Thursday, September 1, 2016

1_A Friend for Grace

      Grace Bailey studied the announcement posted in the kitchen of the Karuizawa Language School for missionaries.
            Welcome to:
            Ralph and Sarah Taylor
            Ruthanna, age 10
            Arrival date: February 26
      “Nicole, come look at this!” Grace leaned out of the kitchen and called to her older sister.
      “Yeah, what is it, Grace?” asked Nicole. She walked into the kitchen and grabbed a handful of leftover popcorn from a big silver bowl.
      Grace reached in for a handful, too, and said, “Look at this paper on the bulletin board. Didn’t Dad mention a new family moving here to attend the language school?”
      “They have a girl my age!”
      Nicole read the announcement silently. “They do, don’t they? Ruthanna Taylor, huh? God is answering your prayers for a friend, I guess.”
      “She’s just a little bit older than me,” said Grace with a smile. “I’ll be ten in March. I wonder what she’ll be like.”
      “Who knows?” said Nicole.
      “She’ll love animals, definitely. Probably she’ll have short blond hair and wear jeans and a sweatshirt—a green sweatshirt, I think. Oh, I can hardly wait!”
      “You don’t have that long to wait. February 26th is next week,” said Nicole. “Sounds like Mom is calling us. I think everyone’s going to start eating lunch now. We’d better go back into the chapel.”
      “All right, I’m coming.”
      The girls’ brother Levi met them as they entered the chapel. “Hey, what was taking y’all forever in that kitchen?”
      “None of your business, Levi,” Nicole teased. 
      “A girl called Ruthanna is moving here!” Grace blurted out. “We were just looking at the announcement.”
      “She doesn’t happen to have a brother or two, does she?” asked Levi. “I could use a couple more friends.”
      “Nope, sorry. Looks like Ruthanna’s an only child. You’d better just start praying for friends, like I did!” Grace gazed around the table at the missionaries and their little kids, the Japanese teachers, and the food for lunch.
      “Inorimasho, [Let’s pray,]” said one of the teachers. The Bailey family closed their eyes while the teacher prayed in Japanese. Grace couldn’t understand the prayer, so she thanked God silently that Ruthanna, age 10, would be coming to play with her soon. 
      The teacher finally said “Amen,” and the three Bailey kids looked up. The missionaries began to unwrap their sandwiches, and the Japanese teachers began to unwrap their riceballs.
      “Mom did a good job with her Japanese prayer during chapel, didn’t she?” said Levi, biting into a tuna fish sandwich.
      “She sure did!” Nicole agreed. “And Dad’s short sermon was even better.”
      “I’m glad we don’t have to come to chapel every Friday, though,” said Grace. “Only when Mom and Dad have something to say. I hardly understood a word they said today, even after listening to Mom practice her prayer out loud all week.” She reached for a bag of Doritos and popped it open.
      “Japanese is a weird language—but you ought to try harder, Grace. I’m picking up on Japanese pretty quickly, and that’s without going to language school,” Levi boasted. “Once we get out to the real Japan, away from all the English-speakers, I’m going to get some Japanese guys to be my friends.”
      Nicole put down her sandwich. “Don’t talk about moving away yet, Levi. We still have another year before Dad and Mom finish up with language school.” She took a swig from her Coke can.
      Grace said, “What am I going to do when we move away from Karuizawa, and I don’t know anybody who speaks English? Do you think life is going to be really different in ‘the real Japan’?”
      “You could still talk to us in English,” Nicole pointed out. Grace rolled her eyes.
      “But maybe we’ll move closer to the Douglas family,” said Levi. “Then we could get together more often. You and Eileen and Rebekah could play with your little plastic dogs again.”
      “Yeah, that would really be nice,” Grace sighed. “I wish they wouldn’t have left Karuizawa. Eileen and Rebekah love dogs and cats and horses as much as I do. The Douglases were real good at Japanese, weren’t they? I think it’s because the girls went to school with the Japanese kids. I liked it when I visited their school that time.”
      “When you went for Field Day?” Nicole asked.
      “Yeah. I ran in races and played tug-of-war. When that new girl gets here, we can look at the animals in the encyclopedia and grade them on how cute they are. And we can swing on the swings in the playground behind the language school. I sure hope Ruthanna is a nice girl and likes animals.”
      “Of course she’ll be nice. She’s a missionary kid,” said Nicole. “But I wouldn’t count on her loving animals.”
      “Oh, I think she will,” said Grace. “Hey, I have an idea,” she whispered, so her dad and mom wouldn’t overhear. “What if Ruthanna goes to Japanese school?  Do you think Dad would let me go too? I could go to fifth grade, or whatever grade Ruthanna is in. Then maybe I’d learn Japanese faster, and I wouldn’t have to study so hard at home, either.”
      “I don’t know, Grace,” said her sister. “I’m pretty sure Mom would still make you do homeschooling in English, even if you went to Japanese school.”
      “In all the subjects?” said Grace. “Couldn’t I skip math and English?”
      “Dumb blonde! You hate those two subjects anyway,” said Levi. “You think Mom and Dad will fall for that?”
      “Sure they would, if I gave Dad a back rub, and cuddled up to Mom right before I ask them,” Grace insisted. “It would be fun to be around other kids every day, even if I didn’t know what they were talking about. More fun than being cooped up in the house.”
      “Well, if you want to start the school year when the Japanese kids do, you’ll have till April to talk Dad into it,” said Nicole.
      “That gives me two months,” said Grace. She drew a deep breath. “I think I can do it.”

      Meanwhile, Ruthanna Taylor was busy writing in her pink diary.

