Today is the second day of vacation for me, although the students are still taking their final exams for their Chinese courses at this time. Dragon Boat Festival is tomorrow and the entire nation has been given Thursday and Friday off, meaning that our college officially ends the Spring semester at the end of the day. Many will be traveling home to spend their 4-day break with family and friends but will return on Monday for the 1-month summer session, which is a required part of the school year.
I finally have time to myself to catch up on sleep and emails, do some blog writing, swim every day at the local pool, and leisurely walk and give attention to the abandoned dogs at the Xin Wang Veterinarian Clinic (There are 4 now: Stinky the Yorkie, Crippled Mutt Puppy, Lame Black Lab, and Mother Hubbard, the old-lady sheep dog.)
My Turn to Follow Up
My mom’s previous essay will appear in this week’s The Advocate and the below will follow from me. This was published years ago in The Christian Science Monitor, Home Forum page, on Dec. 6, 1996. Thought you’d enjoy a nice read, after which I will return to more stories from China. I just regret I can’t find a photo of Taizo. It’s in one of the boxes I haven’t bothered unpacking due to my upcoming move. When I find it, I’ll be sure to share.
My Grandfather’s Legacy of Forgiveness
Among the elderly in my home town, Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) is still recalled with anger, the Japanese still disliked. So when I accepted an English teaching position in Kyoto, Japan, more than mere grumblings arose from many of my older friends. Before I left America, veterans cornered me and recounted stories of bloody South Pacific battles. I would listen politely until they inevitably shook their heads and sighed, “You’re too young to understand.”
But my grandfather, a chaplain in the United States Army in World War II, did understand. He was in the Philippines and the jungles of New Guinea from 1943 to 1945. I read his diaries: The entries were poignant and unsettling. The war I’d seen in the movies was not the one I found in his hand-written, detailed notes and sketches.
When I was well into my sixth month of teaching in Kyoto, I received a letter from my mother with the name and address of a retired Japanese minister and theology professor, Taizo Fujishiro.
“He was your grandfather’s friend,” she informed me.
They had met in 1950 at the University of Chicago’s Theological Seminary. After Taizo returned to Japan, the two wrote for many years.
“The address is in Kyoto,” my mom continued. “Why not look him up?”
It took me weeks to gather enough courage to track him down.
Would he remember my grandfather? Would he remember his English, at such an advanced age? Would he care to even talk to me?
I stood in the Kyoto YWCA office, the staff telephone in my hand. I dialed the number, listened apprehensively as the phone rang and waited. The receiver’s “click” was heard, followed by a soft-spoken male voice.
“Hello,” I said slowly and clearly. “My name is Connie Wieck. I am the granddaughter of Marvin Maris.”
That was all the introduction I needed. Taizo’s exclamation of surprise told me that he certainly did remember.
We arranged to meet for lunch the following day at a nearby hotel restaurant. I wore a skirt rather than my usual worn-out jeans, and arrived 20 minutes early. I sat nervously with my hands clasped tightly on my lap and my eyes glued to the lobby’s front door.
A distinguished, tidy gentleman with thick, graying hair and bushy eyebrows entered. He walked with a surprisingly quick, steady gait. He smiled warmly and approached.
“You must be Connie,” he said in perfect English as I rose to meet him.
“You surprised me,” I said, shaking his hand. “I thought you’d look much … older.”
He laughed with such amusement that my anxiety slipped away.
We ate lunch and talked for nearly three hours. My grandfather had been Taizo’s first American friend. He had typed his class notes for Taizo, who often struggled to follow the professor’s rapid lectures. Taizo had spent Christmas with Grandfather’s family; my grandfather had taught him how to drive. But what truly surprised me was that this gentle man had been a lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Guard. Growing up in a town whose veterans were still bitter toward the Japanese, I had come to believe that forgiveness was beyond any first-hand witnesses to that history.
The lasting friendship between my grandfather and Taizo proved otherwise.
After lunch, Taizo and I resumed our conversation in Kyoto’s ancient imperial palace grounds where cloistered emperors once walked. We leisurely strolled over wide, gravel pathways. We spoke about our families, my work at the YWCA, and Taizo’s church community that he ministered to.
The late-afternoon sun signaled the end of our time together. We exchanged many warm thank-yous and promises of future meetings, which we kept. We also continued our contact by correspondence when I finally returned to America. Even today, long after Taizo’s passing, I consider our friendship a privileged legacy from my grandfather, one which I still hold very dear.
And when I am surrounded by others’ vivid memories of World War II, I share my memories, too. They begin with the walk Taizo and I took that day, where I felt the presence of my grandfather join us as we walked side by side, with peaceful steps.