"Life in Camp Harmony" In Nisei Daughter by Monica Itoi Sone. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979.
Father negotiated with Bentley Agent and Company to hire someone to manage his business. Years ago Father had signed a long-term lease with the owner of the building and the agent had no other alternative than to let Father keep control of his business until his time ran out. He was one of the fortunate few who would keep their businesses intact for the duration.
And Mother collected crates and cartons. She stayed up night after night, sorting, and re-sorting a lifetime's accumulation of garments, toys and household goods. Those were pleasant evenings when we rummaged around in old trunks and suitcases, reminiscing about the good old days, and almost forgetting why we were knee-deep in them.
The general started issuing orders fast and furiously. "Everyone must be inoculated against typhoid and carry a card bearing the physician's signature as proof."
Like magic we all appeared at the old Japanese Chamber of Commerce building on Jackson Street and formed a long, silent queue inside the dark corridor, waiting to pass into the doctor's crowded office. The doctor's pretty young wife, pale and tired, helped her husband puncture the long line of bare brown arms. On the twenty-first of April, a Tuesday, the general gave us the shattering news. "All the Seattle Japanese will be moved to Puyallup by May I. Everyone must be registered Saturday and Sunday between 8 A.M. and 5 P.M. They will leave next week in three groups, on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday."
Up to that moment, we had hoped against hope that something or someone would intervene for us. Now there was no time for moaning. A thousand and one details must be attended to in this one week of grace. Those seven days sputtered out like matches struck in the wind, as we rushed wildly about. Mother distributed sheets, pillowcases and blankets, which we stuffed into seabags. Into the two suitcases, we packed heavy winter overcoats, plenty of sweaters, woolen slacks and skirts, flannel pajamas and scarves. Personal toilet articles, one tin plate, tin cup and silverware completed our luggage. The one seabag and two suitcases apiece were going to be the backbone of our future home, and we planned it carefully.
Henry went to the Control Station to register the family. He came home with twenty tags, all numbered "10710," tags to be attached to each piece of baggage, and one to hang from our coat lapels. From then on, we were known as Family #10710.
On our last Sunday, Father and Henry moved all our furniture and household goods down to the hotel and stored them in one room. We could have put away our belongings in the government storage place or in the basement of our church, which was going to be boarded up for the duration, but we felt that our property would be safer under the watchful eyes of Sam, Peter and Joe.
Monday evenings we received friends in our empty house where our voices echoed loudly and footsteps clattered woodenly on the bare floor. We sat on crates, drank bottles of coke and talked gayly about our future pioneer life. Henry and Minnie held hands all evening in the corner of the living room. Minnie lived on the outskirts of the Japanese community and her district was to leave in the third and last group.
That night we rolled ourselves into army blankets like jellyrolls and slept on the bare floor. The next morning Henry rudely shouted us back into consciousness. "Six-thirty! Everybody wake up, today's the day!"
I screamed, "Must you sound so cheerful about it?"
"What do you expect me to do, bawl?"
On this sour note, we got up stiffly from the floor, and exercised violently to start circulation in our paralyzed backs and limbs. We jammed our blankets into the long narrow seabag, and we carefully tied the white pasteboard tag, 10710,on our coat lapels. When I went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror, tears suddenly welled in my eyes. I was crying, not because it was the last time I would be standing in a modern bathroom, but because I looked like a cross between a Japanese and a fuzzy bear. My hideous new permanent wave had been given to me by an operator who had never worked on Oriental hair before. My hair resembled scorched mattress filling, and after I had attacked it savagely with comb and brush, I looked like a frightened mushroom. On this morning of mornings when I was depending on a respectable hairdo so I could leave town with dignity, I was faced with this horror. There was nothing to do but cover it with a scarf.
Downstairs we stood around the kitchen stove where Mother serves us a quick breakfast of coffee in our tin cups, sweet rolls and boiled eggs which rolled noisily on our tinplates. Henry was delighted with the simplicity of it all. "Boy, this is going to be living, no more company manners and dainty napkins. We can eat with our bare hands. Probably taste better, too."
Mother fixed a stern eye on Henry, "Not as long as I'm around."
The front doorbell rang. It was Dunks Oshima, who had offered to take us down to Eighth and Lane in a borrowed pickup truck. Hurriedly the menfolk loaded the truck with the last few boxes of household goods which Dunks was going to take down to the hotel. He held up a gallon can of soy sauce, puzzled, "Where does this go, to the hotel, too?"
