Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Willows of Sky Pass

By Mary Brockway
Historical, 409 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
Willows of Sky Pass begins in the great depression, and then World War II. The story is told from the viewpoints of two very different families.
Many younger Americans have learned little about thousands of West Coast Japanese /Americans who were ordered from their homes and businesses with only what they could carry.

The Western Washington Fair had been a yearly pleasure for the Tegano family, an outing planned for months ahead. Mai remembered how proud she had been when Beth won blue ribbons for her canned peaches and embroidered pillow cases last year. Her throat tightened. And Samiko's watercolor of Toby had also merited a blue ribbon. So many things had changed in one short month.

A hoarse voice shouted instructions to line up alphabetically by family names at desks along the wall. At the "T" desk, a grim-faced Caucasian woman with a placating tone in her voice, checked their identification and asked, "You speak English?"

"Yes," Taki answered.

After many questions about his residence and family members, she handed him a sheet of paper containing a number and a rough diagram.

Samiko peered over her father's shoulder. "It's where our rooms are located, Pop. Let me see." She turned it sideways and adjusted her glasses. "We're to be in the north parking area. I don't remember any buildings out there."

The loudspeaker announced in English, then Japanese. "When you receive your room assignments, please go to the cafeteria in the restaurant building for further instructions."

 Taki shook his head, trying to sort out the message. The speaker's voice echoed through the grounds and static rattled in his ears. "Did you hear?" he asked Kenzo.

"Didn't get all of it. I guess we should just follow the crowd, Pop."

In the big drafty building, they found seats at one of the long tables and piled their belongings under the benches.

A balding army officer with two bars on his uniform shoulder, stood at a microphone on a small stage at the north end of the building. "Testing. Testing. One, two." He paused and tapped on the microphone after someone shouted that they couldn't hear.

"Since its supper time, I know you must be hungry. Please line up by tables starting with number one on my far right, take plates and fill them at the cafeteria counter. After you have eaten, you will be directed to the temporary quarters described on the maps you were given."

Their table was number fifty, so the Tegano family waited patiently while most of the crowd went through the line. A low murmur of voices echoed from the high corrugated metal roof. Mai watched the stoic unsmiling people move through the line, their voices hushed, and faces solemn. "Will our baggage be safe while we go for food?" she asked Samiko.

Samiko moved her legs over the bench. "I'll ask Mr. and Mrs. Onisota at number forty-one to watch it." She took her mother's arm. "Our turn, Mama."
A plump man wearing a spattered white apron scooped rice on Mai's plate. Mai moved on and the next waiter splashed a greasy substance, the gravy Caucasians liked, over it. She got a mound of what seemed to be shredded cabbage, then a slice of cake with white frosting. Everything moved together on her plate as she was jostled to her seat by the crowd.

Mai unfolded a paper napkin wrapped around a fork one of the men had placed on her tray as she passed. In restaurants, and at the Tylers', she had learned to use the hakujin silverware. But tomorrow, she would bring her eating sticks. Before tasting the food, she sampled the tea in a thick white cup. It was cold.

Samiko made a gagging sound. "If this is what we eat, I'll lose weight fast."

Kenzo pushed his fork into the mass on his plate. "They guessed Japanese like rice." He grimaced as he swallowed. "But not drowned in creamed chipped beef."

Noriko took a tiny taste. "You wanted to go into the Navy. Mr. Herbert says they eat gobs of this stuff. It's not so bad and the cake is spice, like Mrs. Tyler makes."

"The raw cabbage is tasty," Mai said, watching Taki silently scrape the gravy from his rice. "Perhaps tomorrow we can cook and eat in our rooms."

Mai's hope died as the microphone rattled again. "When you have finished your meal, stack your dishes in the container at the end of the tables and leave them there. Tomorrow, you will answer the breakfast call at seven o'clock. You must take all meals in this building. From now on, if you have them, bring your own dishes and silverware to meals. After you receive work assignments, you will be responsible for assisting in the preparation of your food and for washing up."

No comments: