WordPress Daily Prompt: The Transporter
Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.
For me, it’s everytime I read the word or hear the sound Whooosh!
Despite his many flaws my dad was decades ahead of his time, he chased his dreams and captured some of them too. Unfortunately, his wife and kids weren’t always included. It wasn’t often that I got to see him, in fact it was rare. Silently shaved and showered he even managed to shut the aluminum storm door without the inevitable rattle, start up his 1960 white Coupe DeVille which was parked in the driveway just beyond my bedroom window, and leave well before daybreak. The roar of that huge engine never did wake me up, somehow it shifted into park every night without notice too.
I spent the last week of that summer in ’62 at my dad’s Texaco station wiping windshields and having my head patted by customers as I pumped gas, inhaling the intoxicating fumes and listening for the slow ding…ding…ding as every dollar rolled by on the pump gauge.
I was seven, I collected money and got plenty dirty and if there is a heaven on earth for a seven year old boy, it was there at the Texaco.
The timing of what happened after I resumed school is unclear, but I remember not seeing my dad at all, for a long time. His quite sudden, unannounced reappearance on Christmas Eve, the holiday my mom revered and he dismissed, loaded with luggage, presents and a human waiting in the shadows behind him on the stoop, did not turn out quite as he planned. The short man wearing an ill fitting suit and carrying a single travel case, was introduced to us as Sensei Ushiro. He bowed profusely as he shook our hands and was escorted to the basement where we were told he would be living, indefinitely.
Predictably, all hell broke loose.
From what I overheard, soon after my few weeks spent at his Texaco station, it was sold and with the proceeds and a plan, my dad moved himself to Okinawa, Japan. There he studied Karate and Judo with some of the masters of the two disciplines earning himself a half brown belt, which back then was no small accomplishment. He convinced Sensei Ushiro to return with him to open a school, a dojo where the disciplines could be properly taught by himself and the master.
Our homelife did eventually settle down and the familiar pattern of my father’s absence was again the norm. The Sensei was home more often and much of that time was spent with me, in my bedroom. By age eight, I was a Civil War and World War II afficianado, devouring every book I could get my hands on, every model I could build, every plastic soldier army I could amass. There were battle enactments permanently set up on the floor, planes hung from the ceiling and all my plastic guns and gear was conspicuously displayed, everywhere.
The Sensei would sit crosslegged on the floor as the battles raged, while I mimicked the sound effects of every gun, tank and plane, sounds I’d heard over and over blaring from so many black and white war movies on t.v. Occasionally in his low, soft voice he would ask me why I enjoyed playing war games so much. He was never judgemental, mostly bowing his head in silent acknowledgement, his broken English always inhibiting his conversation.
One of my favorite soldiers was a Marine armed with a flame thrower, he was all green and had a tank strapped to his back and was slightly larger than the rest. The Whhoooosh! sound that I learned from the movies was by far my favorite sound effect, and the flame thrower was also the ultimate weapon I deployed when I wanted to kill all the Japanese soldiers hiding in the makeshift caves I built, ending my World War II Pacific battle.
‘Whooosh!… Whooosh!… Whooosh!’, the caves engulfed in flames.
I remember the tap on my shoulder and the Sensei raising both his hands as if to say stop, so I did. He got up and began slowly unbuttoning his shirt, then off came his undershirt and pants. He stood there for a moment in his baggy boxer shorts head bowed, then bent down and picked up the flame throwing Marine and pointed at his body. I sat there with my mouth open shocked at what his skin looked like, even now it would be near impossible for me to describe the scars that covered almost every inch of his exposed skin.
He explained to me that he was one of the last Japanese soldiers to be taken out of the caves on Okinawa, near the end of World War II, opening my Encyclopedia Brittanica to the pages describing the details, so I would fully understand. He showed me his feet that barely had toes and his hands that had stumps for fingers.
I remember his leathery, creased hands cupping my face as I cried.
Sensei Ushiro was the fiercest fighter in the dojo during competitions, a black belt master in the discipline of self defense, yet he was the most serene human I have ever met. When he performed his Katas or choreographed dance like forms, his specialty was the eight foot oak staff. To watch him perform was a miracle. To see the absolute precision in every movement, his other wordly, gutteral sounds paired with the violent whooosh of the staff held with virtually no fingers on his hands, would have people witnessing his performance, speechless.
He was truly a master at his craft, an incredible human being who showed that eight year old boy the value of discipline, the horrors of war and the art of renewal. These are lessons I still hold deeply to this day.