Nobody seemed to know where it had come from or where it was going, until Mother finally spoke up guiltily, "Er, it's going with me. I didn't think we'd have shoyu where we're going."
Henry looked as if he were going to explode. "But Mama, you're not supposed to have more than one seabag and two suitcases. And of all things, you want to take with you--shoyu!"
I felt mortified. "Mama, people will laugh at us. We're not going on a picnic!"
But Mother stood her ground. "Nonsense. No one will ever notice this little thing. It isn't as if I were bringing liquor!"
"Well!" I said. "If Mama's going to take her shoyu, I'm taking my radio along." I rescued my fifteen-year-old radio from the boxes which were going down to the hotel. "At least it'll keep me from talking to myself out there."
Sumi began to look thoughtful, and she rummaged among the boxes. Henry bellowed, "That's enough! Two suitcases and one seabag a person, that's final! Now let's get going before we decide to take the house along with us."
Mother personally saw to it that the can of shoyu remained with her baggage. She fumed back once more to look at our brown and yellow frame house and said almost gayly, "Good-bye, house."
Old Asthma came bounding out to the front yard, her tail swaying in the air. "And good-by, Asthma, take good care of our home. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu yo."
A swallow swooped down from the eaves. "Oh, soh, soh, goodby to you, too, Mrs. Swallow. I hope you have a nice little family."
Mother explained that she had discovered the swallow's little nest under the eaves just outside Sumi's bedroom window, filled with four beautiful blue-speckled eggs like precious-colored stones. The swallow darted low and buzzed over Asthma like a miniature fighter plane. We watched amazed as it returned time and time again in a diving attack on Asthma. Mother said, "She's fighting to protect her family." Asthma leaped into the air, pawed at the bird halfheartedly, then rubbed herself against Mother's woolen slacks.
"Quarter to eight," Dunks gently reminded us. We took turns ruffling Asthma's fur and saying good-by to her. The new tenants had promised us that they would keep her as their pet.
We climbed into the truck, chattering about the plucky little swallow. As we coasted down Beacon Hill bridge for the last time, we fell silent, and stared out at the delicately flushed morning sky of Puget Sound. We drove through bustling Chinatown, and in a few minutes arrived on the corner of Eighth and Lane. This area was ordinarily lonely and deserted but now it was gradually filling up with silent, labeled Japanese, standing self-consciously among their seabags and suitcases.
Everyone was dressed casually, each according to his idea of where he would be going. One Issei was wearing a thick mackinaw jacket and cleated, high-topped hiking boots. I stared admiringly at one handsome couple, standing slim and poised in their ski clothes. They looked newly wed. They stood holding hands beside their streamlined luggage that matched smartly with the new Mr. and Mrs. look. With an air of resigned sacrifice, some Issei women wore dark-colored slacks with deep-hemmed cuffs. One gnarled old grandmother wore an ankle-length black crepe dress with a plastic initial "S" pinned to its high neckline. It was old-fashioned, but dignified and womanly.
Automobiles rolled up to the curb, one after another, discharging more Japanese and more baggage. Finally at ten o'clock, a vanguard of Greyhound busses purred in and parked themselves neatly along the curb. The crowd stirred and murmured. The bus doors opened and from each, a soldier with rifle in hand stepped out and stood stiffly at attention by the door. The murmuring died. It was the first time I had seen a rifle at such close range and I felt uncomfortable. This rifle was presumably to quell riots, but contrarily, I felt riotous emotion mounting in my breast.
Jim Shigeno, one of the leaders of the Japanese-American Citizens' League, stepped briskly up front and started reading off family numbers to fill the first bus. Our number came up and we pushed our way out of the crowd. Jim said, "Step right in." We bumped into each other in nervous haste. I glanced nervously at the soldier and his rifle, and I was startled to see that he was but a young man, pink-cheeked, his clear gray eyes staring impassively ahead. I felt that the occasion probably held for him a sort of tense anxiety as it did for us. Henry found a seat by a window and hung out, watching for Minnie who had promised to see him off. Sumi and I suddenly turned maternal and hovered over Mother and Father to see that they were comfortably settled. They were silent.
Newspaper photographers with flash-bulb cameras pushed busily through the crowd. One of them rushed up to our bus, and asked a young couple and their little boy to step out and stand by the door for a shot. They were reluctant, but the photographers were persistent and at length they got out of the bus and posed, grinning widely to cover their embarrassment. We saw the picture in the newspaper shortly after and the caption underneath it read, "japs good-natured about evacuation."
