The biography of my mother. Written in a creative non-fiction style. IN PROGRESS.
|I'm writing as I go. THIS IS NOT DONE. I'm hoping to receive feedback as I go.
Outline: A Gift From Mom
I. The War and the Promise
II. Flashback: Commitment to the Truth (Great Grandfather)
III. The Romance
IV. Adopting the Son
VI. Growing Up Christian
VII. Yamaji versus the State (Or is it? (Imperial Protection))
VIII. The Sacrifice
IX. New Beginnings
X. The Commitment
XII. More Sacrifices
XIII. The Commitment
The air was thick with smoke. The bombs continued. He hoped and hoped it would end. Once and awhile, there would be a severely thunderous boom. Were those bombs close or just more powerful than any before? He closed his eyes remembering how he ended up here in the hospital...
"Well, it's a fine day today, perfect for running the ship." Honda said.
"Yes, I don't feel sea sick at all," Morimoto said. It was very odd that a sailor had sea sickness, buit Morimoto was not an ordinary sailor. He was a prince of the Royal Family. He was here, not just because he owed the country or of course, the Emperor, but because he was expected to serve as a member of the Royal Family. But he often wondered why his family chose the Navy to serve in. He was not a very good sailor...and he was prone to seasickness. His best friend, Honda, was better suited for the Navy, fearless and fond of adventure. But what Morimoto liked best about his friend was he cared about everyone, deeply. He was sure one day he would be the officer and even the Captain of the ship.
Then it happened. His ship received the orders to help in attacking the enemy...the West. They didn't care about anyone but themselves and so Japan and her Emperor decided to make a presumptive attack. In all the commotion, no one noticed that Honda was withdrawn. Something he never was. "Why did it have to mean war?" He thought to himself. Why do people have to be hurt because of some decision from a government, even if that government meant the Emperor, the living embodiment of a god" But Honda was a sailor and he was in the Imperial Navy. He took that seriously. His job was to protect Japan and he was going to be do that.
Mortars flew by the ship. The ship fired all its weapons. The noise was deafening but both Honda and Morimoto carried on. The ship needed to get out of range. Although, no one mentioned it, everyone knew why. The Emperor still wanted his son safe. Honda and Morimoto worked on the ship to get it moving as fast as possible. Then, after what seemed like hours but was only thirty minutes, they succeeded! The ship moved quickly back on a course to Japan and the Imperial Family. Then, Honda went down. He wasn't paying attention and he had been hit by some schrapnel. Although, he would be fine in time, this most certainly meant a hospital stay. Honda cursed. Morimoto grabbed him and helped him to the infirmary. Both knew Honda needed his friend now.
As Honda's memories ended, he looked around again, taking in the view from his hospital bed. He still heard the noises of the war...the bombs, the screams, and then what he knew would come...the bomb had hit the hospital. Honda got up quickly, fighting the movement of the damaged building as it was collapsing. He wanted to help, but he needed to survive. For some reason, he knew that. He had a purpose, although he could not pinpoint it. He ran to the window. It was a drop. Two stories. If he made it...He had heard of the God of the Bible. A Christian minister had come by the hospital to minister to its occupants earlier in his stay. He closed his eyes, praying. PRAYING. A Japanese citizen who served in the Imperial Navy, was praying. But it seemed right and correct. "I'm going to jump. If you help me, I will devote my life to serving you, God." He looked down again, jumped on the window sill, took a deep breath, and jumped.
He felt pain in his left leg, but he had made it. He had survived with only a broken leg. He dragged himself to safety. He thanked his new God, the God of the Bible. The Christian God. He was a man of his word. He now knew his purpose. Honda's calling was to minister to his home country. He became a Christian minister.
Being a Christian in a nation where Buddhism was the way, was dangerous. It was even more dangerous during this time. Christians were considered traitors. Honda was aware of this.