      We are finally in Japan! On Thursday, we went to the airport, and flew to San Francisco. Then, we got on an airplane to Tokyo. That was the longest trip. We were in the first row of the second class, and there was a wall in front of us, instead of seats. So I lay down on the floor to sleep. From Tokyo, we went to Nagoya, and there we met the Elstons.

      Of course, when we arrived in Japan, it was already Friday night because of the time change, so when we got to the Elstons' house, we went to bed. Actually, I played with Katelyn and Aimee, and we didn't really go to bed till after midnight. I didn't sleep at all that night, because I had slept in the plane. The next day, which was Saturday, I went to bed at 7:00 without eating supper, because I was so sleepy.

      But I guess I should tell about what happened during the day Saturday before I talk about going to bed. Well, in the morning, Katelyn and I, who were sleeping in the same bed, went down to see if breakfast was ready. When we got to the kitchen, only Aunt Carol (Katelyn's mom) was there, but breakfast wasn't ready, because everybody else had slept in. Even Aunt Carol hadn't picked up the newspaper till 10:30, and she was the first one up. Anyway, since breakfast wasn't ready yet, Katelyn and I made it. We made pancakes. There was just enough for two per person.

      Now on Sunday, after morning church, Katelyn and I pulled out a magic book and a craft book, thinking that we would put on a magic show that night. We started to work making a magic wand and preparing two of the magic tricks. We also decided to make a Mickey Mouse puppet and have a puppet show. We put eyelashes and a hair bow on our second puppet. Then we had Mickey and Minnie. Next, we turned over a wooden stool, put some pictures on the underneath part of it, and there was our puppet stage, scenery and all!

      That night, we held a puppet and magic show. My Papa guessed all the magic tricks – but, too bad. It wasn't our fault.

      On Tuesday night, Katelyn and Aimee had a tutor come to help them learn to read and write kanji. I went to the lesson with them. The tutor wrote some new kanji on the board, and we copied them into our notebooks. We played a game with kanji cards. The tutor called out a kanji, and the first person to put her hand on the correct card got a point. We each won a round of the game.

2_Mint Green or Tea Green

      At a rest stop several kilometers away from Karuizawa, Ruthanna Taylor stood under a pavilion in the cold night air. She was contemplating which ice cream bar in the vending machine would taste the best. While she tried to decipher the Japanese names of the ice cream bars, Ruthanna started to daydream.
      She thought about a memory of her little-girlhood in Japan. Once, at the supermarket with her father, she had eagerly pointed to hand-dipped green ice cream. 
      “I want mint chocolate chip, Papa!” small Ruthanna had said.  “Please?”
      “Sure thing, Punkindoodle. Midori no aisu kurimu kudasai.  [Green ice cream, please,]” Papa said.
      The server dipped out the ice cream, and Ruthanna eagerly took a lick. She started in disgust, because the ice cream tasted nothing like mint! 
      “Papa, this ice cream cone is yucky!  You eat it!” she cried.       
      When Papa tasted it, he said, “Oh, Ruthie, this isn’t mint chocolate chip. This is green tea ice cream! I’m sorry, but I can’t buy you another one. Let’s be more careful next time, OK?”
      “But it has chocolate chips!  Can I eat them?” Ruthanna wailed.
      “No, Sweetheart, these are azuki beans,” explained Papa. “I don’t care for them myself, but we can’t waste food. I’ll finish it for you.”
      “I don’t like Japanese ice cream,” his little girl declared.
      Yeah, I was a little girl back then, Ruthanna thought. I guess I was only four years old when that happened.  I’m going to read the ice cream names before I buy any.  I don’t want to be surprised. I’d like to get mint chocolate chip right now, in fact. Hey, that looks like it!  “Minto Choko Chippu,” she read, sounding out the Japanese letters. That clue, coupled with a drawing of a mint leaf and a chocolate bar convinced Ruthanna that she had the right choice.
      Ruthanna stuck a silver hundred-yen coin and a copper ten-yen coin into the slot and pressed the button. Her treat thudded down to the bottom of the machine. She reached in and picked it up, then peeled away the wrapper. The ice cream was mounted on a white plastic stick. She licked around the edges with her tongue. She made sure to drop the wrapper in the trash can marked for paper, not the one for aluminum cans. 
      Then she skipped back to the white car. She tapped on the window until her mama reached across and unlocked the car door. Ruthanna slid into the seat and buckled her seat belt. “I came to the right side of the car this time!”
      “You mean the left side,” Mrs. Taylor corrected her. 
      “Yeah. The left side is the right side to get in on, since I’m the passenger and not the driver,” Ruthanna laughed. 
      “I have a hard time keeping things straight,” said Mrs. Taylor. “I have to sit in the right seat to drive, and drive on the left side of the road. At least one thing is the same. The driver’s side is towards the middle of the road in both countries—America and Japan.”
      “I guess you’re right, I mean, correct!”
      Mrs. Taylor started the car, and drove back onto the highway. She made certain that she was on the left side of the road, and then relaxed. Up ahead were her husband Ralph and his friend Bill Elston, driving a huge truck.
      Ruthanna said, “You know, Mama, it’s hard to believe we’re finally in Japan again! I’m not sure which things I remember from the three years we lived in Japan, and which things I remember just because you and Papa told the stories so many times.”
      “You had only turned six when we left Japan, so it would be hard for you to remember.  Of course, we meant to come back as soon as possible, but that turned out to be four years later.” Mrs. Taylor sighed. “I know the Lord has a plan in all of this, but I honestly don’t know how we’re going to learn Japanese at our age. Your Papa will be forty soon, and I’m not far behind. Japanese was hard enough to learn when we were younger. I wonder how we’ll do this time.”
      “Karuizawa Language School is probably a good place to learn Japanese,” said Ruthanna. “I hope I can get better at Japanese.”
      “You will, but you need to try hard. People say that kids pick up languages easily, but Japanese doesn’t follow that rule. You weren’t a baby when we came, and so the ladies in church didn’t pick you up and talk to you. You just ran around and giggled with the Japanese children. None of you talked!”
      Ruthanna laughed, and said, “If you had sent me to Japanese school, maybe I would have ‘picked it up.’ ”   
      “Would you like to attend Japanese school sometime while we’re here?”          
      “Oh, no! I was just kidding. I’d much rather be homeschooled. Besides, I forgot most of the Japanese I did know while we lived in America, so it wouldn’t have made much difference.”
      “Are you sure, Ruthanna? One of the reasons I let you start kindergarten early was the hope that you could attend Japanese school for one year, and then go back to studying in English in the usual grade for your age.”
      “Mama, please don’t make me go to school with the Japanese kids! It wouldn’t be any fun to play with them, and I wouldn’t understand what the teachers told me to do. Besides, I can’t stand Japanese food, other than curry rice, and they would serve seaweed and yucky stuff like that in the cafeteria.”
      “All right, Ruthanna. I won’t force you to go to Japanese school. I’ll be contented with your being excellent in your English studies, and so-so in Japanese. But I want you to try to improve your Japanese speaking skills.”

