Tokyo South

Odawara District

Lonely Nights

Sister Iwakawa was in her second trimester when Thackeray transferred to Odawara in August. But his first Sunday there was the last time he saw her in church.

Sister Iwakawa was expecting her first child. Like a good Japanese wife, she went to stay with her mother—ten minutes up the coast by train—during the last few months. She was presently in the maternity hospital and wouldn’t leave until the baby was born. Good Japanese wives who were expecting their first child didn’t take chances.

This all made Brother Iwakawa one lonely guy. He was second counselor in the branch presidency and missionary leader as well, but the branch was not a large one and Brother Iwakawa was an efficient man.

“You know, if he didn’t have all these church meetings to go to, I think he would have absolutely nothing to do,” said Chieko Oharu after English class one week. It was a few minutes until SAP began and she and Kumiko were offering local news and commentary.

“The old-time gossip hour,” Matlock called it.

Thackeray said, “Well, what would he do if he weren’t a member?”

“Go out drinking with the boys,” said Gordon.

“That’s rather out of the question.”

The only Mormon boys in town were the missionaries. So every Friday night and sometimes on Wednesdays, Iwakawa showed up on the missionaries’ doorstep. They didn’t mind because he usually brought food.

This time it was ice cream. “It’s not summer anymore,” he said with a sheepish grin.

“Sure it is!” replied Johnson, never known to turn down free food. “We’ll crank up the sekiyu stove.” Matlock got some dishes and spoons off the drying rack and they all trooped into Gordon’s room, which had the only good sekiyu stove.

Johnson sat down on the tatami and dug into his ice cream. “Want some turkey?” he asked Brother Iwakawa. “Got a couple of drumsticks. Thanksgiving stuff.”

Iwakawa shook his head.

“How about pumpkin pie? Goes good with ice cream.”

Iwakawa almost winced at the thought. “Thank you, but—” He turned to Gordon. “Any new investigators this week?”

“A college student. Name’s Hiroshi. Gave him an intro lesson Tuesday. He might be coming to church.”

Thackeray said, “We saw the Yamamuras again.”

“Haven’t seen them in a while. How are they doing?”

“Okay, I guess. They wondered if I could answer a question they had. They wrote it down but I couldn’t read it.”

He handed the note to Brother Iwakawa. Brother Iwakawa unfolded the paper and read it slowly.

“Well?” asked Matlock.

“The question is—” He glanced back over the paper. “The question is about when the father of a family doesn’t join the church, when can the rest of the family do his temple work, sealing, etcetera.”

Gordon was sitting at his desk, eating ice cream and filling out district reports. He said, “Not while he’s still alive. Even then there are all kinds of permission problems.”

“There ought to be a more tactful way of putting it.”

“I could write up an answer for them,” suggested Brother Iwakawa.

“That would be a good idea. They said they were coming to church Sunday—” Thackeray’s voice trailed off. “Yeah. That would be a good idea.”

Brother Iwakawa folded up the paper and tucked it in his shirt pocket. “Hey, Matlock Choro,” he said. “Let’s practice that discussion you’re studying. I’ll be the investigator.”

Thackeray excused himself. He went into the other room and opened his proselyting notebook to the investigator sheets. Next to the Yamamura’s stats he’d scribbled: Triffs. But cute. Probably a waste of time. He’d written that after meeting them his first day in Odawara. Maybe he was wrong. The thought sent a chill up his spine. Missionaries weren’t supposed to be wrong about things like that.

Brother Iwakawa didn’t show up for correlation meeting Sunday morning. The missionaries knew why.

“Bet you it’s a girl,” said Johnson. The missionaries were standing together along the shoulder of the road across from the small chapel.

“My sister’s first kid was a girl,” said Matlock. He wound up and chucked a rock down the embankment.

“What are you aiming for?”

“The pole next to the switch signal.”

“Hopefully it’s a boy,” said Thackeray. “The branch needs deacons.”

Brother Iwakawa wasn’t sitting on the stand at the beginning of Sacrament meeting and everybody knew why.

