The Wayback Machine: Red Shorts, Blue Shorts


My father was in the military, so we moved frequently. When I found out we were moving to Japan, I thought it was going to be a completely different world. I expected the roads to be red, the grass to be yellow, the trees pink. I was shocked to find out it was like home, at least as far a green grass and blue sky! We still lived near the sea, outside of Osaka. The language was different and the people looked different (especially to a six year old).


We were there six or seven years after the war. People still wore the traditional dress. I remember big drainage ditches next to the street. In school, we practiced air raid drills by lying in those ditches. The rice fields were still fertilized by “honey buckets” (sewage). I can still remember what that smelled like.

We had a Japanese maid. Her husband had died in the war. Her two daughters were a little older than me. She would take me into the village. It was a child’s paradise, with bright colors and strange, interesting toys.

Everything we ate was bought at the base commissary. We were in Japan, but didn’t eat Japanese food. My parents went out, but we kids ate only things bought on the base.

My father had given me some of my own money, Japanese money. I was in my red shorts, I had money, I was so excited.

I went to the PX to get ice cream. It wasn’t far from our house, close enough so I could walk there at age six. I felt very big that I could go by myself. But when I tried to pay, the gruff man behind the counter scolded me for trying to pay with Japanese money. On an American base, you pay in American dollars.  I was six; I didn’t know. But he thought I’d done it on purpose. He yelled at me as though I was trying to get away with something.

He told me I could have the ice cream this time, but to “never try that again.”

I took my ice cream and threw it on the ground outside. I felt as though I shouldn’t have it, like I didn’t have any right to it. I felt as though I could never go into the PX again.

I went home and didn’t say a word about it.

Later that day, my mother needed to go to the PX to pick up a few things. She wanted to know if I wanted to go with her. I made excuses; I finally told her what happened.

“Just put on your blue shorts,” she said. “He’ll never recognize you.”

I changed from my red shorts to my blue shorts. We went to the PX. He didn’t recognize me.

That’s when I realized how what you wear can change someone’s perception of you.