Our bus quickly filled to capacity. All eyes were fixed up front, waiting. The guard stepped inside, sat by the door, and nodded curtly to the gray-uniformed bus driver. The door closed with a low hiss. We were now the Wartime Civil Control Administration's babies.
When all the busses were filled with the first contingent of Japanese, they started creeping forward slowly. We looked out of the window, smiled and feebly waved our hands at the crowd of friends who would be following us within the next two days. From among the Japanese faces, I picked out the tall, spare figures of our young people's minister, the Reverend Everett Thompson, and the Reverend Emery Andrews of the Japanese Baptist Church. They were old friends, having been with us for many years. They wore bright smiles on their faces and waved vigorously as if to lift our morale. But Miss Mahon, the principal of our Bailey Gatzert Grammar School and a much-beloved figure in our community, stood in front of the quiet crowd of Japanese and wept openly.
Sumi suddenly spied Minnie, driving her family car. The car screeched to a halt and Minnie leaped out, looking frantically for Henry. Henry flung his window up and shouted, "Minnie! Minnie! Over here!" The bystanders, suddenly good-humored directed her to our moving bus. Minnie ran up to the windows, puffing, "Sorry I was late, Henry! Here, flowers for you." She thrust a bouquet of fresh yellow daffodils into his outstretched hand. Henry shouted, "Thanks--I'll be seeing you, I hope."
When our bus fumed a corner and we no longer had to smile and wave, we settled back gravely in our seats. Everyone was quiet except for a chattering group of university students who soon started singing college songs. A few people turned and glared at them, which only served to increase the volume of their singing. Then suddenly a baby's sharp cry rose indignantly above the hubbub. The singing stopped immediately, followed by a guilty silence. Three seats behind us, a young mother held a wailing red-faced infant in her arms, bouncing it up and down. Its angry little face emerged from multiple layers of kimonos, sweaters and blankets, and it, too, wore the white pasteboard tag pinned to its blanket. A young man stammered out an apology as the mother gave him a wrathful look. She hunted frantically for a bottle of milk in a shopping bag, and we all relaxed when she had found it.
We sped out of the city southward along beautiful stretches of farmland, with dark, newly turned soil. In the beginning we devoured every bit of scenery which flashed past our window and admired the massive-muscled work horses plodding along the edge of the highway, the rich burnished copper color of a browsing herd of cattle, the vivid spring green of the pastures, but eventually the sameness of the country landscape palled on us. We tried to sleep to escape from the restless anxiety which kept bobbing up to the surface of our minds. I awoke with a start when the bus filled with excited buzzing. A small group of straw-hatted Japanese farmers stood by the highway, waving at us. I felt a sudden warmth toward them, then a twinge of pity. They would be joining us soon.
About noon we crept into a small town. Someone said, "Looks like Puyallup, all right." Parents of small children babbled excitedly, "Stand up quickly and look over there. See all the chick-chicks and fat little piggies7" One little city boy stared hard at the hogs and said tersely, "They're bachi -- dirty!"
Our bus idled a moment at the traffic signal and we noticed at the left of us an entire block filled with neat rows of low shacks, resembling chicken houses. Someone commented on it with awe, "Just look at those chicken houses. They sure go in for poultry in a big way here." Slowly the bus made a left turn, drove through a wire-fenced gate, and to our dismay, we were inside the oversized chicken farm. The bus driver opened the door, the guard stepped out and stationed himself at the door again. Jim, the young man who had shepherded us into the busses, popped his head inside and sang out, "Okay, folks, all off at Yokohama, Puyallup."
We stumbled out, stunned, dragging our bundles after us. It must have rained hard the night before in Puyallup, for we sank ankle deep into gray, glutinous mud. The receptionist, a white man, instructed us courteously, "Now, folks, please stay together as family units and line up. You'll be assigned your apartment."
We were standing in Area A, the mammoth parking lot of the state fairgrounds. There were three other separate areas, B, C and D, all built on the fair grounds proper, near the baseball field and the race tracks. This camp of army barracks was hopefully called Camp Harmony.
We were assigned to apartment 2-l-A, right across from the bachelor quarters. The apartments resembled elongated, low stables about two blocks long. Our home was one room, about 18 by 20 feet, the size of a living room. There was one small window in the wall opposite the one door. It was bare except for a small, tinny wood-burning stove crouching in the center. The flooring consisted of two by fours laid directly on the earth, and dandelions were already pushing their way up through the cracks. Mother was delighted when she saw their shaggy yellow heads. "Don't anyone pick them. I'm going to cultivate them."