Honda then met a beautiful and smart woman. She was not well-educated but she was street smart. He fell in love with her. As he was a Christian, she was often seen "reading" the Bible, even though it was upside down. She taught herself to read. This was the woman for him. Since she was the only child of her family, and a female, Honda took the family name of his father-in-law, Yamaji, as was the tradition. He met with some resistance from his mother-in-law, who didn't believe in "his God." This was to be expected. Surprisingly, he didn't meet with much from his father-in-law who was a Shin Buddhist priest. The elder Yamaji, was curious about his son-in-law's God and religion and tried to learn as much as possible.
As the war continued to rage on, what concerned him was the safety of his new family. Yet, he trusted God. He also had an ace up his sleeve. His time in the Imperial Navy gave him some surprising friends. The Imperial family was protecting him from the country's police. But just in case, he found himself bouncing around, staying one step in front of his enemies. He always knew when they were coming and where they were. He also had that information from his friend.
Sometimes he fished in the lake around the castle. He did so to provide for his family, even though it was against the law. But then again, he was never caught or prosecuted. It could have been his friends in high places or it was most probably God.
But Honda stayed happy and true to his word to God. He preached the Gospel. He also gave away most of his belongings and money to those in need. This made it hard on his family who had very little in the way of money or possessions but they were pretty happy. Honda's wife, was often sick though, and slept. Her eldest son and daughter, took care of the family most of the time.
This eldest daughter was my mother, Yoshiko Yamaji. During the war, while she was helping out her family and especially her own mother, she was attending Kanto Gakuin. She often was sick herself. She sometimes travelled far to go to school, sometimes taking the train. She often experienced motion sickness which made it hard to concentrate on school. But it was something more terrifying that made sicker still—several times, the schools were bombed. One day, the school was bombed by the allies, she was so frightened, as were all the students, she and the others ran in different directions. Yoshiko ran into the bamboo forest. Bamboo forests are strong and the forest is dense. This protected her. When the bombing stopped, she ran along the road back to the train. She ran into a mother who screamed desperately if they had seen her son. Yoshiko made it back. She always made it back despite how frightening it was.
When the war finally ended. Yoshiko attended a Christian school. Her teachers were Christian missionaries. One of the Baptist missionary families was named Beard. The entire Yamaji family became quite close to this family. With many of her family, Yoshiko earned money and helped pay for her siblings to go to University or helped to tell their parents that one of them didn’t want to go because he was happy just living his life and earning a living. This was my Uncle Takeshii who I later visited and who had a picture of my Mom in a very conspicuous place hanging from the main beam of his house. I was touched then. As time wore on, Yoshiko not only helped her family go to university, she also felt a need to go into missionary service. She made the very difficult and brave decision to go to the United States and study at the Baptist Missionary School in Chicago.
I stared at the picture on the high beam of the house. It was memorizing. She smiled back at me. i recognized her at once. This is one of my favorite pictures of her. It must be one of my uncle's too. In it, she was young and quite beautiful with a slight exotic Asian look to her. I can see why my fsther fell for her. I pointed at it and said with surprise, "That's my mom!" I was surprised to see her here in my Uncle Takeshi's houae in Japan. I was surprised to see her so prominently displayed. My mom's picture was the only one that big and in such a position. I thought about this almost my entire time
in Japan. My uncle must really love my mom. Like the rest of the family, they must miss her terribly. I live with her and I miss her when I'm away. It must have been hard to say goodbye when she boarded that ship to come to the USA. I can imagine tye whole family there at the dock, sad and at a loss of what to say as she prepared to board the ship with what few possessions she was going to take with her. What do you need
to bring with you to start a new life in a place an ocean away? Gloria looked around at the suitcase full of her most important items. Yes, she was leaving some of the important things with mother, brothers and sisters, but she still had some valuables. Her eyes fell upon the pictures. the pictures of her family, of her mom, dad, her grandfather and grandmother, and of her eldest brother and her as babies. She felt a little sad but she had promised God. She was going to work with the Beaths in missionary work.
