Somewhere Along I-40, New Mexico
It was 1977 when my wife to be arrived in the United States. She was from Okinawa, Japan and we had met while I was serving in the Marine Corps. I nicknamed her “Tommie” since most Americans had trouble pronouncing her Japanese name. Tommie had never been out of her small island country which measured 60 miles long and 12 miles wide at its’ narrowest point. Was she ever in for a surprise!
I had returned to the States ahead of her and she was going to follow on a “sweet heart visa”. Her ticket had been sent and when the night of her scheduled arrival came I was awaiting her flight at the Memphis International Airport. I scanned the passengers as they disembarked from their plane. As the last one got off, she was not there.
I returned to Naval Air Station in Millington, TN where I was stationed. “Where was she”, I mused. Only one way to find out…I called the airline. After a lengthy search of manifests, it appeared she never got on. She had been planning to spend another 6 months before coming. Everybody revolved around her schedule I took it. That should have been a hint of things to come.
However, I sent a message by Western Union telling her to be on the next flight out, or else call the whole thing off. She was on the next flight. It was night when I picked her up.
We caught up with all the latest family news as we drove the 40 miles to Millington. Tommie quickly learned the American tourists’ mantra of “Are we there yet?” repeated once every minute. I had forgotten she had never been on a highway that stretched over several miles without a bend in it. She had a lot to learn in the near future.
The next week we were married at my Grandmother’s house in Alma, Arkansas. It was a 300 mile trip down I-40 that took her breath away. She still hadn’t seen anything yet.
About 6 months after our marriage I was honorably discharged from the Marines and plans were made to move to California where I had a job waiting on me. We packed up our little red 1974 Ford Pinto Hatchback and took off on the 1800 mile trip which totally left her dazed in amazement at how large America was.
Roadside Tourist Stands
Somewhere along I-40 in New Mexico my newly wed Japanese wife, Tommie, began noticing the Indian roadside tourist stands that catered to cross country travelers. We were moving to California. She could never pass up a yard sale or any roadside bargain sales. Eventually I surrendered to her demands and pulled over next to an Indian leather and jade jewelry craft stand where a few other tourists had also stopped to browse. There were about 6 American Indian women dressed in native attire operating the business.
Tommie began admiring their handiwork as she was also a skilled craftsman. It wasn’t long before the Indian women noticed her. I watched from the car as puzzled expressions formed on their faces. They all gathered to the rear of the stand and had an impromptu meeting.
After several minutes of hushed conversation and finger pointing one was nominated to be the spokesperson for the group. She timidly approached my wife, studying her intensely. Tommie was becoming noticeably uncomfortable at the attention she was getting. Was she suspected of theft or what? Finally, Tommie asked the Indian lady if anything was wrong. She blushed, realizing she had been staring rudely.
“Excuse me Miss”, the business woman asked. “But we can’t figure out what tribe of Indians you come from. What kind of Indian are you?” she queried. Tommie didn’t know how to reply to this unexpected question at first. But after a few seconds she replied, “I’m a Japanese Indian!”
With the ice now broken, the other women excitedly gathered around curious to find out who their mystery guest was. Apparently they had never seen a Japanese before.
They spent the next 2 hours in conversation comparing cultural notes and other female oriented topics. So much for the days time schedule. Maybe I could make it up the next day.