Thursday, September 20, 2012

Time is unforgiving-ly constant

Reading diaries and autobiographies paint intimate stories not possible when told by someone other than the diarist or autobiographer. Collections of letters too, are marvelous in how voices come alive. It is through such books that pasts come alive.

The latest book I read is "Signs of Home" by Kamekichi Tokita. He and his young family were among the families from the Seattle area who were carted off to the Minidoka, Idaho, camp for Japanese internees in the spring of 1942. So-called "enemy aliens" - Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants and their families were feared as possible spies, terrorists, and sympathizers. Mr. Tokita's voice reveals his thoughts, his fears come alive, relives his indignation, and then, inevitability, his resolute acceptance of what he could not change.

In spite of the "second class" treatment in general of Japanese immigrants over the decades previous to WWII, Tokita and his business and artistic partner were well-regarded inside and outside their community. Both of them were award-winning artists and were featured in galleries. All changed dramatically on December 7, 1941. Tokita began his diary on that day. He agonized about his native country's horrific attack. He wrote even as his stomach roiled in pain. As a diarist, he clearly describes the days' tone and environment. Although nothing happened immediately, the Japanese community soon was embroiled in fear and apprehension of their futures.

Tokita was highly educated and a classically-trained artist from a well-to-do family. He was 22 at the time of he arrived from Japan and in 1941, he was 43. So his voice is one versed in both cultures. His dignity in the face of fear, anger, and ultimate deprivation is on display page after page. (By the way, some of his paintings are currently on exhibition at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In this book, there are several excellent reproduction photos.) His diary ended when internment ended so his story does not include how he and his family re-assimilated back into everyday life.

Mr. Tokita's story jumped out at me from a newspaper article because on Bainbridge Island a well-established Japanese community had existed before WWII for many decades. That community was the first of all Japanese to be interned under President Roosevelt's orders. In March 1942 their evacuation by ferry at the Eagledale dock on the Island was hauntingly photographed. The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum features a remarkable gallery of the time and the many stories about it. From that history a folk hero has been chiseled into the bedrock of the Island - its weekly newspaper's owner and editor who vocally/editorially championed the rights of the incarcerated Japanese. Sometimes it seems there is no other history on/around/about the Island. When they eventually returned, the Japanese not only quickly became part and parcel of the community, they became mascots - even those who fought their return soon were mollified. After all, they were "true" Islanders. It was only the "newcomers" who left in droves - the clannish population had never been happy so many people crashed their gates. The chasm between "old-timers" and "newbies" continues to this day even as the population has exploded from between 3 and 5 thousand in the decade after WWII to now over 23 thousand! Hope the Island doesn't sink! The Bainbridge Island of seventy five years ago is gone.

But there are still those of us who remember and reflect on the innocense of our youth - not in small part because of the Island's isolation.

We who were part of what I call the "Quiet (Kids) Generation" entered school just before, during, and just after the end of WWII. It is a tribute to the stoic, close-mouthed cultures of not only the times, but to the majority population of Scandinavian, Croation, and British/Scottish/Irish who value privacy and family, to seeking revenge for grievances - those who were the primary group of Islanders. They cared more for "Islanders" than "outsiders."

My family were among those who immigrated to the Island for war employment. We stayed. Nearly as soon as Victory was announced, the number of year-'round residents dropped to pre-war numbers. The privacy and quiet once again blanketed the Island in anonymity.