I liked this picture. There in black and white were three generations of my family. They each told a part of a remarkable story of faith in one of the most turbulent times of the world's history. There was my great-grandfather in his Buddhist robes, my great-grandmother who stood by her faith in Shin Buddhism but also challenged my grandfather to be defend his faith. I can see my grandfather whose courage to be faithful to the Christian God during a time and in a place where this was considered sacrilegious, should inspire everyone who finds it difficult to stay tree and spread the Word of Godin these turbulent times, and my grandmother,
whose love for my grandfather drove her learn how to read and accomplish so much. And of course, my uncle Hajime and my mother as children. All of them in front of the temple. All of them representing a spiritual faith somehow. It's awe- inspiring.
The transoceanic trip was difficult. Ships right after the war, weren't the best, and you felt everything. My mom, who was prone to motion sickness as evident on the train rides she often took during the war, suffered much.
The reward however, was interesting. She came to the United States, legally and for good reason. She changed her name, to Gloria in praise to the Lord. Like her father, she praised God for delivering her through the war, and into a new country and new situation.
Gloria worked hard during this time, earning a degree from Baptist Missionary School. She bounced around from place to place finally ending up in Los Angeles where the Beard’s were. She decided to try to earn a Master's Degree in Social Work from University of Southern California. After working hard with tutors and still trying to learn English, she was accepted into the program. During this time she worked at a medium-sized Japanese gift shop in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. She did finally graduate and began to practice at different places in the area.
Gloria feared the worst. How was she going to tell Frank she was pregnant? But as with everything, Gloria faced the challenge and told him. Times were hard and Frank was starting out his career in Human Resources. Fortunately, Frank’s family was understanding and let them stay in Santa Barbara in their house on Nople Street.
Gloria had a daughter. The first of three. And although Frank didn’t have any sons, his oldest daughter was enough of a Tom Boy that he didn’t seem to feel bad. Gloria didn’t work while her daughters were young. This was good as they seemed to be always coming hime with cuts and bruises they received while playing. They were active, happy, and healthy. Often, when Gloria took her children out to play, all the neighbors children would come out...without their parents. They knew that she would watch them all.
Sometimes, I think we were very selfish as a family. For I don’t remember my Mother having too many joyful times. One of the few times, I remember her enjoying herself was when we lived in Buena Park. She had a best friend there. They would talk around the kitchen table. I don’t remember her ever having that again.
Still, though things were much different here in the United States, the family still sat in the bottom of the middle class. Gloria went back to work and we had our first baby sitters. Gloria picked a good one and we had a great time with her. We would often have our favorite soup, chicken and dumplings.
Although it was somewhat difficult for her to be accepted into USC's Master of Social Work program, it was also a challenge to stay in it. She had not mastered English yet, even with a tutor and that made the work more difficult. it's a problem many immigrants face when they come here. She also needed money to pay for school and her living expenses. So she took a job at a local gift shop in Little Tokyo. At Bunkado, she was well-liked and she goto know all the regulars who worked there, so much so that years later when she would go back with her adult daughters, some of the older staff recognized her. Somehow we ended up with a free pack of cute Japanese pencils as a memorial to that meeting. Bunkado is already one of the more interesting stores in Little Tokyo, let alone knowing it as an important stop on my mom's journey. Little Tokyo in Los angeles is one of the largest concentrations of Japanese and Nisei (first generation Japanese-Americans) outside of Japan. We used to sometimes call it East First because that is one of the main streets of the area. Mom introduced us to Nisei Week, a festival taking place in Little Tokyo every August.
"Mom, i don't want to take anymore lessons," I said. "I don't like them, i don't like dressing up." I said flatly. My mom agreed to take me out of Japanese dancing lessons. She asked me what did I want o try. i decided on guitar. I wasn't very committed to that either but that is neither here or there. The point is my sister's continued to take Japanese dancing lessons and even ended up performing in the Nisei Week Grand Parade at least once. We rarely missed a Nisei Week for many years. It was a highlight for all of us, especially my mother.
