poisonous animals. There are no snakes. Tumon Bay is a no more than a beautiful beach reached through the jungle. There is always sunshine. When it rains, it’s a short shower of warm drops that barely get you wet. But that’s more than enough to maintain a lush growth of everything tropical because the humidity always hovers near 90 percent. And the temperature stays in the 70’s day and night year around. We have no glass windows in our house. Louvers for adjusting light and occasion breezes is all that is needed.

We all play at our own speed. I roam the entire base with no fear. It is my playground. My friends and I constantly make up games that require only the outdoor space around us. In summer and on weekends we go to nightly outdoor movies on the base. We sit in real seats under the stars and visit with our neighbors when the reels are being changed. There is no charge unless you want popcorn or a drink, and a nickel or two covers that.

Every chance he gets Dad goes on short leave to Japan and always brings me back dolls, wind chimes, tea sets and other wonders from that intriguing culture. Mom exchanges recipes and new ideas for adult parties which are never ending.

Whenever the occasion ship comes in with cargo from around the world it’s a mad dash to buy everything. Things are so inexpensive but not at all cheaply made that, as Mom says, “You can’t afford not to buy it all.”

Mom and I have dresses sewn for next to nothing by Hong Kong ladies trained in the art of exquisite tailoring. They custom cut and style to our specifications exactly what we want. We have our own private house of couture.

And then my grandmother, Mom’s mother, gets very sick. I am sure that the message from the states is concise and most likely in the form of a telegram or perhaps a Red Cross phone call because all but the most serious communication is by letter. And in Ashland, Virginia where Mom grows up the phone is still a luxury, especially a private line. Party lines where anyone can listen to your conversation are more the norm.

This is the grandmother who elopes to Charlottesville one January weekend just because she and Granddaddy want to get married and so they do, neither being much for fuss. This is the grandmother that I know as a stickler for rules and no frills living. And this is the same grandmother that lets me sleep with her and together we listen to The FBI in Peace and War and Dragnet on the radio in the pitch dark of the bedroom even though I am only six. And now she is very sick and we must go, Mom and I. But no one, not even dependents, leaves their tour of duty for any reason.

Dad plots and finagles and finally stealthily gets us on a military transport headed to Hickam AFB in Honolulu. Being a transport plane it has no real seats only jump seats along the inside walls of the plane. We are required to wear our Mae West vests the entire time since we are flying over water. Of course, there are no child sizes so I am engulfed in this massive life vest that presents a greater chance of suffocating rather than saving me it is so big. There is no heat. Mom and I do not have the advantage of airmen flight suits so we are agonizingly cold. Still we are against all odds on our way to Virginia.

In Honolulu we wait for a lift to the states trying to be as invisible as possible lest some by the rule book duty officer spies us and decides to ship us back to Guam. We are in luck. A hospital flight is headed to Travis AFB and there is room for us. If you by chance have ever been on a military hospital air ship you will know that it is designed for maximum capacity. There are no seats, it’s a hospital transport. Horizontal cots line both sides of the plane and are so tightly stacked that once you are in your cot, you can barely lift yourself up on your elbows. It’s for the severely sick or wounded why would you need to sit up anyway. But we are not sick, we are hitchhikers. And thankfully the only ones on board save the crew. Mom is immediately physically unsettled. My smirk at silly Mom quickly turns sour. There is something about being forced to lie completely flat on a moving airplane that just does not work. My barf bag and I become much too close. Finally, finally we land in California.

Mom and I roll out of our prisons and stagger off the plane. We breath in the fresh air. We have made it! Virginia is but a cross country train ride away. No more stolen space available for us. It is early evening but daylight is waning. Mom is a firm believer in a set bed time. No fudging, no gray area, no exceptions. She looks at me. “Are you hungry?” she asks. For way too many hours we have only snacked here and there. And then there is the matter of our last ride still churning in our stomaches, but suddenly I am really ravenous. I nod, yes. I wait for a practical let’s grab a quick bite and get you ready for bed announcement. She inhales and one girl to another says, “Let’s clean up, put on something fresh and pretty and go to dinner.” Bedtime flies out the window.

And for that moment, for that entire evening,  we are not mother-daughter, we are not parent-child. We are two equals. We are two girls traveling the road of life together.

 

 

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Filed under family, Life, Life on Guam