Saturday, September 3, 2011

Grandma's Thoughts


Grandma asks me about what I will be doing when I try to move to Seattle. She listens to how hard my job and apartment search is. Then she tells me something:

During the war, I moved in with my sister Yae in an apartment. With a family from California; it was a basement, they didn't have a room. It was just a space without rooms or a kitchen or a bathroom. We slept in the basement and lived there for a while. Then we found my brother Grant in Denver. He was just wandering around. We brought him back to live with us. There wasn't a bed for him. He just slept on a cot. We made rice on a hot pad. You sort of make do.

You don't need a nice place now. You find what works. If you can, get away from signing a lease. It's a chance you take, but what the heck, you're young.

When your grandpa and I were looking, we had this apartment down on third in Portland. It was fifty, fifty one, someplace in there. It had a bathroom, it was almost a studio. He was going to med school and we didn't have much money. It had a pull down bed, y'know one that folds up into the wall. And he had brought home skeletons from school to study. One time he put a skull in the bed, trying to scare me. I was so mad at him, but he thought it was real funny. His folks got us a car. Before, my brother Mineo had given us his old car. When that got too old, your grandpa's folks got us a new Chevy.

That was when I worked at the YMCA; I typed, I was a secretary. The war was over, but the Greek people were having a hard time. I worked for the World Student Fund; we brought students over to the states to go to school. Then I worked for the YMCA. The two jobs sort of merged into each other. In the summer they'd go to camp, and I would be the registrar I guess. The camp was in Washington. It was sort of nice. I did that until I got pregnant.

When that happened we had to move out to the housing projects; it was too expensive to live where we were. Your grandpa's parents would come out and visit, and they'd buy our groceries. I got pregnant again and got two bedrooms. Then he finished school and he didn't have a job so we tried to stay but the land lady said we had to leave. He didn't have a job and we could have stayed there a couple more months while he found a job, but she wouldn't have it. “You have to leave.” She was sort of mean. Then Dad (my grandpa) started working at the hospital so it was ok.

We borrowed a lot of money to put down a payment to get a house. We didn't have much money. All the presents we sent out on holidays, they were home-made. (laughs) Not much. We'd go house hunting, some places, they would look at us and say, “no.”

“It's full. We already rented it.” I would look in the paper later and it would still be there though. Once we looked at a house, and the neighbors came over to the owner after we had looked at it and said to the seller don't sell to them. There was a lawyer, it was the seller's friend and he heard about that. He told the seller, “you can't do that, I won't be your friend if you do that.”

The seller called back later and said, “if you want the house it's for sale.” I think he felt sorry.

We didn't buy it, we didn't want to live somewhere like that.

Dad had trouble finding a job at first, it was “you're Japanese.” there was a lot, I just couldn't believe it.

Once, during the war, I was in Denver, and I heard a nun, and she was making comments about being a Jap. She was a nun, can you believe that? There was a girl at a restaurant once, and she was giving us a death stare. She kept looking at us like we had no business being there. The guy we were with, he thumbed his nose at her. She stopped looking at us.

One year, before the war, Yae worked at grandpa Inuzuka's (my great grandfather, Yae and my grandma's father's) flower shop and people would come in, see her, and say, “sorry.” They would just walk back out the door. When Yae went to college I had to work there too, and I just went to the back and read books. Yae worked hard, she did the flowers in the back and tended the garden and everything. And my dad came by to check on us, on me, and I bet he thought, “oh this one's no good.”

I remember when they took my father away. We heard on the radio about Pearl Harbor, and I asked where that is. And he said, “I don't know, maybe toward china.” They came about midnight to grab him. It was a loud knock at the door. The same night as Pearl Harbor. They came at the back door and the front door. They were nice to us, we heard later that some agents weren't so nice. They searched our house though; searched everything. We had heard earlier from another family that the government was coming. Every leader in the Japanese community was taken.

They took my dad. As they were leaving, my sister Isei asked about the flowers, “you have to go to market tomorrow.”

He said, “I'll be back.” He wasn't back until the end of the war. They put him in a jail, then they put him in Missoula, Montana. We never knew, but you heard it through the grapevine. A good friend took them to Montana to see them. No one left those prisons. They kept moving him, he went to three or four places. He did send us letters though. He talked about the fireflies.

After he was taken it was about a half a year when we had to move to the internment camps. It was April I think. We had to get someone to rent our house to. We had two cars and all our stuff. When we went to camp we found a man to keep our stuff. He said he would take care of it all. He sold it though, and we never saw a penny. The man kept our piano, looked over it.

The people who looked after the house when we were away went behind our backs. They got the deed transferred to their name, and we never saw any of the money from that. We had a lawyer go back to the place; the lawyer came back and said, “it's bad.” They wouldn't talk to the lawyer, but they took all our stuff.

(She gets up and gets a glass of water for grandpa, starts looking over his records and gets out his pills)

Years later, the government eventually gave us money for the lost property. Ten cents on the dollar. (She takes a look at the chart in front of her, then looks back at me at the dining room table) But we still have the piano; it's over at your aunt Phyllis's.

(She turns to my grandpa as she prepares his pills) I talked to Auntie Marian. Dad? I talked to your sister tonight. They start radiation on Tuesday. (She writes down information in his records as my grandpa struggles to swallow his pills). (She comes back to the dining room table where there is origami paper strewn about. She starts folding paper cranes).

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Just this,” she says indicating the first two folds. She can't really do the folds well, and has been doing the first bit. “Jessi does the rest.” I show her how I do it. It takes a while to explain but once she gets it she seems to like the technique. I watch her fold the first couple on a pink crane. Her hands lack the precision of lots of practice, “I didn't do paper cranes much. Only when there was something going on. A big event like a wedding or anniversary. Now, my dad would do a boat, where he would make you hold it on one end and he would make you close your eyes, and you'd open them. And your hand would be on the other end.”