As you know by now, my mom was a woman of faith. My grandfather had brought up his children and even his wife as Christians and they would stay so all their lives. My mom lived that faith out by moving here to the United States and becoming a trained missionary. But her soft heart for others, also drove her to become a social worker. She spent our childhood teaching us about God at home and at the Church. Shemwas very involved in all the churches we attended, teaching Sunday School, and often she was close to the pastors. We often went to the pastor'w home for visits. This was especially true when we attended First Baptist Church of Fullerton. For my mother was Baptist, ever since meeting the Baptist missionaries, the Beaths, in Japan. They had a profound effect on her and shaped her life. I would like to say that the time at Fullerton First Baptist Church did that to me, it did begin a process of exploring and finding my spirituality. Don't be worried about me. I do finally find God in the end. Even when we moved from our happy house in Buena Park on the Lemon Street, m mom stayed active in the Church in Ontario. Again, she taught Sunday School and we were happy in choir and bell choir. I've mentioned before how I think my mom was so happy there. We were close friends with their children and my mom seemed to be best friends with Penny, the wife and mother. I often saw them chatting at the kitchen table. Mike and Penny were my parents best friends. We often ended up at their house. Mike was a police officer. I'll never forget looking at all his trophies for sharpshooting. tO this day, I have a healthy respect for officers of the law. We absolutely loved them. I can't remember who moved away first, whether they did or we did. I only remember our lives being uprooted from a happy place to a brand-new situation and more stressful one. We had to leave First bAptist Church of Fullerton for a less strong Church. My mother had to give up her strong spiritual support system which I know is difficult for any Christian.
Gloria was very sad but tried not to show it. She missed Mike and especially Penny.
Gloria watched her first-born. She was concerned. This one seemed to lose interest in toys easily. She watched as Vivien three the toy across the room. The only toy she liked was a small inflatable dragon toy that her brother Takeshi had given her on their trip to Japan when Vivien was two months old. Even her father had seen her before he passed and Vivien didn't spend as much time with him as she did with Takeshi.
Gloria felt strongly about giving back to her community with whatever she had and was needed. To that end, she not only taught Sunday sChool at the Church, but she volunteered to teach Japanese at the Buddhist Temple. I would like to think this was easy! but as i grow older i recgnize just howdifficult this must have been- raising a family, teaching Japanese, beingactivein the Church. But as someone who struggled with mintaining y faith andmgrowingnstronger in the Lord, I wonder howmhard it must have been to spend so much time in that Temple, the kind where her grandfather spent his life immersed in a spiritual world. She did thismby worshipping God, calling on his strength. She also fellowshipped with other believers and went to Church and Church events regularly.
I spent a lot of time there, walking around, taking Japanese, and regrettably being a delinquent. I was a silent accomplice to my classmates transgressions of throwing eggs into the neighbors swimming pool from our classroom on the second or third floor of the classroom building.
But all good things must come to an end, and we finally had to say goodbye to her. Our next babysitter created a conundrum for my Mother. Our next door neighbor had it worse financially than we had ever been in. One time I saw my stolen Dodger cap in her son’s room. Another time, I saw her children eating dog food. I felt for them. Still, one day, she used the food my Mom gave to her for us and gave us less. After all the stealing and stuff, I had enough. My sister and I went home. My youngest sister stayed and I remember talking to her through the fence. She wanted to come but she wanted to do what Mom told her to do. When my Mom came home, she asked why we were home, picked up my sister, and talked to my neighbor. I’m sure she was kind but firm. She always was. After that, all three of us stayed hime as latch-key kids with the very firm order to not open th door for anyone or open the window drapes.
When we left foe college, we all lived on campus. My Dad had an office far away in Bakersfield. I still don’t know how it happened that they were separated like this, but there it is. My Mom had lost her hearing and couldn’t hear me on the phone and my Dad was rarely there. I didn’t realize until much later that she was so lonely. When she mentioned it to me years later, something snapped into place and I felt terrible. Again, I had failed her. AlthoughI loved Berkeley, I would have given it up and commuted to a closer college campus if I knew how alone she was in the house.
Her biggest challenge is our biggest challenge. It’s not money.. it’s not her marriage. It’s something we can’t stop and can’t control. My Mother has dementia. It is very difficult, almost impossible to explain my feelings on this. It is unfair, and horrible. Of all the things to happen to her. She never had a lot of money, I don’t know if she had a lot of joy in her life, and now this. God was supposed to make her life better. Sometimes, I question Him on why he made my Mom’s life so hard.