Our Tuesday Fox asked, “Is there a certain ancestor that you wish you could travel back in time to spend a year with? What do you hope to learn? Why that relative?”
At first I thought I’d already written a blog post about this topic, but then I discovered that the question posed three years ago by our resident hound actually asked for the names of three people with whom we would like to take a long road trip. Here’s a link to that POST. One of my choices back then was my paternal grandfather, and since I obviously haven’t been able to meet with Grandpa, I figured I’d revisit that fantasy. I remember each of my daughters had a special bond with my dad, and my granddaughter loves her Boppa. I would have loved to get to know my ojiisan.
Having a full year to spend with him would be great for a couple of reasons. My dad told me that his father had a bit of a temper, so I guess I’d be able to space out my questions a bit and avoid annoying him, especially when he was painting. Another reason is that I have so many questions, starting with these:
Did you miss your homeland? Once Grandpa graduated from the Imperial School of Art in Tokyo in the early part of the 20th century, he left Japan sometime after 1910 and never returned. He had parents and siblings there, and I wonder how close he’d been to them. I wanted to visit his hometown of Sendai when I visited the country in 2010, but wasn’t able to do so (I wasn’t able to persuade mom that I could do it on my own, despite the language barrier). And then a year later, much of the area was devastated in the nuclear disaster and following tsunami, so I have no idea if family and or records still remain.
How did you deal with the difficulties during the Great Depression and WWII? The 1930s were a tough time for most Americans, and for Dad’s family it was compounded by the fact that his dad suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was eventually confined to a wheelchair. This made my grandmother the main breadwinner, and she worked hard cleaning, sewing, and doing whatever she could. This is a picture of her, with her two boys, in line for assistance. I would imagine that Grandpa’s ego must have been bruised. How did he cope? During WWII, the family was able to remain in their home, though they were fingerprinted and followed. Did they suffer other injustices from their neighbors, or as they went about their business?
Who was the mysterious French woman? Did you plan to return to her? Four years ago, when we cleared out my parents’ home to sell it, we found a box of letters stashed in the basement. They were written in French. My niece, having lived in Luxembourg and studied the language, read them and revealed that they were from a woman with whom Grandpa had a very close relationship while he studied art in Paris (before he came to America). Apparently, she was waiting for him to return to her, and each consecutive letter showed a greater sense of despair after not hearing from him. I’m assuming he stopped corresponding after he married my grandmother, but I’d love to know more about her. And it would be interesting to find out why the letters were kept!
Will you teach me? According to my dad, Grandpa taught painting lessons, though I’m not certain if they were classes or private lessons. Among the treasures in my parents’ garage I found several books on drawing people, and a pile of unfinished sketches and watercolors from that treasure trove still reside in my basement. Since they’re not signed, I have no way of knowing whether or not they’re his work, but I’d love to find out if I could be taught to create something visually pleasing. I have no delusions of coming close to the paintings and murals he did, but I’d love to have some insight into his process. He was also a talented musician, so I’d love to play some duets with him!
Angela’s third question was “Why did I choose this relative?” As Japanese Americans, our family has experienced its share of problems, distrust, skepticism, and outright hatred. Fortunately, we’ve always had friends who surrounded us with their support and love. According to Dad, there were good people who protected his family during difficult times, but I know there had to be inner strength from within, and I’m assuming a lot of that came from Grandpa. That’s what I’d love to experience.