Our Tuesday Fox asked, “Do you have a favorite story about your family that has been passed down, or one that you hope will get passed down?”
My father’s family has only been in America since 1915, and most of my relatives don’t speak English, so the stories I heard were from my mom or my dad’s mother, who lived with us. I never met my paternal grandfather, because he passed away before I was born. On my mom’s side, my grandparents were part of my life for less than a year, and then we moved from Camp Zama in Yokohama, to Grand Rapids, Michigan. And since we were raised speaking English, no family stories were passed on to us from that side of the family, other than what Mom told us.
I spent lots of time with my dad’s mom until she went to live as a live-in nanny for another family, and she told us a few little scenarios about her life in a rural area on the northernmost island of Japan, but I don’t remember much, except for the time she walked into a cow because she was busy reading a book while walking home from school (I guess it was a REALLY GOOD book). I was around eight years old when she left our house.
My parents weren’t much for family stories, either – at least, not the kind most American kids hear from their elders. Mom told us a few frightening tales about running home from school with her sisters while bombs fell from the sky. She told me about her neighbor’s mother being shot down when she looked outside to see if it was safe for her children to go out. My dad, who grew up in America, told us about how his parents struggled during the Great Depression, and when things finally got better, the war began. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, and Dad and his older brother were subject to distrust and outright hatred. Thankfully, they were not relocated to the internment camps in the west. I was told this was because they were considered a mild threat – they were the only Japanese family in the area, and neither Grandma nor Grandpa had returned to Japan since the 1920s. But one day, federal officers came to their home, loaded everyone up and took them downtown to be fingerprinted. Dad told me that each day, as he walked to and from school, a big black car would follow him. Once, he mentioned that he’d been worried, not for himself, but for his father, who was in a wheelchair with rheumatoid arthritis, and his mother, who worked several jobs to support the family. While these family tales aren’t especially pleasant, they need to be passed down so that my grandkids understand the horrors of war and the hurtfulness of cultural mistrust.
Not all my parents’ stories were sad. When I was in junior high, I asked Mom how she and Dad met and fell in love. She told me she worked in the Postal Exchange office in Yokohama, where my dad had been assigned after being wounded in the Korean War. Their courtship was similar to the children’s book How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman. Dad knew how to use chopsticks, but he didn’t know the names of many dishes, and he couldn’t speak much of the language, despite his parents being Japanese. Mom had never eaten a steak (most Asian food is cut into bite-size pieces before cooking) so Dad had to cut it for her. When they decided to get married, some of mom’s uncles had Dad’s family, especially his father, investigated. After all, why would any respectable Japanese man choose to move his family to America? My grandmother in America, upon hearing about it, wrote a letter in her most formal Japanese, explaining that one of Dad’s ancestors had been connected to a shogun. I don’t know WHO the shogun was, or HOW this ancestor was connected – he or she could have been a servant in the household – but that connection was enough to convince Mom’s family that Dad was from a reputable family.
Someday, when I’m rich and famous, I’d like to learn more about this ancestor who had ties with Japanese royalty. I think it would make a really cool story to tell my grandkids.