Father snorted, "Cultivate them! If we don't watch out, those things will be growing out of our hair."
Just then Henry stomped inside, bringing the rest of our baggage. "What's all the excitement about?"
Sumi replied laconically, "Dandelions."
Henry tore off a fistful. Mother scolded, "Arra! Arra! Stop that. They're the only beautiful things around here. We could have a garden right in here."
"Are you joking, Mama?"
I chided Henry, "Of course, she's not. After all, she has to have some inspiration to write poems, you know, with all the 'nali keli's.' I can think of a poem myself right now:
Oh, Dandelion, Dandelion,
Despised and uprooted by all,
Dance and bob your golden heads
For you've finally found your home
With your yellow fellows, nali keli, amen!"
Henry said, thrusting the dandelions in Mother's black hair, "I think you can do ten times better than that, Mama." Sumi reclined on her seabag and fretted, "Where do we sleep? Not on the floor, I hope." "Stop worrying," Henry replied disgustedly. Mother and Father wandered out to see what the other folks were doing and they found people wandering in the mud, wondering what other folks were doing. Mother returned shortly, her face lit up in an ecstatic smile, 'We're in luck. The latrine is right nearby. We won't have to walk blocks."
We laughed, marveling at Mother who could be so poetic and yet so practical. Father came back, bent double like a woodcutter in a fairy tale, with stacks of scrap lumber over his shoulder. His coat and trouser pockets bulged with nails. Father dumped his loot in a corner and explained, "There was a pile of wood left by the carpenters and hundreds of nails scattered loose. Everybody was picking them up, and I hustled right in with them. Now maybe we can live in style with tables and chairs."
The block leader knocked at our door and announced lunchtime. He instructed us to take our meal at the nearest mess hall. As I untied my seabag to get out my pie plate, tin cup, spoon and fork, I realized I was hungry. At the mess hall we found a long line of people. Children darted in and out of the line, skiing in the slithery mud. The young stood impatiently on one foot, then the other, and scowled, "The food had better be good after all this wait." But the Issei stood quietly, arms folded, saying very little. A light drizzle began to fall, coating bare black heads with tiny sparkling raindrops. The chow line inched forward.
Lunch consisted of two canned sausages, one lob of boiled potato, and a slab of bread. Our family had to split up, for the hall was too crowded for us to sit together. I wandered up and down the aisles, back and forth along the crowded tables and benches, looking for a few inches to squeeze into. A small Issei woman finished her meal, stood up and hoisted her legs modestly over the bench, leaving a space for one. Even as I thrust myself into the breach, the space had shrunk to two inches, but I worked myself into it. My dinner companion, hooked just inside my right elbow, was a baldheaded, gruff-looking Issei man who seemed to resent nestling at mealtime. Under my left elbow was a tiny, mud-spattered girl. With busy runny nose, she was belaboring her sausages, tearing them into shreds and mixing them into the potato gruel which she had made with water. I choked my food down.
We cheered loudly when trucks rolled by, distributing canvas army cots for the young and hardy, and steel cots for the older folks. Henry directed the arrangement of the cots. Father and Mother were to occupy the corner nearest the wood stove. In the other corner, Henry arranged two cots in L shape and announced that this was the combination living room-bedroom area, to be occupied by Sumi and myself. He fixed a male den for himself in the corner nearest the door. If I had had my way, I would have arranged everyone's cots in one neat row as in Father's hotel dormitory.
We felt fortunate to be assigned to a room at the end of the barracks because we had just one neighbor to worry about. The partition wall separating the rooms was only seven feet high with an opening of four feet at the top, so at night, Mrs. Funai next door could tell when Sumi was still sitting up in bed in the dark, putting her hair up. "Mah, Sumi-chan," Mrs. Funai would say through the plank wall, "are you curling your hair tonight again? Do you put it up every night?" Sumi would put her hands on her hips and glare defiantly at the wall.
The block monitor, an impressive Nisei who looked like a star tackle with his crouching walk, came around the first night to tell us that we must all be inside our room by nine o'clock every night. At ten o'clock, he rapped at the door again, yelling, "Lights out!" and Mother rushed to turn the light off not a second later.
