Chocolate Truffles by a Former Mechanic


My homemade chocolate truffles are popular with the gals.  Unfortunately, they’re pretty popular with some of my buds, too.  Oh well.

Following the well explained recipe in my cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated, I made a batch to take to a couple of my friend’s 4th of July block parties.  Frank Sinatra would’ve been jealous with all the attention I got from the ladies.

The ganache is the secret.
Rolling the ganache into balls is the tough part.
My knife skills are non-existent. But being a former mechanic, I cheat. The “hammer when in doubt” approach always prevails.

Genes – A Decoder Key to the Past


Jeans are really made by Calvin Klein.  Tight.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re lucky), they follow your body lines.   A deviation from your body lines is not possible.

Oops.  Old age.  Genes is the topic.  Duh.  Genes follow your (family) lines.  Deviation is not possible.

There’s something about genetics that is pure fascination.  People will like you because of your genes.  People will hate you because of your genes.  Regardless, you got them from somebody from up the line.

There is an orchestration in genetics which is more difficult to discern as generations pass.  But genes don’t conk out.  Genes are the only unbroken thread that weaves back and forth through all those cemeteries – or urns in my family’s case.

My grandmother Ikuyo Shibayama (on my mother’s side) was born in 1903; her parents were of samurai heritage.  Believe me, my mother drilled that into my head.  Brainwashing was very effective.

Around 1911, it was fortunate my grandmother had a portrait taken of her taken in Kanagawa, Japan.  She was about eight or nine years old and is standing on the left.

Grandmother Ikuyo at about nine years of age, circa 1911, standing on left.

Just about 100 years later, I took this snap of my littlest daughter Brooke when she was a flower girl at my second cousin’s wedding in 2010.  Brooke was eight years old.  Born in 2003.  Exactly 100 years after my Grandmother.  Genetics?  What do you think?

My daughter Brooke at eight years of age; taken in 2010.

Perhaps Calvin Klein was around a hundred years ago.

The Forgiveness of a WWII Sailor


In an earlier blog, I praised Old Man Jack for his forgiveness.  It is not possible to write about what he did or saw out on the god-forsaken islands in the Pacific during World War II.  Only he truly knew what was in his soul.

But in spite of his exposure to combat in that very personal and bitter war, Jack’s practice of forgiveness was his most important contribution to the healing of this world.  The world we enjoy today.  I truly believe that.

Old man Jack loved my kids – perhaps his warmth and the forgiveness in his heart will shine through.

Jack was in the hospital often in the last five years of his life. We went as often as we could to say hi.
When Jack was laid up in the hospital and couldn’t make the block party, my kids wrote him a special 4th of July greeting. They wrote “Big Jack” as my son was known as “Little Jack”. Yes, I named my son after old man Jack.
Old man Jack loved it when my Mustang won at car shows. Here are the “two Jacks” in my life. You can see old man Jack’s trademark grin.
We’d sit outside on our front lawn whenever we could… He’d share his sailor’s wisdom (with appropriate restraint) and my kids would smile.
My kids lead the way to one of our breakfasts. Against my wishes, he’d insist on paying for the kids’ chow as well. I could never win.
He loved it when we’d all visit with him in his home. He loved my kids. Imagine that…
My oldest son loves to work on his muscles – as did old man Jack in his youth.

Old Man Jack, Me and Mustangs


There wasn’t a mean bone in his body – provided you were on his good side.

Old Man Jack was a devoted husband.  His wife Carol was bedridden for the last several years of their life together; without fail, Jack stayed at her side

He would only leave her side to get medicines or their meal in his beloved ’68 Mustang (with a 351 Windsor engine).  And that was one love we shared – Ford Mustangs.

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After she passed, we would go out for weekend breakfasts.

When he wanted to, he would ride in my supercharged ’08 Grabber Orange Mustang.  He loved riding in it.  He loved listening to it.  It was so loud, Jack wouldn’t need his blessed hearing aids – which he often “forgot” to wear.  He hated them.  Trouble was at breakfast, I’d end up having to yell so he could hear me when he “forgot” to wear them.  So could everyone else.  The others must have thought, “Man, what an odd pair.”

That famous boyish grin… I sure miss him.

When I would drive, Old Man Jack –  in his trademark blue plaid shirt – would look at me from his passenger seat, flash that boyish Jack grin where the right side of his lip would be higher than his left, press his head back into the seat, then say, “OK!  Floor it!”  Man, he loved it.  My supercharger would be screaming as we rocketed down Studebaker Road.  He would say in a (much) higher than normal voice, “Whooo-ee!” after hitting 60 mph in a little over four seconds.

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Other times – even at 87 years of age – he would want to drive HIS baby to breakfast…but make me drive mine, too.  You guessed it – we’d drag.

On the way to breakfast, we’d pull up to a light early on a Sunday morning and knowing what was going to happen, I prayed with all my might there were no black and whites.

He’d look at me.  I’d look at him.  He was dead serious but I would never let him see I was grinning from ear to ear.  The light would turn green.  He’d floor it, chirp his tires and I’d let him get almost through the intersection…when I would nail it.  I wasn’t going to let him get that far ahead of me.

I’d blow by him.  As I would wait for him at the next stop, he would pull up next to me knowing he got beat (again), flash me that boyish grin one more time – but would always flash me his trademark bird.  I just missed it this time.  Darn.

After he lost yet another drag race, I just missed photographing Jack flashing his “bird” by a split second…but not his trademark smile.

By the way… I named my last boy after him…  His name is Jack.  I couldn’t think of a better name.

