• Art Nomura

Chapter 13, segment 2 of 2 "California!'

In the days that followed, Kazuichi calculated the amount that would be needed to start their business. He figured that six months of full time labor from four full-time workers at thirty-five cents an hour would net them enough capital to get started.

However, earning the amount needed proved elusive. Because of the vagaries of fishing and the weather, the time needed soon exceeded his initial estimates. Fortunately, unlike his past failures, and despite the overwhelming odor of the cooking fish, rancid oil, and the din of the cannery machinery, Kazuichi continued to work steadily toward their financial goal.

It helped that many of his fellow workers were from Wakayama-ken, a triangular province on the main Japanese island of Honshu surrounded on three sides by the sea. Most of his coworkers had been fishermen or the sons of fishermen in Japan. Kiishu-ben, the prevalent dialect of those from Wakayama, was earthy and filled with salty rough words and phrases.

To the roughhewn Kazuichi, the dialect was music to his ears, and he reveled in telling bawdy tales in the quickly adopted dialect of his fellow dockworkers.

For the first time of her life in America, Mizuko found herself working shoulder to shoulder on a daily basis with other Japanese women. As a member of the fish processing line, she heard all the local gossip and learned about the Japanese community both in Terminal Island and in Los Angeles twenty-five miles to the north.

Mizuko, accustomed to the grueling hours of working as a cook on the railroad, hand farming, or driving teams of horses, found gutting, beheading and sorting fish all day relatively simple. Comparatively speaking, aside from the constant standing, the physical and mental demands were less rigorous than cooking up a tasty meal to over a hundred hungry men three times a day, or shoveling endless piles of wet sand into a fiery oven.

In addition, since she wielded her sharp filet knife with such precision, quickness, and strength, by sharing her daily output she was able to insure that her stepdaughter Shigeko, standing nearby, would be able to meet the hourly production quota required of each line worker.

In time, conditioned by the long hours of working at a dairy, Shigeko found that she had the stamina and steady temperament to succeed at the job without Mizuko’s help. The non-Japanese women on the processing line, mostly from Croatian and Italian backgrounds, soon became aware of Mizuko’s proficiency and genial temperament, and gladly welcomed her participation.

As they slowly accumulated money, life went on for the Nomura family in a cycle of abundance or scarcity. One of eight year-old Yoshiko’s tasks was to keep a large pot of soup continually cooking. This soup was the main form of sustenance for the Nomura family during their stay in Long Beach.

When the cannery work was abundant, stew chicken and other cuts of meat would be added to the soup. Typically, two pounds of short ribs purchased for five cents a pound, provided a base for the mixture. After it was boiled, the meaty broth was set to simmer on the stove. Potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, and various greens were added in. When the fishing was good, mackerel, sardines, and occasionally tuna were brought home to supplement the soup. However, when the cannery work was slow, meals would consist of little more than a bowl of rice with salted water soup and a few limp, overcooked vegetables.

Life attained a normalcy of sorts, although Takuma and Jiro still found themselves at odds with American culture. For instance, Mizuko took the children to a local church in hopes that it might ground them spiritually in some way. During communion, when the wine and wafers symbolizing the blood and flesh of Christ were passed their way, Takuma, age fourteen, drank the contents of the wine vessel and ate all the wafers.

Later an embarrassed Mizuko asked him why he would do such a thing, he answered sheepishly, “The priest said something about feeding the hungry, so I figured it was ok. I was really hungry!”

Left to their own devices most of the time, the younger children enjoyed the warm summer by the ocean. Living apart from the Terminal Island community housing isolated them from the large Japanese population, but they were still able to share enjoyable experiences together.

Brighton Beach, a former resort area on the east end of Terminal Island was a favorite place to play. But one day while frolicking in the surf, Yoshiko and Carl were swept away by a sudden rogue wave. A quick response by a vigilant Jiro kept them both from drowning. After that incident, and because of his compassionate nature, Jiro was seen as a ‘father figure’ to his younger siblings.

Binding the disparate factions of the family together was Mizuko’s overarching concern. Despite the divisive behavior of their less-than-reliable father, and the uncertainty of their lives, Mizuko continue to provide the respect and love each child needed and cherished.

Those provisions were soon to be in greater demand. After a year of surf, sun, soup, and thousands of fish, their time at the seaside ended.

end of Chapter 13, segment 2 of 2, 'California!'

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