A fondness for the East

This is the first of some stories about my paternal grandmother and her sister that my nephew and his lovely wife have asked me to tell.  His wife noticed the pins on my lapel in the photo I posted to FB today (bottom of this page) and commented that she liked them.

I've worn the pins since not long after they came to me, which would have been after my grandmother's death in 1991.  At the time, I had to wear suits to work and I liked adding a touch of vintage to standard-issue, off-the-rack (read: boring) suits.  Until today, when I chose the pins for their bright colors to go with my new summer top, I don't think I'd worn them for a couple of years.

I suspect my grandmother either bought them because she simply liked them, or they were given to her by her sister, my grand-aunt Nita.  

Nita was a school teacher on U.S. military bases in the 1940s and 1950s.  She was inducted as a marine and loved to talk about her induction day.  She'd often say how proud she was to have been a marine. 

She was eventually stationed in Japan where, in 1956, she and some of her fellow teachers played tourist around Asia.

I have photos of her from before she went in, and of the proud servicewoman on her induction day.  I even have her itinerary from the tour she and the girls took in 1956.  But one of my favorite things from her time overseas is an Agfa Karat camera she used.  The case has fallen apart, but the camera still works -- beautifully.  

Aunt Nita told stories about their tour and a few about the kids she taught while stationed overseas but the story I remember most clearly, because I can heard her voice and see her face as she told it, is about the Agfa Karat.

She said they visited the border at Hong Kong and communist China -- standing on the HK side, of course.  She said they were standing in a group, with their backs to the fence at the border, and were watching their tour guide, whose speech included an admonition that photography was forbidden.  

So Nita, being a woman of her own mind, told me she held the Karat behind her with both hands and snapped pictures as the guide talked.   

"He wasn't going to tell me not to take pictures, so I got myself in the back row, as close as I could to that fence, and put that camera behind my back and I took my pictures," she told me, drawing out those last four words, and displaying a mischievous smile.  I caught the proud, spirited spark in her eyes.  I'm paraphrasing, of course; it's been decades since we had this chat, but some of her words - and all of her attitude - are here.  

What can't be paraphrased is her insistence on doing what she wanted to do, come heck or highwater.  In this case, I imagine she was just lucky she didn't get caught.

This momentary switch brought to you by two pins, small but vibrant, just like my mischievous grandmother and her equally mischievous sister and lifelong best friend.  Oh -- and to my mother, who never throws away anything I might consider important.