December 7, 1941… and the temporal Butterfly Effect.

The temporal butterfly effect can be an interesting game to play.  For me, I can directly trace my existence to the decision by the Empire of Japan to launch a surprise attack on the United States, on its base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 69 years ago today.  Not that I’m glad of the attack, but had it not happened, I (and millions of us) would not be alive right now.

My father, who was 18 years old in December 1941, joined the United States Merchant Marines, after finishing another year at the University of Alabama, where he had been studying.  He mostly served, in those famous convoys, in the Atlantic, as well as in the Mediterranean, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean.  Had it not been for the war, he would have gone on to law school sooner than he did, in the late 1940s.  The war delayed all that.

My mother was 15 years old and was reading or doing some homework that Sunday afternoon (West Virginia time), when she says her father, after hearing the bulletin come in over the radio, came into the living room where she was and say, “Well, it’s war.”  My mother graduated high school in 1944.  That spring a recruiter from the FBI had come round to her high school, Rainelle High School in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, pitching jobs to be had for high school graduates with the Bureau, in the “typing pool.”  My mother boarded a bus shortly after graduating.  It took her to Washington and to her first job, with the FBI.  Owing to the war the FBI needed to increase its clerical staff.

After the war my father decided against a career with the Merchant Marines, though he said he thought about it and one of his captains had urged him to stay.  Instead, he found his way to Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, DC.  Although my father was one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever known, back then, gaining acceptance to law school was not the challenge it is today.  To pay for law school he took a job as a clerk, in the fingerprint department, at the FBI.   He went to night school.

And, yes, my parents met while both worked at the FBI.  And, yes, but for Pearl Harbor (and many other intervening events, of course) they never would have.


20 Years Ago: a scratchy photo of me and my parents at my law school graduation. May 1990. Less than 90 days after this photo was taken I was living in Japan, teaching in a rural Middle School there.

.    .    .


  1. Fun read!

    The butterfly effect is something I think about a lot. Not in regret, or “how it could have been”, but because it’s fun to fantasize and makes you realize how special some aspect of your life are. What you tell in this post makes a fine example.

      • letsjapan
      • December 7th, 2010

      Thank you. I’m glad your considered this little piece thought-provoking. It’s all connected. If you don’t know the British film, “Sliding Doors” (a light romance, actually), I recommend you rent and enjoy it.

    • Donna Hall Morrow
    • December 7th, 2010


    I truly enjoyed this story about how your parents met. In all the years we attended school together I never heard this story. I heard many other stories and if my memory serves me correctly, it was you who allowed me my first taste of squid.

    Donna Sue Hall Morrow

      • letsjapan
      • December 7th, 2010

      Thank you, Donna. Yes, everything’s connected to something else.

      As for the squid, I remember asking my father to always bring back a can of something “exotic” from DC, back in the late 70s when he was virtually commuting between South Alabama and Northern Virginia. That was back in the day when a little can of smoked squid was pretty much un-findable except in the big cities. Now, of course, there’s a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar (maybe a a couple?) in Dothan, run by a Korean family, if I’m not mistaken. Here in Birmingham, well, I’m sure they have cans of smoked squid at the Wal-Mart that’s open 24 hours that’s less than 10 minutes away from where I’m sitting right now.

      My point is that, yes, back in the day, when things were more rare, when things were harder to find, they had a preciousness to them that just isn’t there any more. That you remember what you remember about a taste of squid back then, well, it’s probably lost on younger people now — not that we’re old!


    • michelle
    • December 8th, 2010

    I love to read stories such as this. So sweet.

      • letsjapan
      • December 8th, 2010

      Thank you, Michelle.


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