      “I will.”  

3_The Two-Ton Truck

      Ruthanna’s mama drove carefully, trailing along behind the rented truck which was transporting their paraphernalia to the new house. They had regained a heap of forgotten articles from the rented house, which they had left suddenly four years ago. Bill Elston, their old friend and fellow missionary, had a truck driver’s license, and he had offered to drive the truck to Karuizawa and help them move in.
      In the jouncing car, Ruthanna slowly dropped off to sleep. Her mother cheerfully warbled “Karuiza-ha-wa, Karu—iza-ha-wa.”
      Suddenly, the rhythmic bouncing changed to a crawling slide. Ruthanna’s subconscious mind was tickled by the change. The lighting in the car had changed too. Is it morning already? Ruthanna wondered. Surely not. No gold or red or pink warmed her. There was only a bright silvery gray. Now the movement of the car felt smooth and slippery. 
      Ruthanna blinked several times and pulled herself up in the seat. As she peered out the window, she understood why she had sensed a gray light. On both sides of the car, ice-frosted walls shimmered in the moonlight. Ruthanna yawned as the car glided slowly up the hill behind the truck.
      “This is the road to our new house, I guess,” said Mrs. Taylor. “Did you have a nice nap?”       “Yeah, I did. This sure is a narrow road. The walls are so close to the car.”
      “I know, but Japanese neighborhoods often have walls around the houses. I have the feeling that this is the only way up or down the mountain. It will take some manuevering to pull into the driveway, when we get there. Uh-oh! The truck stopped.”
      “Here comes Papa,” Ruthanna cried. “He’ll tell us what’s going on.”
      Mrs. Taylor rolled down her window. “Hi, Ralph, what’s up?”
      “The truck stopped, because the wheels can’t grip the ice. Bill tried to go forward again, but it’s really steep! I’m going to hike up this branch of the road and look for the house number—865. Don’t worry. We’re almost there.”
      Ruthanna’s papa strode up the other road, and Mrs. Taylor sighed as she watched him. “So close, and the truck gets stuck.”
       Ruthanna chanted in a singsong voice, “The truck got stuck! The truck got stuck!”
      “Be quiet, Ruthie. We have to pray!” said her mama.
      “OK. I’m quiet.”
      “Dear Lord, please help us to find the house soon, and let the truck move again so it can get there. Thank you for keeping us safe. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”
      “Papa’s coming back!”
      “I couldn’t find the number,” said Mr. Taylor. “I’ll go talk to Bill again.” He turned around to face the steep hill.
      “The truck is rolling back at us!” Mrs. Taylor suddenly cried. “It stopped. Praise the Lord!”
      “Are you sure it moved?” said Ruthanna.
      Running up to investigate, Mr. Taylor shouted, “The truck slammed into this pole across the street! Looks like the neighbors put it here to chain off their driveway.”
      “Oh dear, I hope we don’t have to pay for that,” hollered Mrs. Taylor.
      “That and the crooked bumper!” added Mr. Taylor.
      “Good thing we prayed already, since we didn’t want to be squashed,” said Ruthanna.
      “The Lord takes care of us, doesn’t He?” said her mama. “Of course, I prayed for the truck to move, but I didn’t mean down on top of us!”
      “Maybe we already passed the house, and the truck’s moving the right way,” Ruthanna suggested.
      “Yeah, maybe.”
      Mr. Taylor searched for the house number quite a while longer, but finally, he shuffled over the snow to the white car again. “I figured out where the house is,” he announced.
      “Really? Where? How can you tell?”
      “It’s the house right beside the truck! I went up to the mailbox, and I noticed there was a paper taped over it. I lifted up the paper, and—wouldn’t you know it?—they taped the paper right over the house number—number 865! It’s our house all right.”
      “How do you like that!” Mrs. Taylor was floored.          
      “Who taped it over the mailbox number?” Ruthanna wanted to know.
      “The people who lived there before us, I guess,” said her papa. “The paper has their new address on it. They probably didn’t know how to notify the post office.”
      “So shall we go in?” asked Mrs. Taylor.
      “Sure, Sarah. The truck’s not going anywhere. We put some blocks of wood under the wheels to make sure it doesn’t roll back towards you again. There’s plenty of wood in the shed up there on the wall.”
      “What do you mean by the shed up on the wall?” asked his daughter.
      “Well, the road is down here in a sort of trench, and the house is built up above. The land extends on back at the same level as the wall.”
      “Now let’s hurry up and go in,” said Mr. Taylor. “It’s freezing cold out here.”
      “Oh, Ralph! Go inside right away,” said his wife. “Ruthanna, let’s get our suitcases out of the trunk.”
      “I can barely fit around the side of the car to reach the trunk—especially with my thick coat on.”
      “Will you hand the suitcases to me, then? If you can barely fit, I’m sure I won’t be able to.”
      “Here, Mama. That’s your suitcase. Here’s mine . . . and Papa’s.”
      “Good. Now let’s go inspect the house.”
      The Taylors and Bill Elston climbed up the stone steps to the front door. Mr. Taylor fumbled with the key, and then, with a loud click, the door opened. 
      “This is the genkan [the Japanese entrance],” Mr. Taylor said. 
      “Don’t forget to take off your shoes!” Mr. Elston joked.

