The Story of Guam-me
Guam-me the coconut hails from the island of Guam and has been living here in the United States since around 1948. During that year, while stationed on Guam, my dad, part of the First Marine Division, found Guam-me. During peacetime on Guam there wasn’t much to do to fill the days. Letters home to his parents describe days filled with tending gardens and building various structures. It was peacetime – just three years after the end of World War II – the war to end all wars.
Someone, I assume my Dad, drew two faces on Guam-me. One side shows a full face – eyes, nose and smiling mouth and even a pair of curving dark eyebrows. The eyes are two black circles with red marker highlights in the middle and the nose is a downward pointing arrow leading to a lopsided smiling wedge of a mouth with what appears to be a few teeth. The top of his head is capped off with a darkened discolored pattern that now looks like an awkward cropping of short hair. Turn Guam-me around and his flip side features straight black eyebrows with green highlighted eyes, and no nose or mouth to speak of. Below his right eye are the words GUAM 1948 and then GUAM again, below the year, but darker. It’s common knowledge that as soon as a face is assigned to an inanimate object, much like Tom Hanks did with Wilson the soccer ball in Castaway, it takes on a life of its own.
My dad shipped Guam-me home at some point prior to leaving the island. Since I never thought to ask, I don’t know how or when Guam-me came to Connecticut. Perhaps he shipped him home with other personal items. There’s a chance he carried the coconut with him in 1949 when he was sent home to attend his older brother’s funeral. Killed in action during World War II in May 1945, it took four years to get his brother's remains returned from Okinawa for a hometown burial. Another war would not break out until June 25, 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea and dad sailed for Korea. I believe that if he went to the trouble to bring that coconut all the way to Ansonia, Connecticut, it must have meant something to him.
From 1948 until 1957, Guam-me’s whereabouts are unknown to me. I imagine that he was propped up in my Dad’s bedroom in his parent’s house in Ansonia. I do know that from 1957 until 2015 Guam-me spent a quiet existence in our basement. Hanging from a nail in the ceiling, he stood watch in the corner where the washer and dryer were situated. He never left his post, watching my brother and I play endless games either with our neighborhood friends or just the two of us. Each time my mom washed clothes, there was Guam-me watching over her as well. Guam-me was witness to every family event that ever took place in that basement – picnics, birthday parties, holiday celebrations – seeing dozens and dozens of family members and friends coming and going.
When I moved my Mom out of that house in 2015, I promised Guam-me that better days were coming (Yes, I made a promise to a coconut). Instead of hanging in the dark corner of a basement, Guam-me now sits next to me as I write. He’s more than slightly weathered, but if we live long enough, we all display some signs of age. He turned 80 in 2018, and has spent the last eight decades thousands of miles from his homeland.
I can’t explain my connection to Guam-me. It’s like anything else that has been a part of your journey for a lifetime. We are simply connected, certainly by a place given the 40+ years that Guam-me hung silently in our basement, and more importantly, by a man. The same man that extended Guam-me’s existence by bringing him home so many years ago and the guy I called Dad for 51 years of my life. I’ve been wondering lately what is to become of Guam-me. I doubt anyone else wants him. He’s a dried up coconut for God’s sake! But that face, and those eyes have been watching over us for more than one lifetime. It should mean something that he’s been part of my family for longer than I have. By the way, I named him Guam-me. I have no idea if my dad ever called him anything. In all the years he hung in our basement, I never once remember my dad even mentioning him. And yet, he kept that damn coconut.
Why? It’s not like he wanted to remember his four years in the Marines. It took him a lifetime to even talk about the horrors he survived as part of the Battle for the Chosin Reservoir. Stories he told us were few and short and terrifying. The after-effects lasted a lifetime. Fifty years after the war was over, he wrote a letter on behalf of one of his buddies who was having a hard time with life in general and was showing renewed signs of what they called at the time “battle fatigue” and today is know as PTSD. In the letter, my dad wrote how his buddy was in charge of operating a backhoe to clear out thousands of dead, frozen bodies of Chinese soldiers that the Marines had killed during the battle for the Reservoir. The letter was profoundly disturbing in its matter-of-factness and undoubtedly just one terrifying story among thousands of similar ones.
I wrote this story to try and sort out what happens to Guam-me. Do I donate him at some point, along with my Dad’s military stuff? I doubt I can return him to his homeland. Do I dispose of him somehow? Where – in the trash? Don’t think I can do that to the old guy. Yes, I consider Guam-me a guy. I don’t know why. Guam-me represents the ultimate in sentimental value. Certainly he has no monetary value, and yet, here he is – a survivor. Maybe that’s enough of a reason to think about the next step in his journey.