It is now seventy years after the United States dove headlong into World War II. Interest in the War and its affects and effects remains constant as evidenced by ongoing stories in books, movies, TV, internet affiliations, etc. Photographs from then - most if not all of them in shades of black, grey, and white making the time look all the more somber, terrifying, and, yes, antiquated. The men almost all of them wearing hats - fedoras, "newsboy" style caps, Sailor and Soldier hats; not a baseball cap in sight. No jeans either. The women too in hats - and dresses or skirts, and - gloves. Not properly attired was unthinkable. It must appear to anyone under the age of forty or fifty to be images of another planet. Those images speak to me of the differences between now and then. I look at some of the "viral" videos on the Internet of service people and their children and parents. How remarkable it is for such ease of communication. Not that wars now are any less heart-rending - certainly not. It is simply that the vast technological changes since then were science fiction seventy years ago.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sights, Sounds, Smells - Some Changed, Other Didn't

When I return to the Island now, there are so many changes. The beaches bounding Eagledale Harbor no longer are laced with huge piles of driftwood; removed for safety reasons - too bad; they were playgrounds that inspired imagination. The ferry parking lots and waiting docks are huge reflecting the exponential population growth. The anonymous Island is no more. The tiny village of Winslow has re-fashioned itself into an oh-so-chic shopping and eating mecca. I only recall "eating out" in an actual sit-down restaurant once until I graduated from high school and moved to Seattle - number one there was little availability of restaurants and number two, only rich people did that. "Take-out" was practically unheard-of in that rural outpost. There was, of course, Van Louie's Chinese Restaurant - but it was unfortunately right next door to a(nicknamed "The Bloody Bucket") tavern of renowned ill-repute.  That reputation spilled over Van Louie's.  Both were down by the Winslow waterfront that now is the scene of yachts moored, fine dining places, and chic boutiques.  Anyway, I doubt if anyone in my family would have made a conscious choice of any kind of ethnic food. One time, grampa's poker buddy brought shrimp-fried-rice to their Sunday game. I tasted it and loved the salty, briny dish. Until I took a Chinese cooking class many years later, that rice was a mouth-watering memory.

But wait - No trip to Seattle was complete without a paper bag of fish and chips and tartar sauce - Ivar Haglund's Acre of Clams - was (is) next to the ferry terminal. Who could forget Ivar. His round, laughing face belied a shrewd businessman. He was another of the Scandinavian characters who dominated local lore.  Every once in a while, some person of note would discover the Island.  In June of 1955 it was Arlene Francis and her "Home Show."  She brought a television crew to ride the ferry, "Evergreen," and film the passage from Seattle to Bainbridge and back.  Guess who was right beside her - you are right - Ivar - who also brought along his famous "Clam Gun."  It was just a shovel narrowed and sharpened, better to quickly dig those wily critters from their mucky homes.  I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't Ivar who initially contacted the TV hostess.  He loved the limelight and always used it for his own promotion.

Before the Island's first "fancy" restaurant, The Martinique," brought some class to the dining scene, other less worldly venues competed for competition.  The one most familiar to me was the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Club.  Because there, my grandmother cooked for the once monthly Rotary Club dinner meeting.  The clubhouse was owned and maintained by members all of whom had served in branches of the armed services.  These guys were still heros - WWII and the Korean War were recent events; 4 Star General Eisenhower was the country's President.   Each Island community had a gathering place of some sort - Island Center, the Grange Hall, the two country clubs, several churches, the Masonic Temple, Odd Fellows Hall, and others.  The American Legion clubhouse was the only one that had an honest-to-goodness cocktail lounge where members and guests would dance and tipple.  No wonder it was a popular location for various groups to meet.  The Rotary Club members were business and professional people.  My sister and I helped Gramma.  We set the tables, served, cleaned up, and did whatever Gramma wanted us to do in the kitchen.  When the lounge was open, us kids were not allowed in - too young.  We didn't get to see Gramma dancing and laughing with all the bigwigs.  Everybody loved her.       

In contrast, my grandfather was the epitome of grace in silence.  Still he held court with a fair number of his cronies.  Plus he was seriously opinionated; unafraid to take on any politician or world leader.  No issue escaped his attention.  He felt compelled to voice his philosophies.  No doubt he would have enthusiastically embraced huge, colorful TV screens, cell phones, and - in particular, personal computers. The internet cyber space would have resounded with his opinions.  As it was, he was thrilled when I learned to type.  From then on I was his secretary.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

J.P. Patches - R.I.P.

