This is a portion of Chapter 39 in Hamfist Over The Trail:
“The absolute best steak in Tokyo is at the Misono Steak House, in Akasaka,” Tom announced.
We drove through narrow streets for about a half hour, and pulled up outside a small restaurant front.
We went into a dimly-lit, elegant restaurant, and sat at a table with a large skillet built into the surface. Tom and Miyako sat on one side of the table, and Sam sat next to me, on my right. I think she purposely positioned herself there to help me with my chopsticks if I had trouble. A chef appeared with four thick steaks, some shrimp, and an assortment of vegetables, and he proceeded to cook them in front of us. He put on an incredible performance, slicing and dicing the steaks and then tossing the pieces of meat over his head and catching them in the rice bowls in front of each of us.
“This is Kobe beef,” Tom explained. “Every minute of their lives these animals are massaged, and they’re fed beer all day long. The meat is tender enough to cut between your chopsticks. You’ll see.”
“And, by the way,” he continued, “from now on, we’re not calling them chopsticks. They’re hashi.”
“Got it. Hashi,” I answered.
“Ham went to the Air Force Academy,” Tom explained, looking at Sam.
“Where’d you go for undergraduate?” I asked Sam.
“I graduated from Northwestern in 1966.”
We ate in silence for a few minutes, with me trying my best to impress my hosts, and especially Sam, my facility with hashi. I was getting pretty good, getting almost every bite to my mouth without dropping anything.
Then Sam ventured, “You know, I almost dated a cadet once.”
“Sounds like you dodged a bullet,” I replied.
“No, I was actually really looking forward to it. In the fall of 1963, when I was a sophomore, the Army and Air Force were playing their first-ever football game, at Soldier Field in Chicago.”
I remembered it well. I was a doolie at the time, and the entire cadet wing was going to travel to Chicago by train to watch the game and then have a post-game formal ball. We were going to have a joint ball with the “Woops” – the West Pointers – who had also come to Chicago en masse. As a doolie, I had never gotten the opportunity to leave the base since entering the Academy in the summer, and this was going to be a real treat. After the game, we would have about four hours to be out on our own to explore Chicago before the ball. I was really looking forward to it.
Then, the day before our departure, my appendix burst and I had peritonitis. I had emergency surgery, and couldn’t go on the trip. I was stuck in the Academy hospital, to watch the game – Air Force beat Army – on television. The only cadet in the hospital. In fact, I was the only patient in the entire hospital, other than a Math instructor’s wife, who was only there for about three days to deliver her baby.
“There was a formal ball after the game,” Sam continued, “and they wanted local college girls to be blind dates for the cadets. It sounded like it would be fun, and I volunteered. I bought a beautiful gown and gorgeous long, white leather formal gloves. And shoes. Remember?” She looked over at Tom and Miyako. They nodded.
“I showed up at the ball, and I was as dolled-up as I could be. I’d gone to the hairdresser and had my hair done in the morning, and had my nails done also. And the cadets were so handsome in their mess uniforms. Is that what it’s called?”
“Mess dress,” I answered.
“That’s right, mess dress. And I’m not just saying this, Ham, I thought the Air Force cadets looked a lot sharper than the West Pointers.”
“It goes without saying,” I answered.
“So, I went to the reception hall where all the girls were assembling, and one by one the social director called out the names of the girls and they would go through the door to the ballroom and meet their blind dates.” She paused, took a deep breath, and swallowed hard. “And then I was left all alone. I didn’t have a date.”
“What!” I exclaimed. “Were they crazy?”
“No, it was just, the blind dates had already been pre-arranged, and the cadet I was supposed to be paired up with was in the hospital. I went back to my dorm room and cried myself to sleep.”
Tom and Miyako were staring at me.
“Ham! Are you all right? You’re white as a sheet.”
I found myself frozen, with my chopsticks, okay, my hashi, half-way to my mouth, and I couldn’t move. Finally, I regained my composure.
“That was me! I was the cadet in the hospital!”
Now it was Sam’s turn to be speechless.
Tom looked at Miyako and said, “Sore wa narimasu”. She nodded. Then he looked at me.
“I’m sorry for speaking Japanese, Ham. What I said to Miyako was that when something is meant to be, it will be.”
My eyes locked onto Sam’s and I remembered: that was exactly what Colonel Ryan had said.