“We have a new member of the branch!” President Kanda announced proudly. “Sister Iwakawa gave birth to a girl Saturday morning. Three-point-two kilograms!”

“Told you,” said Johnson.

President Kanda tacked the address of the hospital on the bulletin board in the foyer. Thackeray and Matlock decided to visit after lunch.

The hospital was a one-story maternity clinic in a residential neighborhood. The reception room looked new, but everything else was made of varnished wood and polished linoleum, washed, waxed and worn to a dull luster.

The ten beds in the ward were spaced generously apart. Screens surrounded some of the beds. The windows were draped with white curtains. The air smelled faintly of antiseptic. Sister Iwakawa was sitting up in bed. She looked tired. Brother Iwakawa was cradling his daughter like a china doll.


The Iwakawas smiled. “The Yamamuras were just here,” said Sister Iwakawa. “I told them you might be coming, but they couldn’t stay.”

Brother Iwakawa said, “I gave them the answer to that question they asked you.”

“Thanks. That should help.”

Matlock said, “Kinda looks like my sister’s kid.”

“Really?” said Brother Iwakawa.

“Yeah. I became an uncle two days before I came on my mission.”

“Want to hold her?”

Thackeray stood by the bed watching his companion and Brother Iwakawa fuss over the baby. He drifted off in his thoughts for a while. The curtains rippled gently over the heating vents.

“Thackeray Choro—”

Sister Iwakawa was looking at him.


“How are the discussions going with the Yamamura girls?”

“Well, we’re not really teaching them right now. There’s sort of a permission problem.”

“Yes. Chieko told me.”

Thackeray paused for a moment. “I’m not sure, sometimes,” he said.

“About what?”

“Sometimes I think they want to get baptized because their father said they couldn’t.”

“Because they’re triffs?” Mrs. Iwakawa smiled.


“Don’t expected every teenager to be another Elder Kikuchi, Thackeray Choro. Give them something to belong to first. Give them a chance to grow up in the church.”

The baby whimpered. “I think she wants to be nursed,” said Sister Iwakawa.

“Well, I think it’s time we should leave,” said Thackeray. He asked Brother Iwakawa, “Will you be at SAP?”


“Okay. I guess we’ll see you then.”

“Good luck, Thackeray Choro,” said Mrs. Iwakawa.

Thackeray smiled. “Thanks for the advice.”

They walked down the hall to the reception area.

“It’s too bad in a way,” said Matlock.


“No more ice cream Friday nights.”

Gordon called them into his room when they arrived back at the apartment. “How was everybody?” he asked.

“They’re doing fine.”

“We’ll have to go see them. By the way, Michiko called. Wanted you to come over tonight. Said it was important.”

The Yamamuras lived about a mile from the missionaries’ apartment. Thackeray and Matlock parked their bikes by the front gate.

“What do you think, Dode?” Thackeray stopped with his hand on the latch of the gate.

“About what?” said Matlock.

“They don’t leave messages unless it’s serious.”

“Then what?”

“If this was last week, I’d be expecting another big lecture from Mr. Yamamura. But since they came up with that question—I don’t know.”

Thackeray stepped up on the porch and rang the intercom.


“It’s the missionaries.”

“Great!” said Shinako.

Thackeray opened the door. Shinako and Michiko were standing at the foot of the genkan.

“G’evening,” said Matlock. They stepped into the genkan and removed their shoes. Shinako set out two pairs of slippers.

“How was your Thanksgiving?” asked Michiko.

“Very nice, thank you.”

The girls led them into the living room. It was a “western-style” room, with a hardwood floor instead of tatami. Mr. Yamamura was reclining on the La-Z-Boy at the far end of the room. Mrs. Yamamura sat on the chair next to her husband. Michiko and Shinako sat on the floor on two cushions at the other end of the room. Thackeray and Matlock sat on the short couch opposite Mr. Yamamura.

“You’re right. This looks serious,” Matlock said under his breath.

Mr. Yamamura swung the La-Z-Boy straight up and looked sternly at the two Americans. “I suppose you know why we invited you to come over this evening.”

“Yes,” said Thackeray, though he was still in the dark.

