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.
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.
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.
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.
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!