Throughout the barracks, there were a medley of creaking cots, whimpering infants and explosive night coughs. Our attention was riveted on the intense little wood stove which glowed so violently I feared it would melt right down to the floor. We soon learned that this condition lasted for only a short time, after which it suddenly turned into a deer, freeze. Henry and Father took turns at the stove to produce the harrowing blast which all but singed our army blankets, but did not penetrate through them. As it grew quieter in the barracks, I could hear the light patter of rain. Soon I felt the "splat! splat!" of raindrops digging holes into my face. The dampness on my pillow spread like a mortal bleeding, and I finally had to get out and haul my cot toward the center of the room. In a short while Henry was up. "I've got multiple leaks, too. Have to complain to the landlord first thing in the morning."
All through the night I heard people getting up, dragging cots around. I stared at our little window, unable to sleep. I was glad Mother had put up a makeshift curtain on the window for I noticed a powerful beam of light sweeping across it every few seconds. The lights came from high towers placed around the camp where guards with Tommy guns kept a twenty-four hour vigil. I remembered the wire fence encircling us, and a knot of anger tightened in my breast. What was I doing behind a fence like a criminal? If there were accusations to be made, why hadn't I been given a fair trial? Maybe I wasn't considered an American anymore. My citizenship wasn't real, after all. Then what was I? I was certainly not a citizen of Japan as my parents were. On second thought, even Father and Mother were more alien residents of the United States than Japanese nationals for they had little tie with their mother country. In their twenty-five years in America, they had worked and paid their taxes to their adopted government as any other citizen.
Of one thing I was sure. The wire fence was real. I no longer had the right to walk out of it. It was because I had Japanese ancestors. It was also because some people had little faith in the ideas and ideals of democracy. They said that after all these were but words and could not possibly insure loyalty. New laws and camps were surer devices. I finally buried my face in my pillow to wipe out burning thoughts and snatch what sleep I could.
Our first weeks in Puyallup were filled with quiet hysteria. We peered nervously at the guards in the high towers sitting behind Tommy guns and they silently looked down at us. We were all jittery. One rainy night the guards suddenly became aware of unusual activity in the camp. It was after "lights out" and rain was pouring down in sheets. They turned on the spotlights, but all they could see were doors flashing open and small dark figures rushing out into the shadows. It must have looked like a mass attempt to break out of camp.
We ourselves were awakened by the noise. Henry whispered hoarsely, "What's going on out there anyway?"
Then Mother almost shrieked, "Chotto! Listen, airplanes, right up overhead, too."
"I wonder if by accident, a few bombs are going to fall on our camp," Father said, slowly.
I felt a sickening chill race up and down my spine. The buzzing and droning continued louder and louder. We heard Mrs. Funai and her husband mumbling to each other next door. Suddenly the plane went away and the commotion gradually died down.
Early the next morning when we rushed to the mess hall to get the news, we learned that half the camp had suffered from food poisoning. The commotion had been sick people rushing to the latrines. The guards must have thought they had an uprising on hand, and had ordered a plane out to investigate.
Henry said, "It was a good thing those soldiers weren't trigger-happy or it could've been very tragic."
We all shuddered as if we had had a brush with death.
Quickly we fell into the relentless camp routine in Puyallup. Every morning at six I was awakened by our sadistic cook beating mightily on an iron pot. He would thrust a heavy iron ladle inside the pot and hit all sides in a frightful, double-timed clamor, BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! With my eyes glued together in sleep, I fumbled around for my washcloth and soap, and groped my way in the dark toward the community washroom.
At the mess hall I gnawed my way through canned stewed figs, thick French toast, and molten black coffee. With breakfast churning its way violently down to the pit of my stomach, I hurried each morning to the Area A gate. There I stood in line with other evacuees who had jobs in Area D. Area D was just across the street from A, but we required armed chaperones to make the crossing. After the guard carefully inspected our passes and counted noses, the iron gate yawned open for us, and we marched out in orderly formation, escorted fore and aft by military police. When we halted at the curb for the traffic signal to change, we were counted. We crossed the street and marched half a block to the Area D gate where we were counted again. I had a $6 a month job as stenographer at the administration office. A mere laborer who sweated it out by his brawn eight hours a day drew $12, while doctors, dentists, attorneys, and other professionals earned the lordly sum of $19 a month. For the most part, the camp was maintained by the evacuees who cooked, doctored, laid sewer pipes, repaired shoes, and provided their own entertainment.
I worked in the Personnel Department, keeping records of work hours. First I typed on pink, green, blue and white worksheets the hours put in by the 10,000 evacuees, then sorted and alphabetized these sheets, and stacked them away in shoe boxes.