      “We won’t,” said Ruthanna. “We’ve been in Japan before, Uncle Bill.” 

4_A New House, A New Life

      After spending the night in sleeping bags on the floor, the Taylors and Mr. Elston were glad to find some bread, milk, and cans of soup on the counter in the kitchen. Their missionary neighbors must have supplied them. Missionary life was a constant round of brotherly kindness.
      Soon after breakfast, some students from the Karuizawa Language School arrived to help carry the furniture through the basement and up into the house. The men looked hardy and happy. 
      A teenage girl with light brown hair came into the kitchen and shook hands with Ruthanna’s mama. “Hi, I’m Nicole Bailey,”  she said. “My mom and dad go to the language school, and we live over in the missionary center. We call it ‘Cabin Quarters.’ ”
      “Cabin Quarters! That’s a funny name. I’d like to see it,” said Mrs. Taylor. “Nice to meet you, Nicole. We’re so glad to get to Japan again, and we want to meet all our neighbors, right, Ruthanna?”
      “Yes, I think so,” said Ruthanna. Actually, it’s a little confusing with so many new people, she said to herself. You’d think I would be used to new people by this time, considering how many churches and houses we’ve visited. But this is harder, because we have to stay here, and really get to know these people. What if we don’t like them?
      Ruthanna backed out of the kitchen and went in the living room, which didn’t look lived-in yet. She had to wait for the house to take shape around her. Shyly, she watched the men tramping through the hall and upstairs with boxes piled high in their arms. One man stopped to smile at her from under his faded baseball cap. 
      “Hi, Ruthanna. How old are you?” he said.
      “Ten,” Ruthanna answered.
      “I have a little girl who’s nine, and she’d really like to meet you.”
      With another grin, he moved on up the stairs, and Ruthanna plopped down on the bare sofa. She wondered what his “little girl” would be like.
      “Ruthanna!” called her mama. “Would you like to walk over to Cabin Quarters with us and meet Nicole’s younger sister?”
      “Um, I don’t think so,” said Ruthanna, trotting back to the kitchen. 
      “Why not?” laughed Nicole. “She’s the same age as you. She’s turning ten next week.”
      How does she know how old I am?  thought Ruthanna. Unless she heard me talking to that missionary in the hallway. . . .  But I didn’t think I spoke that loudly.
      “Ruthanna’s probably just confused right now,” Mrs. Taylor said. “She’s a little shy about getting to know people, and there are so many new people here today.”
      “Yeah,” said Ruthanna. “It’s confusing.”
      “Well, my mom will probably invite you over for dinner, anyway,” said Nicole. “She’s fixing chicken, I think.”
      Just then, in stepped the man who had told Ruthanna about his little girl.
      “Hi, Dad,” said Nicole. “Aren’t we going to invite the Taylors for supper?”
      “Yeah, Nicole. Do y’all have any plans for supper? My wife said six o’clock,” he said.
      “No, we haven’t even thought about supper,” said Mrs. Taylor. “We’d be happy to come, if you’ll draw us a map.”
      “Sure, I’ll draw you a map. You can walk there, if you want,” Mr. Bailey replied.
      So this mysterious ‘little girl’ is also Nicole’s sister, Ruthanna deduced. I guess I’ll have to meet her. She might like to cut out paper dolls and make crafts. I will need a friend, since I’m going to live here for a year or so. But before I go to their house and meet her, I’d like to see the rooms upstairs with some of the furniture in them—especially my new bedroom.
      So Ruthanna stepped up the carpeted stairs, stopping to look out of the stairway window at the truck. Maybe there will be a better window upstairs, she thought, one where I don’t have to stand on tiptoe.
      None of the men were on the second floor while Ruthanna went exploring. Turning to the left, she found the half-bathroom. There’s a good mirror here, she noticed. Ruthanna liked to know how her braid or ponytail looked in the morning. She tried the faucet, and icy cold water rushed out. She cupped her hands and took a slurp. The water tasted fine. Because their towels were still packed, Ruthanna shook the drops from her fingers and wiped them on her skirt. 
      Ruthanna remembered how last week, she had gone into the restroom in the grocery store with Uncle Bill’s daughter Katelyn. She had been looking for something to dry her hands on, when Katelyn said,Paper towels are hard to find in Japan. You should carry a handkerchief in your pocket. That’s what all the Japanese kids do.” Ruthanna had borrowed Katelyn’s hanky to dry her hands. But I still didn’t put a hanky in my pocket, Ruthanna thought.
      Another room was right next to the bathroom. Now what will this little room be?  Ruthanna wondered, as she stepped inside. I guess Papa will want a study. Seems like this would make a good one. He could fit his computer and copy machine in here, at least.
      Ruthanna opened all the doors she could find, even the closet doors. There were double-door closets in the largest room, which would become the “library,” in her parents’ room, and in her own room. 
      Ruthanna’s room was at the end of the hallway. Pieces of bed were propped against the far wall, and a light tan bureau stood in the corner. Through the side window, Ruthanna noticed the wood shed. Dropping to the floor, she peeped through a grate, and spied the wood stove on the floor beneath. The heat will come right up to my room through this grate! How exciting! It’ll be wonderful to feel warm, even at night.
      Next, Ruthanna drew back the curtains from the front window and looked out. Sure enough, the working men and the shiny top of the two-ton truck showed on the sunken road. The men moved back and forth, hauling tables, boxes, bookcases, and desks off the truck bed and through the garage door. 
      The girl above, at the window, smiled and waved to Uncle Bill, who was standing on the truck bed and handing furniture out through the back. He disappeared inside the truck again without seeing her.

