Butter Rum Cartoon

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Saturday, July 12, 2014


Eunice Wachtveitl is my oldest sibling. She was fifteen when I was born, and these stories she talks about here, in a program she presents on the American Girl dolls, fascinate me because they cover the years of my immediate family just before I was born into it - the adventures I missed as the last of five children. Eunice is an artist in every craft she pursues, and her interests are contagious because of her skill and enthusiasm. Here she brings American Girl dolls to life. Enjoy.

Eunice Wachtveitl (center) at a Doll Club Tea
18" Play Dolls.  How does one do a program on them? That was the question. Then my neighbor/friend Dolores commented, "I cannot understand the fascination with American Girl Dolls." That got me thinking and going. The answer came: They remind me of my own childhood and I now realize it may have been an exceptionally good one.

Here is Kirsten. She represents my Scandinavian heritage. All my grandparents were Norwegian or Swedish and somewhere there was some Danish too. I have been told my paternal grandfather was in the Norwegian Navy and jumped ship on Camano Island where he then settled. Paternal grandmother, Gina Pauline, came to America when she was 22 years old. My grandfather was then 44, had been married and had a son one year younger than Grandma. How I wish I had asked more questions about that. My son's genealogy studies have told him that it was an arranged marriage. This grandfather died the year before I was born but both Grandma and Dad had only good things to say about the man. [Dad said that he was the most honest man he's ever known.] I only remember her second husband, George Gullickson. He was quiet but kind. As grandmothers go, I could not have been luckier. I once met a man who had been a boyhood friend of my father. He told me,
My Grandmother
"We all thought your dad was the luckiest boy in the world because he had a mother who was such fun and laughed all the time and made the best cookies." She played guitar, accordion and could yodel! I inherited her and she did not change. My friends in her neighborhood in Everett would just want to "go see Bedstamoder" when we played. She was just as hospitable to them as she was to her many friends who stopped for coffee and a visit. She once held a birthday party for me without me. I got homesick after invitations went out but the party went on.

Then there is Kit. She represents the year 1934 and that was my birth year. Her story tells of living during the depression. All my life, I heard stories about that depression. Daughter Gloria and I planned to visit the American Girl Store at Alderwood Mall. I had been there twice. She had not. I wanted Kit because of that 1934 year but had talked myself out of needing another American Girl doll. That lasted only until I saw the orange crate scooter! Then I just had to have the doll AND the scooter.

Dad was a pastor and served small country churches. In those days,
Methodist pastors moved routinely every two or three years. Mom
Life in Nooksack
Eunice with brother Paul and our Dad
made everywhere we went "home" and Dad made everywhere fun. In the early 1940's, we lived in
Nooksack, Washington. He built those orange crate scooters and made stilts and always seemed to have time for fun. There was always a play house he built for us too. Most of all he loved to hike, and seemed happiest when one or more of us kids would go with him. Did you know there were gold mines in those mountains around Nooksack? We hiked up there so he could show us a mine. It was no longer working but the tracks and carts to carry the gold ore were still there. In Kit's story, she and a friend started trying to print a newspaper. My brother and I did the same. He was the reporter looking for news around Nooksack and I had one of those rubber printing sets so I was the type setter. It did not last long.

Then came the Molly years. When the American Girl dolls were made by the Pleasant Company, Molly's accessories included a tiny Nancy Drew book and a bedside lamp - two of my favorite things! There was also a little hot water bottle. World War II was going on. Almost all the young men were in uniform. The parsonage in Nooksack burned and we moved from place to place including a little cabin in the woods where the only heat was a wood stove in the main room. We slept in cold bedrooms and mother heated water for hot water bottles for us to keep at our feet.

Eunice and her Bicycle
During these years, my father's friends from seminary days were enlisting in the chaplaincy and Dad decided to do the same. He and Mother moved us to a house on Rucker Avenue in Everett. The day Dad left for Fort Lawton, dressed in his Army uniform, Mother cried all day and then he returned that night and every night for a couple of weeks. After Chaplains' School, Dad was sent to the Philippines. He hiked there too, and a letter told of his hike into the jungle where he encountered little men wearing almost nothing and carrying spears. He thought they were head hunters. He said he smiled his nicest smile and, to his great relief, they smiled back and all went on their way leaving his head on him. Mother took in a border to help make ends meet just as Kit's mother did in her book. What I wanted most those days was a bicycle! I got one for my tenth birthday. American Girl Store has a little bicycle that is so perfect that if one were just small enough, I am sure it could be ridden.

The war ended while Dad was in the Philippines and he was then sent to Japan. General Douglas MacArthur had been sent there and the rebuilding of Japan had begun. The Japanese thought highly of General MacArthur.

