My first encounter with folklore did not occur in the United States of America. I was three years old, and my dad, mother, brother, and I had just moved to Okinawa, when my dad was stationed to the now defunct Naha Air Base.
The first house we moved into was not on the base. Rather, it was Gaijin housing in what was called the Oroku District back then. The small, shabby pink house with blue typhoon shutters was tucked away in a corner at the top of a hill, behind a screen of overgrown tropical plants, as if it was guarding a secret. Perhaps the little house was. It happened to be built in front of a sky gray turtle-back tomb, one of the thousands of Okinawan-style tombs that populate the Ryukyu Islands.
The night we moved into the house, we pulled into the driveway on the side of it. We arrived long after the sun had set, and I clearly remember straining my eyes in the dark to see the blue “X” shapes on the typhoon shutters. My dad mentioned that the shutters were probably useful not only for protecting the house against typhoons but also useful for keeping out the “stealy boys”. “Stealy boys” is a phrase that Okinawans use for burglars. The phrase might bring to mind an image of misguided yet harmless youth, but in my three-year-old mind, it was frightening. The phrase still spooks me to this day.
The morning after we moved into the house, something bizarre happened. My mother mentioned that she felt as though someone was pulling on her left middle toe. Her toe even stuck out as if it was being pulled. And it didn’t stop. We lived in the shabby little house in front of the tomb for a year and a half, and Mother’s toe stuck out, with the sensation of being pulled, for the entire duration of our stay. There were other paranormal events that occurred during that time, but the one I remember well was Mother and her toe-pulling ghost.
Then one day, we moved out. Dad had acquired Navy housing for us on Naha Air Base. We moved out on my fifth birthday. The day we moved out of that house and into base housing, Mother’s toe suddenly stopped feeling as if it was being pulled. Sure enough, it had gone back into place and was no longer stuck out.
We often wondered if it was a ghost, perhaps one from the tomb behind our house. In doing recent research into stories of the Ryukyu Islands, I have found many, many stories of ghosts. However, I have yet to find a rather comical one featuring a toe-pulling ghost!
Doesn’t it sound like a joke that a specter might play on a beautiful, young American woman?
Or was it just faulty wiring in my mom’s nerves that coincidentally started when we moved in and stopped when we moved?
You be the judge.
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