Mr. A痴 Story

I heard Mr. A’s story at a social gathering. It is the story of his life from 1955 until 1962, when he was a junior high and then senior high school student.

Mr. A’s family had nine children. Mr. A was the fourth boy. Below him were two younger sisters and then two younger brothers. The third son left home in the spring of the year when Mr. A entered the second grade of junior high school. The second son had already gone to work in Nagoya. The eldest son took over the family’s farming business, and the eldest daughter married and went to live in a nearby town. So when the third son left home, Mr. A became the second most important presence after the eldest son.

Their farming household was poor, but it seems to have been a cheerful and pleasant family forged through a combination of the educational philosophies of the father, who steered the large household and insisted that “people must learn to fend for themselves,” and the mother, who brought up her children in silence.

Mr. A especially did a lot of part-time jobs, and it was only natural for him to hand over all the money he earned to his father. Not a penny found its way into his own pocket.

The rule in the family was that you had to ask the father for money, such as the children’s school expenses or PTA dues, the evening before. That was because he had to go and borrow it. If you asked in the morning, you wouldn’t get anything. “If that’s the case, then don’t go to school today,” he would say. And indeed, sometimes Mr. A didn’t go to school.

In those circumstances, Mr. A’s earnings from his part-time jobs helped a bit. And they helped him become more and more independent as well.

The part-time jobs at that time involved a lot of construction site work, such as repairing conduits linking reservoir ponds deep in the mountains to rice fields during slack agricultural periods.

Mr. A also worked in a huge quarry. Using a sharp iron rod, he would laboriously dig a hole for dynamite of about 5 centimeters in diameter and 130 centimeters in depth. When the hole was finished, a grownup would place a fuse deep inside the hole, cover it with powdered dynamite, and then light the fuse to cause an explosion. Mr. A said that he can still vividly remember the speed and noise of the flame running along the fuse, the dull sound of the explosion and the vibration, and then the tremendous roar of collapsing rocks.

Mr. A recalls a winter job in which he had to carry a bamboo basket full of gravel and suspended on a shoulder pole from a riverbed up a ladder and onto a road, keeping his balance all the way.

One day snow flakes began falling, and it turned into a real blizzard. The boss said it was no use carrying on in those conditions, so they took shelter in a general store perched on top of a cliff, which seemed to rise gradually from the abyss. The three adults immediately ordered shochu (clear distilled liquor). Mr. A and his friend had orange juice. Still engraved in Mr. A’s memory is the snack of cold tofu that the grownups had with their shochu. Slices of welsh onion lay on top of the tofu, with some bright red pepper on top of them. The adults covered the tofu uniformly in soy sauce and then ate mouthfuls. Even today, Mr. A’s family apparently enjoys its cold tofu in this way.

Mr. A also remembers the whiteness of the falling snow and the frozen river on that day.

For Mr. A, the happiest moment was seeing the smiles on his parents’ faces when he handed over his earnings from part-time jobs to his father.

The story made me think. In poor mountain villages at that time, such experiences were not uncommon, but to give all your earnings from part-time jobs to your father . . . . The father was certainly no ordinary person.

“I’m full of admiration for my father’s educational philosophy,” concluded Mr. A. “I am sincerely grateful, because everything I have today is the fruit of that education.”

I couldn’t agree more.