      Ruthanna sighed and spoke aloud to herself. “I wish we were all moved in already.”

5_First Impressions

      Ruthanna went back down to the living room, where most of the action was. Mr. Bailey and his friend, a big man with a childlike face, were maneuvering the brown secretary desk. 
      “Now, Brother Switzer, you lift on that side and back it into the living room,” said Mr. Bailey.
      “Hang on a second. All right, I’ve got it,” Mr. Switzer replied.
      Mrs. Taylor flew out of the kitchen and exclaimed, “Be careful with that desk, please! It was my great-grandmother’s desk!”
      “Was it really?” said  Mr. Switzer. “Just point where you want it, and Sam and I will scoot it over real carefully.”
      “Yes. Um, Ruthanna, where would be a good place for the secretary desk?”
      “I don’t know. How about that corner?” Ruthanna suggested. She pointed to the right of the fireplace.
      “Yeah, that’s probably the best place for it,” said Mrs. Taylor. “Put it over in that corner, please.”
      “All right, ma’am. Ready? Lift!” The two men quickly moved the desk into the corner and set it down gently. 
      “Thank you so much.” Mrs. Taylor was grateful that her great-grandma’s desk had been moved without a scratch.
      “I bet that desk never dreamed that it would come to Japan one day,” Ruthanna said.
      “Do desks have dreams?” Nicole teased. She, too, had come into the living room to watch the moving. “You talk like Grace does when she plays with her plastic dogs.”        
      “Who’s Grace?” Ruthanna wanted to know.
      “My little sister. Now do you want to go to my house and meet her?”
      “OK, I guess so,” Ruthanna said, without enthusiasm.
      “But can we get out with the truck still in the road?” Mrs. Taylor wondered.
      “Yeah, I saw some steps over by the wood shed that go down from the wall,” said Nicole.
      The ladies shrugged into their coats, got their boots on in the genkan, and walked along the wall and carefully down the steps to the road.
      “Where are you going?” Mr. Taylor called, when he saw his wife and daughter about to slide down the icy road.
      “To the Baileys’ house in Cabin Quarters. Nicole’s showing us the way,” Mrs. Taylor shouted.
      “OK. Just come back before lunchtime. The men have a little Japanese joint in mind for us to eat at.”
      “See you later, Papa!” Ruthanna called.
      Ruthanna found it hard to keep from slipping on the ice, but Nicole jumped from one snow-covered spot to the next, and Ruthanna and her mother tried to follow.
      “How in the world will the men get the truck down this mountain if they can’t turn it around?” Mrs. Taylor worried.
      “Maybe they’ll have to back it down,” Nicole said.
      “I certainly hope not! But you know those men. They never think things out ahead of time. They’re sure they can handle whatever comes up.”
      “I wonder what they will do,” said Ruthanna. “There sure wasn’t space to turn around—whoops!” She slipped and fell on her fanny. “Ouch!”
      Mrs. Taylor tried to help Ruthanna up, but when she tugged at Ruthanna’s mitten, it jerked off her hand, and Mrs. Taylor also fell sprawling in the snow.
      “Oh dear! You two need your ice legs!” Nicole cried. She eventually succeeded in pulling them up. “We’re almost to the bottom of the hill. It’s not far from there.”
      “I hope not! I’m cold,” Ruthanna said emphatically.
      The threesome walked and slipped the rest of the way, from the Taylors’ mountain and through Cabin Quarters.
      “There’s our house,” said Nicole. She waved her glove at a cabin a short way off the path. From the door appeared a lanky teenaged boy followed by the “little girl” Mr. Bailey had mentioned. 
      How do they all fit into this tiny cabin? Ruthanna puzzled, as she sized up the Baileys’ home. They should’ve rented our new house. Then they would have had plenty of room. It doesn’t seem fair.
      “Come on inside,” Nicole urged the new neighbors. Her brother said “Howdy,” and shook hands with Mrs. Taylor, but their younger sister remained silent. The young Baileys, Ruthanna, and Mrs. Taylor stepped through the door into the minuscule genkan. They yanked off their boots and entered the Baileys’ living room in their stocking feet.
      Inside, though it was crowded, the house had an air of coziness, with mauve and blue decor and vanilla-scented candles. The only thing that looked like it needed to be bigger was the refrigerator. On the front, missionary pictures from every corner of the earth vied for space, and friendly-faced chickens adorned the side. 
      Nicole introduced her family. “This is my mom,” she said. “Mom, this is Mrs. Taylor and Ruthanna.”
      “Pleased to meet you. My name is Phyllis,” said Mrs. Bailey.
      “This is Levi. He’s thirteen,” Nicole continued. “And my little sister is Grace.”
      Grace and Ruthanna regarded one another for a moment. Grace realized that Ruthanna Taylor, age 10, was not the way she had pictured her. Ruthanna had long brown hair and wore a red fuzzy sweater and a dark blue skirt. 
      Ruthanna saw a girl shorter than herself wearing gray slacks and a sweatshirt with a German shepherd on it. I wonder how Grace’s mom fixed that braid in her hair, thought Ruthanna.  It looks different. It seems to have more than three strands, and they’re woven in and out.
      “Come on into my bedroom and Nicole’s,” said Grace to her new acquaintance.
      Ruthanna stepped into the room and said, “Oh, you have bunk beds!”
      “Yeah. We couldn’t fit in here if we didn’t.”
      “I see what you mean,” said Ruthanna. The tight little room was stuffed with a bunk bed, two dressers, a bookshelf, and a fish tank. Various posters were stuck on the walls, and funny koala bears looked down from the curtains. 
      Grace decided it was time to ask Ruthanna what she really wanted to know. “Do you like animals?”
      “Not particularly,” answered Ruthanna, always truthful. Then she asked Grace a question.  “Do you like books?”
      “No. I have a lot of books that I read for school, but I only like books about animals. . . . We can look at this book with hidden pictures, anyway, if you want,”
      “OK.” Ruthanna smiled, but inside she was disappointed.
      Grace pulled a large, colorful book from her shelf. “We’re supposed to look for a kitten in every picture,” she said, as she opened it.
      “I see the kitten already,” cried Ruthanna, and she pointed to a fuzzy gray kitten under a bush.
      “Wow, you’re quick. You must be smart.”
      “Yeah, I guess so. I’m a grade ahead in school, but that’s because I started kindergarten when I was four.”
      “Really? I’m ahead too, but not because I started early. Mom switched us to a different curriculum a few years ago, and I got into the next grade then. I’ve been homeschooled since second grade. What grade are you in, anyway?”
      “Sixth grade,” said Ruthanna. “What about you?”
      “I’m in fifth grade. I thought we would be in the same grade. You’re ten, and my tenth birthday is next week.”
      “Yeah, that’s what your sister said. My birthday was in August.”
      “So you are a little older.”
      “Mm-hmm. There’s a calico kitten. Are you going to have a birthday party?”
      “I don’t know. There aren’t any gaijin kids my age to invite—except you, I mean. Gaijin means foreigner in Japanese—only I always say, ‘I’m not a guy-jin, I’m a girl-jin!’ ”
      “That’s hilarious!” said Ruthanna, laughing. “But I already knew the word gaijin. I lived in Japan before, when I was little, and people pointed me out as a gaijin all the time”
      “You did? Did you go to Japanese school?”
      “No, Mama taught me at home. I learned the Japanese alphabet the same time I learned the English alphabet.”
      “I came to Japan a year ago,” said Grace, “but I barely know any Japanese. Don’t you think it would be fun to attend school with the Japanese kids?”
      Ruthanna looked up at Grace, surprised. She frowned and said, “Sometimes it would be, I guess, but I would be so nervous not knowing what was going on half the time.”
      Ruthanna turned a page in the picture book, and began to daydream about Grace and the fun they might have together. It’ll be great having a friend this close to my house, she thought. We can walk over and play games any day. I hope Grace likes to play make believe.  She already said she doesn’t like to read, but I love to read! How can I have a friend who doesn’t like books?
      Meanwhile, Grace was having strong doubts about Ruthanna. Since finding out that Ruthanna was not interested in animals, Grace was not at all sure that she even liked Ruthanna.  She seemed a little stuck-up. Grace wished that this new girl were more enthusiastic about the idea of going to Japanese school, because the Douglas girls used to tell her such funny stories about school. Since Eileen and Rebekah had left Karuizawa a few months ago, Grace had been wishing and praying so hard for a new friend. Now that Ruthanna had come, Grace was worried that she would still feel lonely and—and different from the people around her.

