Memories of a journey: Keener writes about a year-long trek through Asia in second book

Peggy Keener talks about her newest book chronicling her time in Asia. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Peggy Keener talks about her newest book chronicling her time in Asia. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

A local author has filled a second book with memories from a very strange time in her life — living in Japan during the Vietnam War.

Peggy Keener, an Austin native who left for 59 years and recently returned, has written a second memoir, filled with memories from her past living in Japan. This book, “Wondahful Mammaries,” has a focus on one specific year of her life as she and her three young children traveled through places including Thailand, Okinawa, Bangkok, Djakarta, Hong Kong, Bali, Java, Australia and more.

“I had so many more stories to tell, so many more,” Keener said.

Wondahful_Mammaries_Outline

Keener’s first book, “Potato in a Rice Bowl,” followed the first five years of her and her family’s life in Japan. The book was also nominated for six international awards, two of which were best memoir of the year.

Keener lived much of her life in Japan starting in 1962. Her husband Glen worked with military intelligence, leaving Keener home by herself often where she raised three children while trying to figure out Tokyo, Japan, on her own. The new book follows one year in 1972 when Glen was called away for 12 months in Vietnam, and Keener decided to take the three children on a journey by herself.

“This time it was going to be 12 whole months that we wouldn’t see him,” Keener said. “And we were already in Asia, so I thought, ‘I should take the kids and go places that the military won’t take us.’”

Keener’s book follows her and her children as they jumped off a moving train in Thailand, returned human remains to a cave in Okinawa, received a dying infant in Bangkok, weathered a leper assault in Djakarta, survived a typhoon in Okinawa and much more. Keener noted the trip was not at five star hotels, and much of the time she wasn’t afraid, she should have been.

“We did not travel with reservations, I was winging it for 12 months,” she said. “I had six duffle bags, four suitcases and three kids, and every country I just started over again, saying ‘Where can we stay tonight,’ ‘Where can we eat.’ So we were really gypsies for a whole year.”

Keener admits her life in Japan was out of the ordinary and said most things that happened to her were not planned. She spent many days on trains and subways analyzing Japan, just trying to figure out the mystique of the country and culture.

The book opens with a ringing phone in Bangkok and five words: “I give you my baby.”

“It’s different from “Potato” in that “Potato” was all tongue and cheek and having a really good time, but “Mammaries” is all third world,” Keener said.

Peggy Keener talks with her publisher about the book arrival in her home. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Peggy Keener talks with her publisher about the book arrival in her home. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“The book goes from slap your knee-needing to wear depends, to your heart is broken over some of these,” she added.

Keener said any age group will enjoy the book, and said she has had teenagers through older adults read “Potato in a Rice Bowl.” She also pointed out she has a lot of men readers.

“A lot of people think that because I’m an old lady that it’s kind of like an old lady chick flick, and that couldn’t be further from that,” she said. “I have so many men readers, and teenagers read it.”

The book already had 120 preorders by Dec. 11, though Keener hadn’t received it in print yet. It took her about three years to write, because if the weather is nice she is outside much of the summer and doesn’t spend every day writing.

Keener said many people think she had a hard life after hearing her stories, but she never thought of it that way.

“The first time anybody said that to me, I was blown over because never in my wildest imagination did I think it was a hard life,” she said. “It was a very strange life and there were some very, very, very frightening moments. I just always laughed at everything, I never got upset, and didn’t get frightened either, I was never frightened. I should have been.”

The book is $19.95, but is $17 with an Author’s discount for residents in Austin, and to order the book email pggyknr@yahoo.com, or call 507-396-2165.

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