He was a beloved clown. J.P. Patches was part of the Pacific Northwest's cadre of children's entertainers - those who came to fame in the early days of television. TV's in every room, in cars, on your telephone - in high-definition color with pictures beaming instantly from all corners of the Earth - no-holds-barred programming. That is today - not even mentioning the phenomenon(s) of personal computers and the internet - that is how children grow up now. It is no wonder the 1940's and 50's are viewed as innocent and guileless.

So we say goodbye to J.P. and recall others. Sheriff Tex, Wunda Wunda, Howdy Doody, Cecil and Beanie, Brakeman Bill, Captain Puget, and, of course - Stan Boreson - who skittered across our black and white screens - we loved them all. Television on the Island was a trial. Reception was rarely clear unless located in a house with no interference matters like trees, hills, and of course, rain didn't help. Snow, ghosts, wavery lines, interruptions were a constant. Most sets were controlled (term used loosely) by "rabbit ears," a couple of antennas wired to the TV. "Don't touch the rabbit ears." Usually the patriarch of the house was the grand master of turning, twisting, and swearing at them in the ongoing effort to improve or at least maintain picture quality. Some houses sported expensive roof-top antenna contraptions that were a proud announcement of a home's superior TV watching. Having a TV at all was a sign of superiority. They were expensive.

But back to our childhood heros. There were four main television channels - yup - four - KING, KOMO, KIRO, KTNT - all spinoff's of radio stations. The first kid's show was Sheriff Tex's Safety Junction. He played his guitar and sang songs such as "Who Broke the Lock on the Hen House Door?" Best of all though, was his hootin'nanny. We loved it - car horns, wash boards, clackers, wind-up sirens - a marvelously loud contraption.

"Zero dacus mucho crockus halaballooza bub," there wasn't a kid who didn't know Stan Boreson's Klubhouse theme song. Stan was(is) a daffy Swede with a big heart and talent for being goofy. Playing his accordion and singing songs like "I Left My Heart in Mukilteo, "Frieda My Clam-digging Sweetheart," "Who Hid the Halibut on the Poop Deck," and "I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas." There was standing room only at the back of the high school gym, where I stood with my grandmother clapping and laughing at Stan's performance. He played a lot of rural venues before he landed his TV gig.

Bob Clampett introduced us to Beany and Cecil, hand puppets. Beany, the boy with the propeller poking from his cap, and his sidekick, Cecil the Sea-sick Sea Serpent, jostled their way across the screen with Cecil more often than not, saving the day for Beany.

Wunda Wunda was sort of like Mr. Rogers with her gentle personality. Her theme song was soothing and inviting. "Wunda Wunda is my name, oh boys and girls, I'm glad you came."

No room for mistakes - they were live shows. Television became wildly popular very quickly. Hollywood was taken by surprise; scrambled to lure audiences back to movie theaters with extravagant films, Technicolor, (no color on TV's for many years), 3D (primitive and didn't last long). Lynwood's Saturday matinees continued to engage us kids. But it was not long before movie and radio heros galloped, flew, and otherwise raced to the new medium. Sky King, Hopalong Cassidy, Bobby Benson of the B Bar B, The Lone Ranger,

More memories another day!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thunder and Flames on the Lake! Free Strawberries and Ice Cream On the Beach!

Recently, the Seattle Times featured a photo of Slo-Mo-Shun IV being moved to a new maritime museum. As I looked at that image, my head was filled with the sound of the hydroplanes of my youth screaming in one ear from the grainy black and white TV screen in my grandparents' living room. In my other ear the explosions of sound reached from Lake Washington, across Elliot Bay to Eagle Harbor. It was 1952 - the Gold Cup Race - Slo-Mo-Shun-IV. My grandfather teetered on his chair, head almost touching the little screen. It was science fiction - an airplane made of wood to fly on water. It was the fastest boat ever. Its rocket, three-point shape - crouched low, prow soaring above the waves, bouncing like a tennis ball. Only the helmet of the pilot could be spotted - reckless daredevil - our new hero - Stan Sayres - Seattle and the Pacific NW on the radar of the sporting world for the first time.