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Jack, I miss our breakfasts.  We should have went more often…  but I gun my motor real loud every time I stop by to see you.  I know you hate your hearing aids.

Resting Place

An Atomic Spark from a 1937 Yearbook


The Atomic Peace Dome, 1,500 yards from Dad’s high school.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima left a spark – a spark which grew into universal forgiveness and kindness.  From that unbounded forgiveness and kindness came a 1937 high school yearbook from a school that no longer existed – but its soul survived intact and gloriously
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Dad is simply a very quiet man.  For every word he spoke, mom must have said a bazillion words.  No wonder he was quiet.  (You know, it may have been better to write “every word he tried to speak”.)

But this past Sunday, June 10, dad was a songbird in Spring…even though mom was there.

Dad was eighteen again and back in Hiroshima, riding the train to school with his friend Aoki.  Carefree.  Young.  After 75 years, Dad was looking through his high school yearbook he probably never saw.

How I got that yearbook from 1937 for Dad is a story of unbounded kindness and a love for peace – and driven by a unwavering desire to honor those that perished in Hiroshima.

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All Dad had said in the past was that he ran track in his high school days and that the school was called “Nichu”.  I thought it was a nickname.  He wasn’t enthusiastic to share much more.

I was determined to find out more of my Dad’s past he was keeping hidden.

In Dad’s shoebox: a Nichu High School Pennant flying for an athletic meet in 1937.

All I had to start with had been a 1930’s photo of a pennant Dad had stashed away in a shoebox and a couple of class photos.  After some exploring, I figured out the Japanese symbol on the flag was a melding of “二” and “中”, or “Nichu”, the name Dad mentioned.

Researching in the Japanese language was an endeavor.   I finally came across a possible lead and sent a blind e-mail…  In spite of considerable odds, I received a reply from a man in Hiroshima.

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Mr. Akira Tsukamoto is a survivor.

In the waning days of the war, school children were put to work for their nation’s war effort in factories and fields.  That was their destiny.  Mr. Tsukamoto was one of those children.

Their teacher was Mr. Sekimoto; they had a nickname for him, “Mr. Pale”, because of his pale complexion.   The night before that fateful morning, Mr. Sekimoto had decided that it would be better for the class to tend a field and clear it of weeds.  Preparing the field for crops was more important than having class, he determined.  They would be in the northwest area of Hiroshima.

My two littlest kids standing in front of the Enola Gay in 2010.  I always viewed her as part of history.  Now I see a personal link.

Then came the morning and they were in the field while the other classes fatefully went to school.  Then they heard the familiar drone of B-29 engines.  They all saw what appeared to be three parachutes and a B-29 flying away.  One student recalls seeing something black in shape tumbling towards the earth.

There was a terrible blue and yellow flash.  A shock wave blew them down.  They covered their eyes and mouths as they had been trained.  But the heat from the blast was so searing, they could hear their skin and hair burning.

Their faces and bodies were burned on the left sides; in addition to searing pain, their skin slipped off.  All they could use was mashed raw potatoes as a salve.  It would take two months for their wounds to heal.  They say they were spared for a greater cause.

Mr. Tsukamoto’s story – translated into English – can be read here.  It is gripping and without malice.  Just kindness.

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Fast forward 67 years.  Mr. Tsukamoto – the child who was pulling weeds in a field – was the one who kindly responded to my blind e-mail.  It turns out he graduated after the war from the school that rose out of the ashes of Nichu.

He did not know me but his survivor’s heart – driven now for world peace and in honor of 300+ young classmates that perished – propelled him to our communicating.

After learning of my search for information on my father’s high school years, he found Ms. Tomoko Kanetou.  Ms. Kanetou is an administrative manager at Dad’s successor school.  Together, they tracked down an actual copy of dad’s yearbook from 1937.  It is the last copy in existence.  She conscientiously made high resolution scans of the 48 page yearbook and sent a CD to me here in the United States through my cousin Masako.

They did all this without pause.  For a complete stranger across the Pacific.  An American.  Just incredible.

In the middle picture is Dad’s track team with him at front row, center. Mr. Sekimoto, the one whose decision saved Mr. Tsukamoto, is in the bottom photo, standing next to the archer on the left.

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This past weekend, my oldest daughter hosted an early Father’s Day breakfast at her first home.  My father went through the yearbook I assembled page by page.  Not once.  Not twice…but for almost three hours during last Sunday morning.

He remembered the school song.  He said he was on their track team and won 1st or 2nd places in the 100m, 200m, broad jump and triple-jump.  He was even pictured, front and center, in Nichu’s track team yearbook photo (right).

Other pages struck me with disbelief and astonishment.  They gave a glimpse into life during the “pre-war” days in Hiroshima.  He talked about the influence of war on schooling.  That will be saved for a later story but further explains why his love and remembrances of his youngest brother are buried so deep in his hidden memories.

My ever-quiet father was not quiet that morning.  I have never heard him talk so much and for so long…  Truly an atomic spark from a 1937 yearbook.  All arising from a peace-fueled and unsolicited joint effort by complete strangers, Mr. Tsukamoto and Ms. Kanetou.  Perhaps they weren’t complete strangers after all.

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At day’s end with the yearbook… A smile the world’s supply of pistachios couldn’t buy.

In an earlier story, I praised old man Jack for being a giant in forgiving.

There are other giants in this world.

Mr. Tsukamoto, a survivor and Ms. Kanetou.

On behalf of my father, I thank you.

Short Stories about World War II. One war. Two Countries. One Family