My job was excruciatingly dull, but under no circumstances did I want to leave it. The Administration Building was the only place which had modern plumbing and running hot and cold water; in the first few months and every morning, after I had typed for a decent hour, I slipped into the rest room and took a complete sponge bath with scalding hot water. During the remainder of the day, I slipped back into the rest room at inconspicuous intervals, took off my head scarf and wrestled with my scorched hair. I stood upside down over the basin of hot water, soaking my hair, combing, stretching and pulling at it. I hoped that if I was persistent, I would get results.
Thus my day was filled, hurrying to Area D for work, hurrying back to Area A for lunch, then back to D for work again, and finally back to A for the night. The few hours we had free in the evenings before lights out were spent visiting and relaxing with friends, but even our core of conversation dried out with the monotony of our lives. We fought a daily battle with the carnivorous Puyallup mud. The ground was a vast ocean of mud, and whenever it threatened to dry and cake up, the rains came and softened it into slippery ooze.
Sumi and I finally decided to buy galoshes, and we tracked down a tattered mail-order catalogue nicknamed the Camp Bible. We found a pageful of beautiful rubber galoshes, marked "not available." Then I sent out an S.O.S. to Chris . . .please find us two pairs of high-topped galoshes. Chris answered a week later, "It looks as if there's a drought on galoshes. I've visited every store in town and haven't found a single pair. One defensive salesman told me very haughtily that they were out of season. I'll keep trying though. I'm going to try the second-hand stores and those hot fire sales on First Avenue."
Sumi and I waited anxiously as our shoes grew thick with mud. Finally Chris sent us a bundle with a note. "No luck on First Avenue, but I'm sending you two old pairs of rubbers I dug out of our basement."
They fitted our shoes perfectly, and we were the envy of all our friends--until the geta craze swept through the camp. Japanese getas are wooden platform shoes. When I first saw an old bachelor wearing a homemade pair, his brown horny feet exposed to the world, I was shocked with his daring. But soon I begged Father to ask one of his friends who knew a man who knew a carpenter to make a pair for me. My gay red getas were wonderful. They served as shower clogs, and their three-inch lifts kept me out of the mud. They also solved my nylon problem, for I couldn't wear stockings with them.
One Sunday afternoon Joe Subotich from the hotel visited us unexpectedly. He waited for us in a small lattice enclosure just inside the gate where evacuees entertained visitors. Joe, his round face wreathed in smiles, was a welcome, lovable sight. He and Father shook hands vigorously and smiled and smiled. Joe was wearing the same old striped suit he wore every Sunday, but he had a new gray hat which he clutched self-consciously.
Joe handed Father a large shopping bag, bulging with plump golden grapefruit. "This for you and the Mrs. I remember you like grapefruits." Then he pulled out bags of nuts and candy bars from his pockets, "And these for the children."
We cried, "Thank you Joe, how thoughtful of you." We showered him with questions, about Sam, Peter and Montana.
"Everybody's fine. Sam's still chasing drunks out. Everybody making lotsa more money, you know, and everybody drinking more. We have to t'row them down the stairs and call the cops all the time. It's joost like the time ofthe First World War, lotsa drinking and fighting. You remember, Mr. Itoi."
We asked about Seattle. Was it still the same?
"Oh, the buildings and everything the same, but more people in town. Everybody coming in for war jobs. Business booming in Skidrow." He glanced at the high wire fence and shook his head.
"I don't like it, to see you in here. I don't understand it. I know you all my life. You're my friend. Well, I gotta go now and catch that bus."
Father and Henry walked to the gate with Joe. He smiled a brief farewell on the other side of the fence, clapped on his new hat over his balding head and walked quickly away.
The grapefruit was the first fresh fruit we had seen in Puyallup. Every time I held a beautiful golden roundness in my hand, a great lump rose in my throat--Joe's loyalty touched me.
Before a month passed, our room was fairly comfortable, thanks to Father. With a borrowed saw and hammer, he pieced together scrap lumber and made a writing table, benches and wall shelves above each cot. He built wooden platforms for our suitcases, which we slid under our cots out of sight. He fixed up a kitchen cabinet which to all appearances contained nothing but our eating utensils, but an illegal little hot plate crouched behind its curtain. It was against the fire regulations to cook in the room, but everyone concealed a small cooking device somewhere.
Just as we had become adjusted to Area A, Henry announced he had applied for a job in the camp hospital in Area D. Minnie and her family lived in Area D and she worked as nurse's aide in the hospital. But when Henry told us happily that we had to move, Sumi and I screamed, "Oh, no, not again! But we just got settled!"
Henry smiled smugly, "Hospital orders, I'm sorry."