"Slo-Mo", the name on everyone's lips. She proudly spouted her thirty foot rooster tail across the Times front page. Over the next years, the "Thunder Boats" were the stars of Seafair culminating with the Gold Cup Race. World records, world-famous boats and their drivers vied for the coveted trophy. When a Thriftway supermarket opened on the Island, the glamorous celebrity was the racing star "Miss Thriftway" and her pilot, Bill Muncey. The red and yellow striped vision seemed to roar off her flat-bed truck platform in the parking lot. Spectators, some in "Davey Crockett Coonskin Caps", walked mesmerized around and around the truck.

In the same era, the Island's "Strawberry Festival" brightened up the summer. A group of Islanders volunteered to pass out free ice cream and strawberries in a little area behind the main street of Winslow. In the yard of Lincoln Elementary School the carnival was set up. It was pretty rickety but regulations were loose at best. There was a ferris wheel and lots of booths festooned with rewards of stuffed animals, celluloid dolls, pennants, and the like to tempt the unwitting to break a balloon with a dart or shoot down old bowling pins. We paid a nickel to toss a baseball through the mouth of "Old Wooden Face" (It was plywood with a painted face and big open mouth. And it lasted through many years of Island events) to dunk some tolerant target in a tub of water.

Of course, there was a parade. All the kids took part. Bicycle wheels with playing cards clipped to spokes for the flup flup flupping noise were favorite chariots. Wagons for the littlest pulled by the bigger kids and sometimes a dog or a goat. Always the first to pedal down Winslow Way was Ernesto the Magician in top hat and tails on his mono-cycle. He was at every Island event. Following Ernesto, came an antique car carrying Island pioneers. Every Islander wore the Festival's green or red paper felt fedora and sported the round pin with the symbolic strawberry image. There was a Queen and her court riding on the back of - of course - another flat bed truck adorned with greenery and a throne. The Queen won that title by selling the most Festival pins and tickets. The local newspaper editor once chided "Queenie" for perhaps not selling tickets on her very own and knowing she won before the winner was announced.

One year my little sister was a junior princess. My mother made her dress - and fingerless gloves - and her partner princess' dress. The dresses and matching gloves were white dotted Swiss with emerald green ribbon sashes. I still have the Review's front page picture of the two girls. In that same parade my girlfriend, Susan, and I marched wearing home-made green circle skirts. My mother made a giant strawberry stencil that we colored with crayons. Then, using wax paper, Mom ironed over the strawberries making them waxy and bright. We thought we looked pretty grand.

Of course, there was the Boy and Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. Where the small wooden race cars made by the boys (with some help I'm sure) were set to whizzing down a tilted course. One time, a girl standing amongst the spectators - who all were lined up shoulder to shoulder alongside the race ramp - was hit by a flying car. She was taken to the Winslow Clinic and treated and admonished to be careful standing so close. The same sort of nonchalant attitude persisted about nearly all kids activities. We played on the beach and in the woods, rode bicycles all over, walked wherever. All the dangers of childhood were taken for granted. Afterall, our forbears lived through the pitfalls of youth, why couldn't we?

At the same time, all us younger folks were expected to behave responsibly and shoulder our chores before heading out to play. Even though we thought we knew more than any adult, we weren't given special status - "teenager" was just a word; not a separate tribe designation. I doubt demographics and market niche were as important than as now.

But - back to the Strawberry Festival. My friend and classmate, Nina (Paynter) Head, has some memories too. Here are her thoughts.

"Yes, I have lots of memories of the Strawberry Festival and of the hydroplane races. We watched the races on Lake Washington avidly on early TV. There was some comedian named Bjorn Borg or something who came on with a thick Swedish accent who was a commentator. He had a dog he named Slo Mo. I think if we saw this today we would think it was so corny to be almost unbelievable but we liked it.

