Over thirty years ago I was stationed at Quantico Marine Base outside of Washington while attending Embassy Guard training. A large part of being an embassy guard is looking great in the uniform, and I remember changing uniforms at least twice a day while going thru that program. Consequently MSG students spend a tremendous percentage of their paychecks on dry cleaning costs.
There was a Japanese lady who owned a dry cleaners there in Q-town, and it came as no surprise that she drove a huge Cadillac sedan. She and her staff worked seven days a week, and they did fabulous work too. They weren’t cheap, but you got your money’s worth!
Too many years have gone by for me to remember those lady’s names, but I can remember their faces like it was yesterday. Owner Lady and her sidekick were all business – all the time, but they were always personable, and if they made a commitment to have something done by a certain time, they wouldn’t let you down.
After spending three months there at Quantico learning to be embassy guards and enriching the local cleaning industry, there came the day when me and my buddies received our orders and would soon be shipping out. So when we three came into the cleaners for perhaps the last time, we told the ladies of our impending departure.
Now… allow me to point out here that Quantico is the Marine’s educational command. That is where it trains all of its officers, embassy guards, and a host of other school programs. So young Marines are constantly coming and going there. Thus my friends and I were kinda surprised that the Japanese ladies seemed truly upset that we were leaving soon. After all – we were just three guys among hundreds or even thousands of Marines passing through.
Imagine a thick Japanese accent when reading this: “You boys numba one customa. You boys come by shop Sunday – 2 oclock. I fix you goin away meal!”
As promised, Sunday at 2 oclock we showed up the cleaners – not quite knowing what to expect. The first surprise was that the shop was closed. We knocked on the door which opened quickly and we were ushered inside. We followed our gracious host thru the back part of the building where we’d never been before, and out onto a sort of patio that was the utter contrast of the crowded and cluttered cleaning shop. It was a Japanese garden done in the zen simplistic style. We were bade to sit on mats around a low table and Owner lady served up steaks straight from the grill. We had all the fixings ta boot: salad, vegetables, and various dipping sauces as well.
Owner lady suddenly remembered something: “You… look in coke machine in shop. Door already open. I have beer inside for you boys”. I went and looked and sure enough, she had one whole slot of the coke machine filled with beer!
We were treated to a “numba one” steak dinner and all the cold beer we could drink. The ladies all bustled around waiting on us like we were kings. I have often thought of those ladies, and many times wondered what became of them. I have also wondered many times why they chose to entertain we three particular jarheads out of the hundreds that visited their shop regularly. At the time, to ask “Why us?” seemed liked an act of complete ungraciousness, and there was no way in hell we would have wanted to offend those very proper Japanese ladies by acting so boorishly.
It is a memory that I will cherish the rest of my days, of that I am absolutely certain.