      Each girl secretly felt that her preconceived image was fading away, to be replaced by a living person. Grace and Ruthanna were unsure whether their acquaintance would become anything more personal. However, as they continued their life in Japan together, each would discover the other to be a true friend—loving, sympathetic, and loyal.

6_A Snowy March in February

      Ruthanna and Mrs. Tayor returned to number 865. They found out that Mr. Taylor and his friends had had a rough time trying to turn the truck around and get it out. “Bill had to back down the icy road, between the stone walls,” Mr. Taylor explained. “Those Japanese trucks sure are noisy! The whole way down, the reverse gear was beeping and a lady’s voice announced ‘Bakku shimasu.  [Backing up now.]’ The truck kept saying it over and over for forty-five minutes! It was driving me crazy.” 
      The Taylors spent the rest of the day eating in the Japanese restaurant and unpacking a couple of boxes. They had dropped Uncle Bill Elston off at the train station to ride the train back to his home. 
      That evening, Mr. Taylor announced, “It’s time to go to the Baileys’ for supper!”  So they got all bundled up in coats, hoods, scarves, gloves, and boots. Mr. Taylor found a sled and a flashlight in the basement and figured they would come in handy. “Now, Ruthanna, you can sit in the sled, and I’ll pull you to the bottom of the hill. Then you’ll have to walk.”
      “OK,” said Ruthanna. She flopped onto the plastic sled, and her papa pulled her along down the mountain. At the bottom, the sled stopped, with a crunch, against a mound of snow.
      “Get off the sled, Ruthanna,”
      “But, Papa, that spot is all covered with snow,” said Ruthanna, waving a mitten. “Will you please just pull me across there too?”
      “All right, then. Hold on tight!” Swoosh, the sled bumped after Ruthanna’s papa. 
      “Not so fast! I’m going to fall out,” Ruthanna called. Too late—the sled hit a tree root and she tumbled over in the snow. “Ooh, I’m all wet!  Papa, you dumped me over!” she scolded.
      “Sorry, Punkindoodle. Here, stand up, and I’ll brush you off.”
      “OK, I’m ready to walk now,” said Ruthanna. “Do you want me to pull the sled, Papa?”
      “Oh, is it my turn now?” he teased, pretending to get on the sled.
      “No! I can’t pull you! Just the empty sled!” giggled Ruthanna.
      “So you won’t return the favor. In that case, follow me! We go straight down this road. That is—let’s see here—we go around the curves in this road. There will be a bridge,” Mr. Taylor added, as he peered at the map in the flashlight’s shine.
      “I think this is the bridge,” Mrs. Taylor said. 
      “Why, so it is. Here we are, standing on the bridge already! Next we go into Cabin Quarters. I guess that’s around this way.”
      Mr. Taylor led the way, but soon he started to wonder. “This might be a different road, after all. I know we’re close, but it seems like we’ve been going around Cabin Quarters, when we ought to be going through it.”