(Editorial comment: That was Stan Boreson and his basset hounds, Slo-Mo-Shun and No-Mo-Shun noted for just sitting - that's it - just sitting - which at the time seemed to be pretty funny. Stan was a popular performer on stage and TV. Several eccentric personalities entertained us in those years. Next post will be about them - they cannot be left out in the cold!)

More of Nina's recollections:

The Strawberry Festival was closer to home. I remember one year where one of the candidates was (one of our classmates' sister). The person who got to be Queen had to sell the most raffle tickets. Somehow my Dad decided to support (the sister) and ended up selling lots of tickets to his friends at work.

We always went to the parade and later marched in it for the High School Band. My Aunt Doris marched early on in her evening gown as a Rebecca - a women's lodge. Later on my parents were in the parade for the Senior Citizens Band. One year they were on the back of a flat bed truck (flat bed again!) - my mother playing the piano and my dad playing his clarinet when there was a muddle. By this time my dad's hearing was not too great. My mother turned from the piano and said, "Let's play Daisy," but my dad didn't hear and he was off on "Sweet Georgia Brown" while the rest were playing "Daisy." My mother had to shout at him to stop.

Another year we went down below Winslow on what was then a dirt road and they gave out free ice cream and strawberries. Mom sat at a picnic bench and someone behind her dribbled melted ice cream down the back of her neck.

I loved the parade. We went in my uncle's old black Packard; parked amongst the trees at the side of the road so my grandma could sit in the car to see the parade. I especially liked the float of the Strawberry Queen. I thought she was beautiful.

(Note: the following memories are painful reminders of the prejudices of the time.)

I think the Festival was a way to end the strawberry season and an attempt to stop the Indian pickers from going bezerk and breaking the windows of businesses along Winslow Way. Don't know if this worked. There were all sorts of stories around Bainbridge about these pickers who came from British Columbia. One story was that they had gone to Seattle and gotten so drunk the ferry boat workers had to carry them up off the deck of the ferry. This was before the terminal was built and so they laid them out on the grass. People said they lay there so long the grass turned yellow under them. Then there was the story of the Indian woman who no sooner got into the medical clinic, the doctor got her up on a trolley for the impending birth but didn't quite make it and the baby slid out, along the floor to the wall on the other side. I have no idea if any of this was true or not, but those were the stories making the rounds at the time."

At first I was not going to relate these stories. But it is necessary to understand the minds and environment of the time to keep the perspective as clear as possible. In earlier posts, I told of other instances of extreme prejudice towards those of other ethnicities. There are no excuses to be made; it is history from which we learn valuable lessons.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Plagarize! Do Not Shade Your Eyes!

This morning as I drove to work, into my mind popped some songs from my high school days. We thought we were so ahead of the pack - singing racy songs, stealing flowers, playing pranks on teachers and boys, smoking, occasionally we even drank a beer or - heaven forbid - a drink like rum and Coke or something. There were a number of "older"(maybe a year or two)boys we coaxed into driving us around so we could further show the world how worldly we were. Delusional - that is what we were!

But, the songs we sang spoke to how naive the times were. There was a college professor (UC Santa Cruz, I think), Tom Lehrer by name, who got himself un-professored by publicly tinkling a piano and singing his irreverent, tongue-in-cheek ditties. I used to know all the words but now I can only recall a few - such as - "Plagarize, do not shade your eyes. Plagarize, plagarize, plagarize." urging students to cheat on exams. There was "The Old Dope Peddler" who "spread joy wherever he goes." And "The Boy Scouts' Marching Song" - "Be prepared as through life you march along. Be prepared to hide that pack of cigarettes. Don't make book if you cannot cover bets." And so on and so on. Naughty! Redd Foxx's album of dirty jokes played on an actual red vinyl platter. We mischievously asked one of the boys what "masochism" was. He ran away, his face bright red. We thought we were legendary in our feats of stealthily snatching flowers from private yards and then using the flora to decorate school events.