Then there is Addy. June of 1947 found Mother and the four of us children (I was just turning 13 and the oldest child) in the New Richmond Hotel in Seattle waiting to board the USS Ainsworth the next morning to sail to Japan. We were among the first U.S. military dependents to go to Japan after the war. My sister, brother and I were playing an Old Maid game while sitting on a hotel bed in one hotel room. Mother, with toddler, Linda, was in the room next door. We were joined by an African American girl, the first I had seen up close, and I thought she was very cute and funny. We were from Everett of the 1940's. Dependents had come from all over the country to get on that ship. As we were playing the game and laughing, a drunk man wandered into the room and attempted to show us a military sewing kit (could he know a sewing kit would be what I would be interested in?). I saw Mother's pale, frightened face appear in the doorway behind him and then she was gone. She returned fast, accompanied by hotel security who hustled the man from the room. That night, my brother slept on a makeshift bed on the floor next to Mother's bed. My sister was with me but did not feel well so she moved to Mother's room and Mother's bed where she proceeded to throw up on my brother. Then he got sick too. In the morning we learned there was something wrong with the hotel's water and many were sick. One family was told they could not board the ship because a child had measles. With her teeth gritted, Mom warned us: "Don't anyone DARE throw up!" We made it on the ship. The Ainsworth had been a luxury liner that was converted to carry troops, but it was still a very nice ship. We were on it for ten days.

American Girl doll Ivy is meant to be Chinese but, to me, she is Kimiko-san and Japanese. My first impressions of Japan were the smell of fish and the sound of thousands of getas clomping on the land. As the ship docked, it was surrounded by little fishing boats holding Japanese fishermen all calling out "cigaretto." Packs of cigarettes rained down from all decks. Finally we could see Dad in the crowd on the dock. He had brought real pearl necklaces for Mother and for me. We got off the ship and boarded a sooty train headed for Kyoto. Everything ran on charcoal. We went through bombed out skeletons of towns. The rebuilding had begun but it would take a long time for Japan to be beautiful again. We arrived in Kyoto after dark and were met by Dad's commanding officer, Father Kilcoyne, with a driver and a Packard with jump seats. Kyoto, as the art and culture center of Japan, was spared in the bombings. It was beautiful but the people were desperately poor and hungry. It was now "occupied Japan" and occupied by us. We occupied the homes of those Japanese who had been wealthy and influential. We also occupied the beautiful Miyako Hotel where I went for Japanese language lessons that I often skipped, being more interested in the handsome Japanese bellboys. We also occupied the Kyoto Hotel and all the existing nice hotels including the Fujiya Hotel near Mount Fuji. That was where we went on vacation and we had three large adjoining rooms for which we paid $6 a night and that included the meals. In fact, it probably was for the meals. While there, Dad and I climbed Mt. Seninyama. Near the top of the mountain was a small Japanese farm, and children saw us coming and ran toward the house, terrified and screaming that Americans were coming. That was when a 13-year-old girl realized there really are two sides to a war and we were not the good guys to everyone. In the city, the children were getting used to us and crowded around everywhere we went, curious to see the blond hair and blue eyes up close and to beg for gum and chocolate. Obviously, we could not carry gum and chocolate for crowds of children, but those were two American words they knew.

My school class visited a Japanese school and that visit was written up in a Japanese newspaper with headline: "Blue eyes widen in sewing class." Those were my eyes. I have never gotten over being amazed. Those girls moved their hands like machines. The needle was held stationary in one hand while the other hand quickly moved the fabric up and down, sliding it onto the needle in perfect little stitches. The paper also said that, when asked, I had said the school was as good as American schools. When this part was translated, my dad was not very happy about that but, for me, that class surpassed anything I had ever seen in school. I did this doll's kimono by hand, just to be more like what I saw that day.

The housing for Americans had been built in what had been the Botanical Gardens. When I woke in the morning after we arrived, I got up and went to explore our new home. On the coffee table in the living room was a low bowl that held one beautiful Southern Magnolia. To this day, that remains my favorite flower and scent. The flower had come from the tree across the street from our house. I could probably write a book about that year in Japan. Little did I know I would be returning two more times with my own children to be greeted by my own husband. I love that country and its people!

And that brings me to my need for Kaya, the native American doll. She is the only American Girl doll to date with decidedly different features. On my husband's second tour of duty in Japan, we lived on East Bluff in Yokohama. American military housing units were scattered in with Japanese houses. Our street was a short street off of Yamate-cho. The International University and an orphanage and governmental offices were on Yamate-cho. How I wished I could have one of those orphans, but I just kept having more of our own. Our three boys were born in Japan. In the American house about half way down the street lived a Navaho American military family with twin girls. The people in front of us were from Peking, China, and we were in a rambler that was one of four American housing units grouped together. On one side of us was a duplex. A white family lived in the unit closest to our house and on the other end of that duplex lived an African American family. On the other side of us was another rambler and another African American family lived there. Then there was the Japanese Foreign Minister and other Japanese families, and at the Yamate-cho end of the road were more American units. Our road ended in a long stairway that led down the bluff to Motomachi Street, which was, and still is (I have read), the international shopping street where I bought my first Barbie doll. Every morning I would walk with the children to the school bus stop and, looking at the group, would think the song: "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white - they are precious in His sight..."

And there you have the reason for my fascination with American Girl dolls. They remind me.

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1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful, Dale. Eunice, I was checking some genealogy recently and there are records of you going to Japan. It is wonderful to have these stories to add to Jim's family history. Thank you!