• Art Nomura

Chapter 14, segment 2 of 2, 'Cash and Carry'

Despite his lack of reaction to the mismanaged visit by Nagai-san, Kazuichi’s behavior in general became more volatile. Even with their improved financial circumstances, the family was continually victimized by his temper.

For instance, if dinner had not been prepared to his liking in any way, he would often upend the whole table, food and all. Since he had sworn off his twin palliatives of gambling and drink, his impetuous temper could be set off by the smallest irritant.

Takuma and Jiro bore the brunt of Kazuichi's rage, endured numerous beatings, often for little reason. Jiro, innately quiet and thoughtful, soon learned it was wiser to say the minimum in the presence of his father, but Takuma, with an outgoing manner and a quick temper of his own, could often not restrain himself.

The two brothers, banished as they had been to Japan as youngsters, survived a remarkably deprived childhood. Their only toys had been an occasional found glass marble or the sticks and stones scattered around their dismal yard. Upon arriving to America, they were entranced by the world of toys and games common to American children. At age fourteen, Takuma became absolutely smitten with toy trucks and cars. Since he did not have the money to buy any, he would gather discarded wheels, boxes, and other items to construct his own. Each time he did, Kazuichi visciously dismembered them, admonishing Takuma for wasting time on childish things.

One day, Takuma created a big ‘truck’ using an old steel bed frame and spare auto wheels. When Kazuichi saw the contraption he tore into it, but found he could not break it apart. Furious, he turned to Takuma to beat him for disobeying once again. To his astonishment, his eldest son did not give in to a whipping, but fought back and eventually forced Kazuichi to back down. Impressed by his courage, Kazuichi’s beatings soon tapered off.

Mizuko, standing back from the fighting to protect the younger children, gradually relaxed. After the Kazuich/Takuma brawl, Jiro, the calm second son, with Mizuko’s encouragement, began stepping in between the two to soothe tempers before they escalated.

During the increasingly hot summer, Kazuichi became disenchanted with his job as a vegetable peddler. While Takuma and Jiro were using the contacts they had made in the market to secure further work for themselves, their father turned to residential gardening to make his money.

At 5 feet 7 inches, two hundred pounds, with a 54-inch waist, Kazuichi found that he wasn't suited to the miles of walking required of a vegetable peddler. Which was not to say that he was a weak man. Although rotund, he still retained most of the powerful physicality he had as a young man. When necessary, he could climb and trim a fifty-foot palm tree, unassisted.

In addition to being able to limit and choose the clients he served as a gardener, Kazuichi discovered that gardening work could be lucrative, especially when the homeowners wanted new plants, or better yet, landscaping for their properties. Kazuichi used his persuasive abilities to convince homeowners who were remodeling their yards to buy expensive exotic flora through him, taking a tidy profit on each plant sold. The money earned however did not add to the family coffers, but went toward meals, gifts, and parties for his growing circle of Japanese cronies in Los Angeles.

Despite Kazuichi’s minimal financial assistance, Mizuko’s life during the first few years at the store was profitable and relatively worry-free. There was a steady flow of customers. Shigeko helped in the store and with the care of baby Yoshito. The younger children, Takuma, Jiro, Yoshiko, and Carl went to school regularly. Everyone continued to enjoy the mild weather of Southern California after the bitter winters in Montana, the constant rain of Washington, and, in Japan, the stifling summers of Hiroshima.

While Kazuichi fostered his own circle of friends, many who hailed from the huge Hiroshima kenjinkai in Los Angeles, Mizuko began meeting other people, Japanese and non-Japanese alike. Among them were the four Englebrach sisters. Of the four, Emma Englebrach would have the most lasting effect on Mizuko and her family.

Miss Englebrach was an older unmarried woman and a devout Catholic. She often arrived at the store with two pet cats peering out of the top of her tote bag. Mizuko soon labelled her as the neko-obasan, the cat lady. Ms. Englebrach would meander through the store looking at every item, often asking for explanations about the various Japanese foodstuffs the store carried. Because she favored a certain brand of coffee that the Cash and Carry did not normally stock, Mizuko would make periodic forays to the Safeway Store a mile away to make sure that Emma’s brand of coffee was always available to her.