At the same time, the boys busied themselves with guns and cars. The "garbage dump" was the best place for target shooting. They would drive slowly up the narrow dirt road, lights off, and when they got to the trash, someone would signal and all the headlights would flash on - supposedly paralyzing the rats for a moment. Bang, bang, bang - who knew who shot how many? "Deer Flu" raged every fall when the males could only be cured by trekking into the woods in search of Bambi or his cousin. Gazzam Lake (more like a pond except in the dead of winter) was the site to practice duck hunting. The guys had a special call, sort of Whoo,Hooo, Whoo, whoo, to let buddies know their whereabouts at the same time, not scaring off any potential dinners.

Most of their cars were pretty utilitarian. A few displayed distinct California influence - flashy paint, striping, lowered chassis and the like. Nearly all the boys were novice mechanics. The engines were not yet computerized so could be fixed in the back yard. The local junk yard supplied parts. If one guy couldn't fix his automobile or truck, one of his friends could. Spit, gum, and baling wire - not even duct tape yet.

Some of the pranks were traditional - like the graduating class having "Senior Sneak Day." Supposedly it was a secret day all seniors knew about but no one else did. Not! Maybe the first time it happened but from then on, it was an expected perk. The year I graduated, 1958, all of us Seniors met up at Island Lake on the Olympic Peninsula. It rained - no surprise there - but we had a great time nonetheless. Each class had its own identity/motto - ours was "Zorro" - you know, the guy who wore black including a black cape and mask, rode a white horse, and pretended to be the Wild West's Robin Hood or something like that. Anyway, another tradition was that each class' motto had to be painted on the top of the water tower behind the high school. As would be the luck, when a couple of "our" guys shimmied up the tower, good ole Sheriff Burroughs just happened by and shined his spotlight on the artists. I think they were glad to have the light. Climbing that tower in the dark was not only scary but foolhardy. No arrests, no discipline, like I said, it was a tradition.

The kids who lived on a paved road got to paint their names and graduation year in front of their houses. Many of us, though, didn't get that opportunity for fame - lots of dirt roads on the Island.

About the time my class entered high school, the Island was awarded another peace officer - this time a State Patrolman assigned to watch over the State Highway No. 305 which cut through the Island from the ferry terminal in the south to the Agate Pass Bridge at the north end. The Island became part of the State's highway system at the same time the bridge attached us to the outside world. Frank Perry did not take long, however, to become just another one of the Island's favorite "parents." It wasn't in his line of duty to keep the kids in line but he did his part. And he did it with his own style of humor. One time, an important football game between two of our rivals, North and Central Kitsap, ended with the team we considered to be the least of our competitors, as the winner. Well, one of our super jocks was rolling merrily down the highway when Perry pulled him over, siren blowing, red lights glaring. Perry told Spearman, "Hey, Roy, guess what - North won!" Then he laughed, jumped in his patrol car and roared away leaving the boy still pulsing adrenalin.

We were fortunate to have lived so closely watched over.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Third grade - lunch time on a beautiful April day. Earthquake! At the time, Pacific Northwesterners didn't think their beloved, beautiful landscape was subject to quakes of any magnitude. Of course since then, the reality of the dangers of earthquakes not only in California but all along the western coast of the U.S. is well known. Plus the documented "Ring of Fire" of the Pacific Ocean territories is also common fact. The "Ring of Fire" suggests volcanoes but is also the ring of dangerous faults subject to high-magnitude temblors. The quake of 1949 was measured as a VII or VIII on the "Mercalli scale." That was the calculation used prior to the much more accurate "Richter scale" we are more familiar with today. The Mercalli scale is based on what people "feel." The Richter scale uses modern computer computations. So on the Richter scale, the quake in 1949 is said to have measured about 7.1. All this scientific stuff aside, that quake when we were kids scared us half to death.