Father looked around the room which he had worked over so lovingly, "Ah! Yakai da na, what a lot of bother, after I went to all the trouble fixing it up."
Mother was the only one pleased about the prospect. "My friends have written they can see mountain peaks from the Area D barrack doors on a clear day. And if they climb to the top of the baseball grandstand, they get a magnificent view. When are we moving?"
"I don't know, Mama. They'll notify me in a few days."
That very day after lunch hour, a truck rolled by our door. A tough-looking, young bearded Nisei, standing on the running board, bawled at us, "Get your stuff together. We're picking you up in a couple of hours."
We spat out an indignant "Well!" and then began to throw our things together. Wet laundry was hanging in the back yard and this we slapped into our seabags with the unwashed dishes and cups we had used for lunch. Father wrenched shelves and cabinets from walls and lashed tables and benches together. When the truck returned, we were ready after a fashion. Our paraphernalia had refused to go back into the original two suitcases and one seabag per person. We had to wear layers of sweaters, jackets, coats and hats. We carried in our arms pots and pans and the inevitable shoyu jug, the radio and the little hot plate. The energetic truck crew threw baggage and furniture into the back of the open truck, and we perched on top of it all.
Area D boasted such exclusive features as the horse racetracks, the spacious baseball grounds, grandstands, display barns, concession buildings and an amusement park. Area D people dined in a mammoth-sized mess hall, formerly a display barn for prize livestock. From one end of the team to the other were hundreds of long tables and benches lined up in straight uncompromising rows.
The advantages of Area D stimulated strange ambitions in some people, often to the discomfort of the rest. One day an unemployed physical education instructor looked at the beautiful, huge empty lot in front of the mess hall and he was inspired. The ground was level, hard and covered with fine gravel, a perfect set-up for mass calisthenics. Too many people, he reasoned, were developing flabby muscles and heavy paunches with this sedentary camp life. It was a deplorable situation. One morning a rash of bulletins appeared on posts and walls of buildings. "Calisthenic drills will start tomorrow at 5:30 A.M. in front of the mess hall. Everyone must turn out on time."
When I read the word "must," I dug my heels in, ready to resist anyone who came around to drag me out of bed. Early the next morning Mother was the only one in our barrack who stirred awake in the darkness to meet with the other pre-dawn people. She said, "I'm just going out of curiosity, not for my health. I'd break into a hundred pieces if I jumped around like a young girl."
Father mumbled defensively through his blankets, '`The government gave me the first vacation of my life and no one's going to interfere with it." We snuggled down deeper under our covers; down the length of the barracks I heard fifty-odd people snoring contentedly and accumulating sleep and fat.
An hour later Mother returned puffing like an exhausted steam engine, hair over her eyes, and blouse pulled out from her skirt. She crawled into bed.
"No breakfast for me today, I need the rest. I just went through the most unspeakable torture. I just wanted to stand by and watch, but that sharp-eyed leader shouted me into formation. I was so embarrassed, I went right in and leaped around with the rest of them."
"Were there a lot of people?" we asked.
"Quite a few, but mostly old folks. Some of them couldn't even straighten their knees. Ah, but that leader had such a fine resonant voice, it practically lifted me off the ground. But what atrocious Japanese! The only time I understood his directions was when he counted 'lchi! Ni! Son! Shi!' He has a crippled arm and couldn't show us what he wanted us to do. It was quite a frustrating morning."
Mother never returned to the calisthenics. She said she was too old for it, and we said we were too young. We paid no attention to the bulletins which pleaded for more bright-eyed turnouts, but only wide-eyed odd men and bachelors, who thrived on four hours of sleep, showed up. They went through the drills the best they could, which was always several counts behind the laboring drillmaster. One morning the young man himself did not show up and rumor had it that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Thus the "return to health" program quietly collapsed.
Sunday was the day we came to an abrupt halt, free from the busy round of activities in which we submerged our feelings. In the morning we went to church to listen to our Reverend Everett Thompson who visited us every Sunday. Our minister was a tall and lanky man whose open and friendly face quickly drew people to him. He had served as missionary in Japan at one time and he spoke fluent Japanese. He had worked with the young people in our church for many years, and it was a great comfort to see him and the many other ministers and church workers with whom we had been in contact back in Seattle. We felt that we were not entirely forgotten.
