“Our latest trip, a return to Japan after 23 years, to see old friends and old places is especially exciting. We feel at home. The essential politeness, cleanliness, naivete, kindness and curiosity of the people have not changed. It is very comforting, and we are so glad to have come back,” said Barbara Abbate.
International friends from the years of their residence here are equally glad for the couple’s visit and to see in them still all their old gracefulness and calm. Abbate, her husband and two young sons first came to Tokyo in 1977.
Earlier in their married life, the couple had an unusual and enviable experience that re-shaped their circumstances and helped set up their future.
“We were living in a rented house in Connecticut,” Abbate said. “I happened to hear of a television general-knowledge quiz show that was offering a dream house as a grand prize. I wrote to the program, and we were invited to New York to take the test as possible contestants. We were accepted, and entered.
“Of course we were excited but not nervous. The theatrical training we had throughout school and college was very good for us. At the quiz show we banged the buzzer fast to answer each question quickly and correctly, and came through as winners.
“Our major prizes were the house, to be built anywhere in the States, and seven rooms of furniture. It was like the most tremendous Christmas you ever had in your life. Trucks were drawing up to our house all the time with other prizes.”
Barbara and Bill Abbate first met in a high school play. They went on to college together and married soon after graduation. The husband embarked on studying for a Ph.D. in chemistry. The wife taught high school Latin and English. Both continued with community theatrical groups.
“We built our dream house in Connecticut, and were proud of it,” Abate said. “Then just as we got the shrubs going and the grass growing, for business reasons we had to move to Houston. I cried a lot at first. But it was a period when the world opened up.”
From Houston the family came to Tokyo. Abbate began teaching English, and said that teaching became very important for her in her understanding of Japanese people. She joined Tokyo International Players, was cast in several major productions, and served on the board of directors. She also appeared on stage in Japanese theatrical shows.
Abbate became a member of an exercise group at the Tokyo Union Church, and stayed with it as the class moved to the Tokyo American Club. When the instructor was transferred, Abbate was asked to take over the teaching. She was also active with the club’s Women’s Group, with her church’s youth work, and with the College Women’s Association of Japan. She found organizing easy. “The busier I am, the more I can get done,” she said.
When the family left Japan in 1984 and returned to Houston, Abbate characteristically joined a troupe of players who performed for children all over the area.
“Concurrently I taught exercise classes at the local branch of the University of Houston,” she said. “That led me to pursue a master’s at the university in human performance. I became health promotion coordinator at a local fitness center, so I taught, marketed and organized in a field I love and truly believe in. It was a dream job, but nothing is forever.”
In the next move to a small town in the American Midwest, once more Abbate sought out community theater. She learned desktop publishing, and worked in community relations at Subaru Isuzu Automotive, and then as research and editorial assistant in Purdue University’s Department of Child Development and Family Studies.
Transferring to Memphis “meant that we could indulge our taste for museums and professional theater and live in a lovely little city,” Abbate said. She used her writing and organizational skills in her work at a local bank.
She describes the most recent of the 13 moves the married couple has made — this time to St. Simons Island, Ga. “From the time we first crossed the causeway to the island we knew it was the place where we would retire.” The couple has two grandsons who love to spend summer days with them on the beach.
As both husband and wife fill their personal calendars with community events, “some things have come full circle,” Abbate said. “As high school kids, we sang together in glee club. Now we sing in our church choir.”