I reported earlier that I was headed home for lunch with a classmate when the ground started trembling. It felt like we were walking on Jello. What was happening? We started to run but couldn't help looking behind us. We saw kids on the fire escape, bricks flying, everything shaking. We were right in between Keys Garage and the drugstore. (I don't know if the streets were even named then - there were no signs - only landmarks such as "Keyes", the "drugstore", the "Post Office", etc.) The siren calling the volunteer fireman screamed through the air. It didn't take us long to get to Lavina's house where her mother scooted us into her sunny kitchen. The radio was on. The announcer was excitedly reporting about the earthquake. It sounded like Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia were all in ruins. Of course we didn't try to go back to school. The party telephone lines were jammed and the power was out. So I raced like crazy to my grandparent's house. It was only two miles from the school to Hawley so it wasn't long before my sister and my uncle were delivered home on the school bus. It didn't take long for the guys at Puget Sound Power and Light to get the power back up. Island power outtages were notoriously frequent so they lacked no experience. (Tragically, one time an Island workman was at the top of a pole right off the main Winslow street, re-attaching some wind blown wires and was electrocuted.)

Without the benefit of roving television trucks, cell phone cameras, the internet, and so on, news of the quake took on catastrophic proportions. Relatives and friends from across the country soon were planning rescue trips as if Puget Sound had become part of the ocean. There were eight lives lost, lots of brick buildings and chimneys scattered, plus other damage but essentially, life pretty much resumed as always. The fire escape at Lincoln was repaired, chimneys replaced.

Our school "bomb drills" were expanded to include the possibility of an earthquake. There was no end to the ways we could die at any moment.

Nina, too, recalls the quake of 1949.

"I was in the fifth grade at McDonald School - my class was on the third floor of the old wooden building. When the room began to sway it felt like we were up in a small tree with the wind blowing against it. We swayed back and forth. Our teacher Mrs. Wilson instructed us to get under our desks. They were the old kind which sat on long wooden runners on the floor and were bolted in. The seats folded up. All the books in the back of the room flew out of the bookshelf. The gold fish bowl sailed to the floor, breaking. (Poor fish was lost) The ceiling lights which hung on long wires began to pull loose. One crashed down sending shattered glass across the room. When it was over, we crawled from under our desks and went through the emergency exit door, down the outside, wooden staircase. We were sent home on school buses. I think that the school was made of sturdy wood, saved us that day. It gave just like a tree in the wind. Damage was minimal and no students were injured."

Both McDonald and Lincoln schools were old, wooden structures. The playgrounds were dirt. Maple trees in both provided piles and piles of leaves in the fall for building fort walls - these, unlike the underground ones, were co-ed. Although the boys still took great pleasure knocking down the girls' walls. When the all-Island elementary/junior high school, named by vote as Commodore Bainbridge, was opened, all the Lincoln and McDonald kids were by default, made one big bunch of kids with no longer any geographic reason for competition. The sixth grade was split up into three classes so the competition became which teacher's class was the best. School movies and activities like the all-class spelling bee took place in the library. The "new school" (as it was referred to for years) was all on one level. The hallways seemed to stretch forever. The cafeteria/lunchroom/stage was huge. Everyone mourned the lack of a maple tree for king/queen battles. But the boys had football and baseball fields right up the hill at the high school. We girls had cement where we played jump rope and marked off squares for hopscotch and other games. Plus, there were covered areas for when it rained - which was of course, often!

Only when it snowed were girls allowed to wear trousers of any kind and then only under a skirt or dress. Jeans, T-shirts, shorts, ragged anything were strictly out of bounds as was long hair for boys and super-short hair for girls. It did not occur to us that we were perhaps being held to ridiculous rules. It's just the way it was.

And time marched on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Simple Times Produced Simplistic Minds

It seems every December WWII stories proliferate. Or maybe I am so aware of the stories because of my interest in that history. As I reminisced with one of my high school classmates, we talked about our Japanese schoolmates and how we did not even think of them as being Japanese - that is, we did not think of them as being our former enemies. We pondered why and I posed the question to a number of our classmates. Every single one could not recall thinking of them in any negative way. Quite to the contrary, they were school leaders and officers, sports heros, popular. Their versions are undoubtedly different. But they also were too young to remember exactly what had happened. The internment of the Island's Japanese and subsequent return is very public and popular history now but our classmates remain reticent. So how I and my schoolmates did not seem to have any notion of their stories, to me, is a phenomenon. As evidenced in the Island newspaper of those years, there was vociferous opposition to the return of the Japanese. There were more than a few letters to the owner/editor of the paper not only chastising his championship of the Japanese but also openly disparaging their return. Clearly there was prejudice that could have influenced us in a negative manner.

