Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery


The year of my first hanami, I was seven. It was our first spring in Japan, and we lived on Fifth Armored Infantry Battalion Drive on the US Army base in Sagamihara. A few blocks up the road lived an old couple. Mr. B was a guy who had served his twenty years active duty but had some special expertise that made him necessary to keep around even though he wasn't in uniform anymore. He and Mrs. B had been stationed everywhere an army couple could be stationed around the Pacific. They'd had kids in most of those places--one in Okinawa, and one in the Philippines, and another in Korea, and I think maybe two in Guam. I don't even remember how many children they had, but it was a lot. All of them were grown and gone by the time they took my family under their wings. My mother's parents were both dead--my grandmother just a few weeks before we moved to Japan--and my father's parents were seven thousand miles away. Mr. and Mrs. B were...not in loco parentis in the legal sense, but in loco grandparentis, as it were. They were a little bit loco, more to the point. Which was a good thing.

One Saturday in March, 1977, my parents took my sister and me to the B family's back yard, where we were to be introduced to the Japanese custom of O Hana Mi--that was how Mr. B spelled it out. Honorable Flower Viewing. The particular flowers we viewed were the dozen or so tentative blossoms on a two-foot-tall sakura sapling in a clay pot. The clay pot sat on a picnic bench in the Bs' back yard through a long afternoon of barbecue and sake. My sister and I, being seven and three, had no sake, but we got to enjoy the strange spectacle of my parents drinking to the point of visible tipsiness. This was something we'd never seen before, and it was fascinating. Left me with a healthy respect for sake, let me tell you. Mr. B and my father drank many decreasingly eloquent toasts to the cherry sapling. I wish I could remember them.

This was the day Mrs. B first lent me a book. Over the three years we lived in Sagamihara, she lent me many, many books. This first one had been her children's great favorite, and I'd never heard of it before. It was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first fantasy novel I ever read. She had all seven books, of course, and later for one of my fourth grade book report projects, my mother and I would labor together for days to make a big map of Narnia and all its neighboring nations. The map was taller than me. I think my parents still have it, somewhere in the dragon hoard of their house.

It was our second year in Japan that my family did a proper hanami at the famous park in Ueno, the one you'll see on CNN every year when the sakura zensen, the cherry blossom front, sweeps northward up the islands. The sakura zensen is sweeping away from me now--the cherry petals are falling, and the appleblossoms are opening. Appleblossoms are a different rush of memory. Awash in the scent of appleblossoms, I am always nineteen, and a fencer, and just a little bit lovely. I'll be remembering those things soon. Today, though, I am saying goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. B. One more heavy rainfall, and the cherry blossoms will be gone.

I don't know what happened to them. I don't know where they are now, or if they are. I don't know what became of any of their children, really. I mean, I have an amusing story about the time their daughter L hid in my parents' apartment in Seoul to avoid the amorous attentions of the Prince of Monaco, but that story's not really mine--I was seven thousand miles away at the time. People say the cherry blossom is the emblem of impermanence, but it's also a kind of recurrence, a rhythm. All good things must come to an end, and all good things must come to a beginning. Mr. and Mrs. B lent us their books, their piano, their good sense, and their cherry tree. They made my writing possible. I hope they're still somewhere, maybe somewhere a little bit north of here, watching the petals open.
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