      “Hey, there’s their house!” cried Mrs. Taylor suddenly. “I recognize it from our visit this morning. That’s it, all right, because there’s a snowman in the yard. Hurry now, let’s go inside.”

7_Pineapple Pizza

      The Taylors knocked on the door, and Levi opened it. “Howdy, come on in,” he said. 
      Grace came out of her room and said, “Come on, Ruthanna. I want you to look at the fish in my aquarium. I just fed them. Their names are Faith, Hope, and Charity.” So Ruthanna went into Grace’s room.
      Mr. Taylor sat on the couch in the living room, while Mrs. Taylor went to help Mrs. Bailey in the kitchen. The kitchen was decorated with chickens. Mrs. Taylor exclaimed over every hen or rooster she could find. “Chicken dish towels, chicken magnets, chicken plates, chicken paper towel holder! They are so cute!” she enthused.
      Ironically, chicken was not on the menu that night. “I was fixing to make chicken for y’all tonight,” Mrs. Bailey said in her soft drawl. “I usually fix either chicken or pizza for company.  So today, I said, ‘I’m gonna make the Taylors some good ol’ chicken and mashed potatoes,’ but then I got to thinking that maybe y’all would rather have pizza, so I changed my mind. “Sarah, do you like pizza?”
      “Oh, definitely. We all do! But what’s this—canned pineapple?”
      “Yeah, we got to liking the Japanese pizza, where they put pineapple on it. Is that OK with y’all? ’Cause you can just leave it off, if you’d rather not have any. We don’t bake it on or nothing. We just get it out of the can.”
      “Sure, I’ll try it, Phyllis. I like new flavors. Ruthanna can be picky, but she’s got a real sweet tooth, so fruit on pizza will be right up her alley.”
      “Oh, good. I was so afraid y’all wouldn’t like pizza.”
      “Who doesn’t like pizza?” Levi sounded indignant. “Are they out of their mind, not wanting to eat Mom’s specialty?”
      “Nobody doesn’t like pizza, Levi. The Taylors all love it. Now get out the little table for you and the girls, like I asked you.”
      “I already did. You just can’t see it behind the big table.”
      “OK, well, set the plates and silverware for your table, and Nicole, you set the big table for me, dear.”
      “Why isn’t Grace helping tonight?” asked Nicole.
      “She and Ruthanna are spending some time together. She’ll dry the dishes afterwards. Now get a move on.”
      “Yes, ma’am.”
      Nicole and Levi got to their tasks, and the ladies continued their chat. “I hope our girls will hit it off and be real good friends,” said Mrs. Bailey.
      “I’m sure they will. Most girls are shy at first.”
      “Yeah, but Grace is so disappointed that Ruthanna isn’t crazy about critters like she is. I told her that not everybody is the same, and God knows what’s best. She just doesn’t see it like that.”
      “Ruthie isn’t afraid of animals. She just hasn’t been around them much, because Ralph and I have allergies.”
      “Aw, that’s a shame. Grace still misses her dog Bailey back in Arkansas.”
      “Bailey? But that’s your last name.”
      “I know. Grace is proud of our family name, and she said there wasn’t any better name for him.”
      “That’s sweet. It would be good for Ruthanna to get more involved with what’s going on around her. She just loves to sit inside, read books, and cross-stitch. Of course, I read to her since she was a baby and taught her to cross-stitch when she was seven, so I guess I created the monster.”
      “Both girls could be a good influence on each other, I’m sure. Grace hasn’t sewn hardly a thing, other than a leather butterfly purse. She only reads for schoolwork, or when the book is about horses or dogs.”
      “We’ll just have to pray for them to have fun together in spite of their differences. Maybe they’ll rub off on each other.”
      “Of course they will, Sarah. I think it’s time for dinner now. Kids! Sam! Everybody! Let’s get to the table!”
      “Shall we all hold hands while I say the blessing?” Mr. Bailey suggested.
      “That’s a good idea, Sam,”  replied Mr. Taylor. “We like to do that in our family too, don’t we, Ruthanna?”
      “Yeah, but our family doesn’t have as many hands to hold,” said his daughter.
      “Just gather round, kids,” said Mrs. Bailey, “and you can get your pizza as soon as we’ve prayed.”
      Ruthanna found herself between Levi and Grace as the two families bowed their heads. Grace’s hand was a little smaller than her own, with shorter fingernails. Levi’s hand was rough and large, but Ruthanna could tell it wasn’t as pudgy as his dad’s.
      “Dear God, thank you for the food that Phyllis prepared with love. Thank you that the Taylors got to Karuizawa safely. Give us each your blessing as we live for you here in Japan. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
      “Let’s eat!” yelled Levi abruptly. Before Ruthanna could look up, he was grabbing a slice of pizza to flop on his yellow plate. 
      Ruthanna picked up her green plate, and held it out, as Mrs. Bailey scolded her son. “Company first, Levi. You give that piece to Ruthanna!” Ruthanna traded plates with Levi.
      “Mom doesn’t put any of that yucky stuff like peppers and onions on her pizza,” Grace told her new friend.
      “I’m glad, because it looks bad if I pick stuff out and don’t eat everything on my plate when I’m the guest,” Ruthanna whispered back.