But we were too young to be a part of the discussion. Too young to remember any part of it. My aunt who is ten years older than I, and was in junior high school, says she was too busy with school and with worrying about her gold front tooth to be interested. (Marilyn was so embarrassed by that tooth, she rarely smiled.) She remembers having Japanese classmates but remembers nothing about any challenge to their return. In fact, when I questioned her, she had to rack her memory to come up with any memories at all.

Our education was unrealistically simple in lots of ways. The decades of the 1940's and 50's could even be described as still quite Victorian. Children were to be seen and not heard - not to be spoken to or made aware of anything smacking of discord, violence, scandal, sexual, etc. In other words our environment was rather sterile; our education, stunted.

In high school - ten to twelve years after the end of the war - the man who taught World History bore a vivid scar that covered half his face. He was among those brave soldiers who stormed Normandy Beach in one of WWII's bloodiest battles. The world history curriculum made NO mention of the world's most heinous tragedy - the killing of six million Jews by the Nazis's. Shortly after I graduated from high school, the book "Exodus" came out. I spent an entire weekend mesmermized and horrified as I read - also angry that such critical information had not been taught.

In stark contrast, however, we were very aware of the Indians who came (mostly) from Canada to pick strawberries every summer. According to reports, they would attack any lone white person. (The same unfounded fear was attached to Filipino men; although Filipinos were more easily assimilated into Island life.) The Indians were accused of being drunks and completely untrustworthy. At a time when there was only one sheriff for the entire Island - population between 3 and 4 thousand, there was one man deputized to keep watch over the poor Indians numbering at most 3 or 4 hundred and confined to living in the farms' strawberry shacks. Talk about being ostracized!

Sometime in the early to mid fifties, my Aunt Carole and Uncle Hank adopted a baby boy. One evening we gathered excitedly in our grandparents' kitchen waiting for our first visit with the new baby. Carole carried the swaddled baby in her arms, Hank stood proudly behind her. Gramma reached for the tiny bundle; carefully lifted the soft blanket - and nearly DROPPED the baby as she gasped. Inside that bundle was a dark-skinned infant with a huge shock of black, straight hair.

"Oh - I forgot to tell you," Carole blurted, "he's Spanish." Good ole' Hank chuckled.

Many years later, Mark (the baby)searched for his birth mother when he reached adulthood during which time Carole and Hank both died. You guessed it - Mark is a Pacific Northwest Indian. We don't know where or how Mark is now. He joined his Indian family and stories of him reach us every once in a while - alcohol and drugs mostly. Makes my heart sick - he was a very dear member of our little gang of cousins.

OK - so we wrongfully interned the Japanese during WWII. We have done worse things to Indians. (All of this information now can be found on the Internet simply by searching Indian histories and circumstances.) Beginning in the late 1800's, our government had policies and programs specifically meant to train Indian children to be white - to forget their Indian ways. The programs for many decades included boarding schools where Indian kids were sent and essentially brain-washed. In the 1940's and 1950's the programs were changed to forcefully take Indian infants and children and put them up for adoption through churches and agencies. This is "cultural genocide." I have personally corresponded with an Indian woman who was snatched from her mother's arms and adopted along with other Indian kids, by an Island family. Mark's story is not unusual. There are hundreds, nay thousands, across the country who suffered these horrific acts and the traumas they caused.

My point in this is to gain some understanding of my own upbringing and what makes me tick. As I have said previously, the Island with its isolation, is rather like a petri dish of how our society has moved, changed, evolved, since the beginning of WWII. So much has changed for the good; so much has not.