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Go Fix Yourselves A Snack

(by Hanna Takashige)

The yellow school bus dropped us off on Oregon Trail at the foot of a long dirt driveway. We trudged uphill for half a mile on the road winding through the woods. Arriving home around four in the afternoon, we banged our way in through the front door, three young sisters and the dog that met us at the bus stop. We dropped books and lunch boxes, jackets and sweaters onto the hallway bench, removed our shoes, and, if it was winter, peeled off layers of coats, hats, scarves, and boots. We announced ourselves loudly, “Ma, we’re home!”

From inside her art studio, located just off the front hallway, came our mother’s melodious reply, delivered in a refined British accent: “Hello, dears! Go fix yourselves a snack. I’ll be out in about an hour.”

The three of us went into the kitchen where Jan, the oldest, would reach for the glasses and help Sara, the youngest, and myself, the middle child, pour some milk. We’d all help ourselves to cookies, not the homemade kind, but beautiful, uniform cookies in their shiny packages — Fig Newtons or Oreos, Lorna Doone shortbread, Chips Ahoy, or the golden, flat, shiny ones that contained raisins inside the sheets you had to tear apart. We got three cookies each and never dreamed of taking more. We’d sit up high on the wooden benches at the butcher block kitchen table our dad made, the ship’s clock ticking above the oven, and look out over the New York Hudson Valley rolling away far into the distance. Our house was the last one to be found before dense woods climbed steeply all the way up to Sam’s Point, the highest lookout on the Shawangunk Mountain range. It was a good two-mile hike straight uphill, most of it along Rooty Brook, to where finally, standing on the cliff top, you would get a most spectacular view.

Our mom, who loved to hike, introduced us to the local terrain and trails early on, and when I got old enough — maybe nine or ten — I would climb the mountain and hike along the ridge, just me and the dog. I’d often be gone for most of the day. “If you get lost, walk downhill, and eventually you’ll get to a road,” my mom advised. It seemed like she and my dad had no worries when I went off on adventures. I guess they expected us to be self-sufficient, the way they were — artists who roughed it while building a country home in the 1950s.

Around 5 o’clock, Mom would finish up her work, take a shower, and lie down for maybe 20 minutes to fortify herself. Then she’d proceed to cook us all a very tasty, well-balanced meal with meat, vegetable, and a starch, and for us children, a glass of milk. While she cooked, our dad, who must have been hungry from doing physical labor all day long, would start drinking — usually whiskey — and maybe eating some salted peanuts while yakking to her. Mom would hurry to get dinner on the table because he was already getting drunk.

As children, we didn’t realize what our parents had left behind when they moved to the woods during the Cold War years. Our mother, Anne, came from a well-to-do, well-known Australian family. Growing up on a cattle station as an only child, her first companions were horses and dogs. She was cared for by nurses, nannies, a governess, and sent to boarding school at age six. In early 1945, at age 24, she travelled to New York City on an art scholarship, where she met and fell in love with our father, Masato, a Japanese-American artist from Hawaii who had been in an internment camp for a year. He was able to leave the camp after signing an oath of loyalty to the U.S. government. For the remainder of the war, he served as a merchant seaman aboard vessels transporting Allied war materials across the Atlantic to Europe and North Africa — an extremely dangerous job. Later, he became a master cabinetmaker and builder. When Mom married him in 1949, she closed the door to resettling in her own country because, during those postwar years, there was even more anti-Japanese and racist sentiment in Australia than in the U.S., and her husband and children would certainly be unwelcome.

There were a lot of rocks in the woods where we grew up. The mountain had been formed by a glacier during the last great Ice Age, and rocks of all sizes got pushed along by the moving ice and dumped everywhere. My older sister Jan remembers our parents clearing a path down to where they built an outhouse in that first year. Rolling away one large rock, a mouse sprang up and fled, her tiny neonate young clinging to her, still feeding from her teats as she ran. In a way, our mom was like that mother mouse. She nursed each of us when we were small, fed us well as we grew, and was always ready to keep moving, though toward or away from what was not so clear.

My earliest memory is of walking in the garden with Mom, holding her hand as we admired the flowers she had planted. Snowdrops might be peeping up in early spring, and later in the season lilies of the valley shook their tiny, unbelievably fragrant bells when picked. Throughout my childhood, I picked fistfuls of flowers and set them before h