“My daughters have expressed an interest in joining your church for several months now. I thought at first that it was girlish infatuation. But they appear to be quite intent. I spoke with your Stake President yesterday. I was impressed.” He paused and tucked his hands inside the sleeves of his yukata. “I’ve decided to give permission.” With that, he stood up and walked out of the room.

Thackeray and Matlock stood and nodded their heads as Mr. Yamamura left the room. Thackeray felt like a retainer bowing to his samurai lord.

Shinako and Michiko jumped up. “Surprised?” asked Shinako.

Thackeray couldn’t help smiling. “Yes. I’m surprised.”

“Daddy has to be so strict about everything.” Shinako grinned and dimpled. “He’s really a softy.”

Michiko said, “Mama’s coming to homemaking meeting next Wednesday.”

Mrs. Yamamura confirmed with a little, self-conscious laugh. She got to her feet. “Would you like something to drink?”

Thackeray started to refuse but ceded to etiquette.

She said to Michiko, “Why don’t you show the missionaries your yearbook?”

Mrs. Yamamura came back into the room a few minutes later carrying a serving tray. She put a cup and saucer down in front of Matlock and then sat on the couch next to Thackeray. She held the tray in her lap and handed him the other cup and saucer.

“Chieko Oharu is a member of your church, isn’t she?”


“She attends school with my daughters. They’re good friends.” She smiled a demure Japanese smile that made Thackeray feel as transparent as glass. “I appreciate your reservation, Thackeray Choro,” she said. “I didn’t see it in the other two missionaries.”

Thackeray nodded weakly and sipped at his cocoa.

Mrs. Yamamura got up to leave the room. “Don’t keep them long, girls,” she said.

“Oh, yes,” said Thackeray. “It is getting late.”

They walked together to the hallway. The missionaries stepped into the genkan and put on their shoes. Thackeray straightened and handed the shoehorn to Michiko. “We’ll, uh, see you Sunday,” he said.

“Good night,” Shinako and Michiko said together.

Matlock opened the door. “G’night,” he called back.

They rode back to the station plaza. The narrow residential streets gradually widened and filled with the lights and noises of the city center. Taxis were parked in long rows in front of the train station. The missionaries stopped in front of a half-block of pachinko parlors and video arcades to wait for the light to change.

“Well?” asked Thackeray.

Matlock shrugged. Then he grinned and punched the cold night air with his fist. “Great, wasn’t it!”

Thackeray nodded. He looked down and scuffed his shoes on the colored tile that lined the curb in front of the arcades. “You know, I was ready to give up on them the first day.”

“I had a hunch. But you had the style.”

“What style?”

“Laid back. No big list of commitments and goals. That’s what their old man was waiting for. You knew it all along.”

“Did I? But they’re still tri—they’re still just kids. I guess that’s what really bugs me.”

“How’s that?”

“I don’t know what they’re thinking. Or feeling. I’ve been in the church all my life. Never had to take the plunge.”

Matlock turned to his companion. “I’ll tell you something, Dode. I don’t think it makes a difference. When I was fifteen, religion was scouting and basketball and passing the sacrament. In that order.”

“So what made the difference?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea. Because it was the right thing to do, I suppose. Like it says in Second Nephi: line upon line, here a little, there a little. That was me, all right. Here a little, there a little, all over the place. I mean, a testimony’s something you build up to, even after you’re baptized.”

“Just need the time to grow in the church.”

Matlock nodded. “Yeah. That’s about it. Of course, my real revelation of truth is another story.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, I’m in the MTC my first week, right? Wondering what in the world I’m doing there. One morning, I’m in the bathroom shaving. It’s early, no one else is around. So I say, right out loud, Okay, Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet and the church isn’t true. And I felt awful. I mean, I really felt bad. I knew it was the wrong thing to say. And I nicked myself three times.”


“So that’s when I knew I was in the right place and on the right track. Negative reinforcement, you know.”

Thackeray laughed. “You give me faith, Matti. You really do.”

The walk light turned to green. The missionaries pedaled across the street to the station plaza.

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