With battered spirits we met in the dimly lighted makeshift room which served as our chapel under the baseball grandstand, and after each sermon and prayer, we gained new heart. Bit by bit, our minister kept on helping us build the foundation for anew outlook. I particularly remember one Sunday service when he asked us to read parts from the Book of Psalms in unison. Somehow in our circumstances and in our environment, we had begun to read more slowly and conscientiously, as if we were finding new meaning and comfort in the passages from the Bible. "'The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee . . . Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help . . . The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"'
As we finished with the lines, "'Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever,"' the room seemed filled with peace and awe, as if walls had been pushed back and we were free. I was convinced that this was not the end of our lives here in camp, but just the beginning; and gradually it dawned on me that we had not been physically mistreated nor would we be harmed in the future. I knew that the greatest trial ahead of us would be of a spiritual nature. I had been tense and angry all my life about prejudice, real and imaginary. The evacuation had been the biggest blow, but there was little to be gained in bitterness and cynicism because we felt that people had failed us. The time had come when it was more important to examine our own souls, to keep our faith in God and help to build that way of life which we so desired.
After dinner we hurried with our blankets to a large plot of green velvet lawn to listen to an open-air record concert. The recreation leader borrowed records from music lovers and broadcast them over a loud-speaker system so we could all enjoy them. Always a large crowd of young people was sprawled comfortably over the lawn, but when the concert started, they became so quiet and absorbed I thought I was alone, lying on my back and looking up at the dazzling blue summer sky. Something about the swift billowing clouds moving overhead and the noble music of Dvorak or Beethoven brought us a rare moment of peace.
We had been brought to Puyallup in May. We were still there in August. We knew Puyallup was temporary and we were anxious to complete our migration into a permanent camp inland. No one knew where we were going or when we were leaving. The sultry heat took its toll of temper and patience and everyone showed signs of restlessness. One day our block leader requested us to remain in our quarters after lunch, and in the afternoon a swarm of white men, assisted by Nisei, swept through the four areas simultaneously for a checkup raid. A Nisei appeared at our door. "All right, folks, we're here to pick up any contraband you may have, dangerous instruments or weapons. Knives, scissors, hammers, saws, any of those things."
Father's face darkened, "But we need tools. I made everything you see here in this room with my own hands and a few tools! There's a limit to this whole business!"
The young man tried to control his rising temper. "Don't argue with me, Oji-san. I'm just carrying my orders out. Now, please, hand over what you have."
Father gloomily handed him the saw which Joe had mailed to him from Seattle. We knew that Father was keeping back a hammer and a small paring kitchen knife, but we said nothing. The Nisei seemed satisfied, and mopping his forehead, he headed for the next door neighbor, looking unhappy and set for another argument.
Later, we were ordered to turn in all literature printed in Japanese. Mother went to the central receiving station to plead with the young man. "I have a few things, but they're not dangerous, I assure you. Why does the government want to take away the little I have left?"
The Nisei explained patiently, "No one is taking them away from you, Oba-san. They'll be resumed to you eventually. Now what have you there?"
Mother smiled. "A Bible. Pray tell me, what's so dangerous about it?"
The Nisei threw his arms up, "If it's printed in Japanese, I must have it. What else?"
"Not my Manyoshu, too?" The Manyoshu was a collection of poems, a Japanese classic.
"But there isn't one subversive word in it!"
"Again, I repeat, I'm not responsible for these orders. Please, I have work to do."
Mother reluctantly handed him the Bible and the Manyoshu. She held up a tiny, pocket-sized dictionary, and said, "I'm keeping this."
"All right, all right." He let Mother go, muttering how difficult and stubborn the Issei were.
Within two weeks, we were told we were moving immediately to our relocation camp. By then we knew we were headed for Idaho. Mr. Yoshihara, one of Father's friends, had volunteered to go ahead as carpenter and laborer to help build our permanent camp. He wrote:
Our future home is set right in the midst of a vast Idaho prairie, where the sun beats down fiercely and everything, plant and animal life, appears to be a dried-up brown, but there are compensations. A wonderful wild river roars by like a flood I am informed it is part of the Snake River. There is a large barracks hospital at one end of the camp and a gigantic water tank towers over the camp like a sentry. There'll be adequate laundry and toilet facilities here. The apartments are only a little larger than the ones in Puyallup, but we cannot expect too much. After all, it's still a camp. We were excited at the thought of going to unknown territory, and we liked the Indian flavor of the name "Idaho." I remembered a series of bright, hot pictures of Idaho in the National Geographic magazine, the sun-baked terrain, dried-up waterholes, runty-looking sagebrush and ugly nests of rattlesnakes. I knew it wasn't going to be a comfortable experience, but it would be a change.
1 January 1997