      “You don’t like them either, then?” 
      “Uh-uh,” Ruthanna said, wrinkling her nose. “Peppers and onions are gross.”
      “No they aren’t. You just gotta get used to ’em,” Levi mumbled, his mouth full of cheese.
      “When I complain about food, Papa always says, ‘You don’t know what good is,’ ” Ruthanna said.
      “He’s right, you don’t,” said Levi. “’Course, I don’t go begging Mom to put onions and anchovies and stuff on the pizza either. It’s heaven when she makes anything red with cheese on it.”
      “Yeah, sure, I’ll ask Mom to make you some raspberry jello with cheese on top!” retorted Grace.
      “How about strawberry cheese shortcake?” Ruthanna put in.
      “Might not be bad. Hmm. Idea for a new recipe.”  Levi slapped another pineapple slice on his third piece of pizza.
      “Why are you guys putting pineapple on your pizza?”
      “Listen at her, Grace! ‘Why are you guys putting pineapple on your pizza?’” Levi mimicked.
      Grace couldn’t help giggling.
      “What?”  Ruthanna felt hot and stupid, but she wasn’t sure why.
      “For one thing, the term is ‘y’all,’ not ‘you guys.’ As to why we put pineapple on our pizza, the answer is, it tastes good that way. Try it.”
      “All right, I will. But ‘you guys’ makes just as much sense as ‘y’all.’ Where have you guys been living, anyway, to talk like that?” Ruthanna stuck a fork in the can, and fished out a pineapple slice.
      Levi’s mouth was full, so Grace jumped at her chance, and sang, “Away down South in Dixie! Away! Away! Away down Sou—th in Dixie.”
      Ruthanna chuckled as well as she could with pineapple juice running down her chin. She swallowed and wiped her face with her napkin. “I figured that much, but what state?”
      “Arkansas,” Grace and Levi chimed. 
      “Oh, I’ve never been there,” said Ruthanna.
      “Never been to Arkansas, the greatest place on earth?”  Levi widened his eyes and reached for his water glass. “Where have you been, girl?”
      “Every state east of the Mississippi except Rhode Island and Vermont,” Ruthanna said proudly.
      Levi whistled. “I guess she’s got us beat.” he admitted.
      “Dad’s been to just about every state, because of being in the military or getting church support,” said Grace. “But he didn’t take us along everywhere.”
      “And when he did, we had to squeeze into the back seat—all three kids stuck there for hours,” said Levi.
      “I don’t have any brothers or sisters to sit beside, but I didn’t have the whole back seat to myself, either,” said Ruthanna. “On the seat next to me was a slide projector, pillows, suitcases, Papa’s suit coat and tie, and above all, snacks!”
      “Yep, nobody can do without snacks,” Levi stated.
      “Eating pretzels kept Mama from getting carsick—most of the time,” Ruthanna said with a wry smile. “I’m done eating supper now. What do we do with the dishes?”
      “Carry them to the sink and rinse them,” said Grace. “Nicole washes them, and I have to dry them.” She made a face at the sink. “Whenever I ask Mom why she doesn’t ever do them, or why we can’t get a dishwasher, she says she had to wash dishes when she was a kid, and now I have to do them for her. When I have kids, I’m gonna make them do the dishes. That’ll be my way of getting back at Mom and Dad.”
      “We have a dishwasher,” Ruthanna told her. “But that’s because our hands get all sore and cracked when we wash too many dishes.”
      “Oh yeah?” said Nicole, coming over with her plate and glass. “I wish that would happen to me. Then mom would feel sorry for me and make Grace do them.”
      “You’d still have to dry!” Grace jeered.
      “Besides,” said Levi, “we do have a dishwasher. It’s Nicole!” He gave his sisters an annoying grin and tossed his wadded-up napkin into the wastebasket. It landed on top of a heap of rubbish.
      “You’d better not talk, Levi,” said Nicole. “I’ll just bring the overflowing trash can to Dad’s attention. You haven’t taken out the garbage once this whole week, and you really don’t deserve to get an allowance.”
      “Yeah, quit teasing us, or I’ll dump the whole trash can on your head!” said Grace.
      “In that case—” said Levi, and he bent over the trash can and gave the plastic bag a yank. It didn’t budge, but he kept wrestling with it. “Ummph,” he grunted. “Come on, you overgrown bundle of disgusting trash, come out and take your medicine!”
      The girls laughed at his battle. Even the grown-ups’ attention was attracted, for the table was only inches from the kitchen’s wastebasket.
      “Levi, what made you decide to take out the trash now, with company here?” said Mrs. Bailey, turning around to look him in the eye.
      “Um, it looked like it needed it?” Levi shrugged.
      “Son, leave the trash alone, and take care of it tonight after the Taylors go home,” Mr. Bailey told him.
      “Yes, sir,” said Levi.
      “Why don’t we move into the living room, since we’re done eating?” Mrs. Bailey suggested.
      “Good idea,” said Mr. Taylor. “I’d just like to stretch out on this sofa, but then where would the rest of you sit?”
      “Go ahead, Ralph. Make yourself at home,” said Mrs. Bailey.
      “Not at all. I was just teasing. Ruthanna, why don’t you come and sit next to me?”

      “OK, Papa.” Ruthanna liked snuggling with her father.a