Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Always Learning

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in November 1957, when I was 8. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

In November '57 my Mother and I rode in a sleeper car from Seattle to San Francisco. We were met at the train station by a family friend, a woman who had a daughter my age. We stayed with them a day and night.

Here we were, on our way to Nationalist China, and our hosts had to take us to San Francisco's Chinatown. I've always thought that was a little funny. But I loved that excursion. What got my attention was a visit to a small shop, and glimpsing a back room with a small Buddhist shrine. I asked what it was, horrifying my Mother. She felt the question would be seen as rude. But the shopkeeper seemed glad I asked, told me it was a shrine to Buddha, and gave me a thirty second explanation of Buddhism that went right past me. The only thing I took away from it was her graciousness. It made a lasting impression.

That night was a little funny, too. We all turned in pretty early, even our hosts. I had to sleep on the floor of the living room. I don't know where my Mother and the others were sleeping, but after an hour or so the daughter walked out into the living room wearing only underpants, stepped over me, walked into the kitchen, got a glass of water, and started back to where she came from.

I had never seen a girl my own age wearing nothing but underpants. I actually said, "Don't you feel a little naked walking around me like that?"

She said, "False modesty is vanity."

I had to ask, "What's 'modesty'?" For some reason I'd never learned the word before. She laughed, and explained it slowly to me. Again, I don't recall the answer. My mind was elsewhere.

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