Despite her eccentricities, Emma Englebrach was a regular Cash and Carry customer from day one, and soon got to know Mizuko and her children by name. She strongly encouraged Mizuko to send her school-aged children to the parochial rather than public schools in the area. She especially favored Maryknoll Catholic School, an all-Japanese school, and nearby Saint Vincent School. Her reasoning was that being rigorously educated in the Catholic tradition would prepare them far better for the future both academically and spiritually. Furthermore, Ms. Englebrach insisted that the discipline and moral lessons provided by such schools would be crucial to the children’s proper development.

For Mizuko, a good education for her children was a top priority, especially since her own studies had been cut short by her marriage to Kazuichi. She did everything she could to honor Ms. Englebrach’s advice.

Takuma and Jiro, who had received a decent foundational education in Japan, were sent to public school, but their younger siblings, Yoshiko, Kaworu, and eventually Ayako, were all sent to Catholic schools.

Kaworu was not happy with having to attend the highly disciplined and structured environment of Catholic school. Mizuko had to push and prod him to get on the bus to Maryknoll School every morning. He detested the strict discipline administered by the nuns, and had on-going problems with the clannish behavior and bullying of his fellow Japanese classmates.

School did result in one fundamental change in Kaworu’s life: a new name. Kaworu’s third grade teacher, after numerous failed attempts to pronounce his Japanese name correctly, unilaterally decided to call him Carl instead. After that, Kaworu answered to two names: Kaworu to his family and Japanese friends, and Carl to his teachers and classmates.

Because it was very difficult to pay for everyone’s private school tuition out of the limited income the store generated, Emma Englebrach and her three sisters, who had taken a special liking to Yoshiko, stepped up and paid for her education.

Despite Mizuko’s encouragement, school proved to be unimportant for her oldest son Takuma. After a year of public school, in which his favorite school activities were cooking and being part of the track team, he dropped out. For Takuma, being able to work and contribute to the family finances full-time was far more rewarding than attending school beyond the eighth grade.

As mother to six children ranging from one to fifteen years of age, the cooking, laundering, sewing, and cleaning never ended for Mizuko. However since the Cash and Carry had regular hours, Mizuko was able to spend time with her children in the evenings. She used the opportunity to talk to them about their daily experiences. She often told them stories about her life in Japan and her early years in America. Her stories invariably reflected her own values and beliefs.

If challenges had arisen for her children during the day, she would reinforce the need to develop good character, and recounted important childhood lessons given by her beloved father, Kichinosuke Takahashi.

“The most important attribute of all is gaman, patience and perserverance. When times are difficult you must endure and always consider the lives and concerns of others,” Mizuko said, echoing the convictions of her father.

“Live your lives with grace and dignity,” she added.

If someone had lied or shirked their responsibilities, Mizuko would offer this reminder: “Haji, shame is to be avoided at all costs. You must always live up to your responsibilities and never bring shame or embarrassment unto yourself or your family.”

The children listened intently. They had witnessed first hand the hard work and sacrifice that exemplified their mother’s life. They had also observed the inconsistent, dissipated behavior of their father and the self-absorbed manner in which he lived his life. It was clear to them which path they should strive to take.

She also explained the importance of values like enryo: modesty and restraint, yuuki: courage, kyoiku: education and scholarship, shojiki: honesty, and oyakooko: parental piety.

Mizuko exemplified these values in her everyday behavior, so they became naturally ingrained in her children as well. Fatefully, each of these attributes would be severely tested in the ensuing years by everyone in the family.

The third anniversary of Kazuichi’s encounter with the dreaded rolling bottle back in Deer Lodge came and went without incident. Kazuichi remained alive and as cantankerous as ever. But in its stead a calamity of international proportions occurred.

On October 29, 1929, also known as Black Tuesday, the United States stock market crashed, signaling the start of the Great Depression and the beginning of more trying times for Mizuko and her family.

end of Chapter 14, segment 2 of 2, 'Cash and Carry'

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