Friday, November 7, 2014

Thanksgiving Behind the Bamboo Fence

A million years ago I wrote a book. I send the manuscript to an editor. It was pulled from the slush pile and said editor called me. She liked it! There were changes. First it needed to go from a diary format to a prose narrative. That took re-working. After that I waited. Then MY editor sent a 10-page editorial letter with all kinds of comments and suggestions. Of course. I re-worked the novel. Then there were more changes. I waited. Finally, we had a book. I was so excited when I saw the cover. Then I saw galleys. Then there were advanced copies! After that I got a carton of books shipped to me. I was an author! Reviews came in. They were pretty good. I did readings and signed copies at bookstores.

Then a bigger publishing house bought my publisher, and 6 months after the book was launched it was remaindered.

But for some reason the house never optioned electronic rights and those reverted to me. Here is an excerpt from my historical YA novel. It is the story of a young girl and her family “stuck” in the Philippines after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and invaded the islands. All ex-pats from Allied nations were rounded up and interned in barracks and shacks behind a bamboo fence. CLICK at the right of this page for information on ordering BEYOND PARADISE.

On Thanksgiving Day 1942, I sat on the verandah that wrapped around the school building. It was the one spot to sit where I could see over the wall surrounding the grounds. That day I saw Japanese soldiers dismantling a small bungalow across the street. They methodically removed the corrugated metal roofing, being careful to save even the nails. Next they stripped off the gutters, beams, walls, and window frames. The removal of the bungalow brought into clearer view the city’s garbage incinerator. I saw its smokestacks puffing away.
I shook my head and looked down at my faded dress and mud-spattered feet. I wished there was one thing I could be thankful for. I was glad there were no more air-raid drills or bombings, but on the other hand we were prisoners. I was happy Mrs. Albright had had her baby. A healthy girl, but Rose was colicky and kept everyone awake at night with her incessant crying. I liked being able to spend more time with Daisy and Mae, but there were no other teenagers on the place who understood or felt the same way I did.
I closed my eyes and thought in despair, From whence cometh my help?
When I opened my eyes, there was Mrs. Urs approaching the fence with a package. She bowed to the guard, and the guard motioned me over to the fence.
“Today is your Thanksgiving, so I give you a little something extra.” Her voice dropped so that the guard wouldn’t hear. “I talk to Freddy. He says he is safe at Santo Tom├ís, a camp in Manila. He stay and take care of your father. Mr. Keller was ill with a fever.” A look of panic crossed my face. Mrs. Urs quickly continued, “But he is better now. He is getting adequate care, my Freddy tells me. My boy, he wants to stay a prisoner, stay with Mr. Keller.”
“This is indeed good news. Mrs. Urs. Thank you for the extra ‘package.’ ”
“Yah, the Japanese say we are free to go, maybe to Argentina, but I cannot leave like other Swiss.”
I watched Mrs. Urs go. I didn’t always understand Mrs. Urs or agree with her, but without her help we would have suffered terribly.
Our Thanksgiving meal was a banquet for poor, hungry eyes and also a feast for our empty stomachs. When we entered the small cookhouse, we discovered a turkey on a platter. Our “turkey” was a large squash called a camote, something like a sweet potato. This camote was naturally shaped like the torso of a turkey. The neck was the stem. Long bananas fastened on with copper wire stuck out like legs, and the turkey’s wings were made of slices of camote. Surrounding the “turkey” on a platter were red beans and rice, which looked almost like dressing.
The camote turkey was just a centerpiece. There was real meat with vegetables and fruits, donated by friends outside the camp. For a week the women cooked over an open fire in the afternoons, preparing one thousand pieces of chocolate-coconut fudge so that each of the 146 internees could take several pieces back to their rooms.
Mother and I ate on the verandah with Ann, Frank, and the girls. It was the closest I’d felt to home in a long time.

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