Chapter 21, segment 2 of 2, 'After the War'
Mizuko’s return to the Henry household turned out to be brief. Hatsu Nakadegawa, Henry’s mother-in-law, suddenly appeared on the Nomura’s doorstep after a stint of living with her oldest son Clifford in Salt Lake City.
Takeshi (Clifford) has been called to serve at a church in Japan,” Nakadegawa-san announced. “He and Chieko left last week and I do not know when they will be able to return.”
“I was not able to stay in Salt Lake because his house was needed by another minster and his family. I came to stay in California until Clifford comes back.”
Her daughter Mikako pursed her lips and sighed. She knew her mother could be intractable once she had made up her mind. The situation was complicated because Mikako’s other siblings were not viable candidates to take their mother in. Her younger sister Chizuko and her husband Nobe were already living with Nobe’s father in Boyle Heights, and Roy, her younger brother had just married Judy, the first European American to join the family and a non-Japanese speaker. As Mikako struggled to find something to say to her mother, Mizuko entered the room.
“Nomura-san, it’s so good to see you again,” Nakadegawa-san said sweetly.
“It’s been a long time. Are you well?” replied Mizuko.
“I am fine, but unfortunately, I am sorry to say, there appears to be a problem.”
“Please tell me. Is there anything I can do to help?” Mizuko asked.
As Hatsu explained her situation to Mizuko, Mikako felt more and more uncomfortable, because she knew her mother would persist until she got what she wanted. Even though Mizuko Nomura was already happily ensconced in the household, Mrs. Nakadegawa, three years her senior reiterated the fact that she did not have a place to live, and all but asked Mizuko to leave.
Despite the tradition of Japanese mothers having the right (and duty) to live with their eldest son, Mizuko, not wanting to be part of a conflict, volunteered to move out.
Mikako called Yoshiko and Sam Hasegawa at the commercial farm Sam was managing in Chula Vista near the California/Mexican border and told them what was happening. They were both more than happy to have Mizuko resume living with them. Sam drove up to Los Angeles to pick her up.
Sam was glad to have Mizuko back with them since he himself had been without a mother since he was a child. His feelings toward her had not altered from the time he had first become engaged to marry Yoshiko. He repeated what he had said to her a decade earlier when she came to live with them again. “I have no mother, you can be my mother.”
Beyond Sam’s warm welcome, Mizuko was motivated to move back in with her daughter Yoshiko because she felt that there was a need to ‘protect’ her from her father-in–law Kinzaburo’s volatile temper. She had received word of regular, heated arguments between Sam and his father over farming issues, expenditures, and who, in essence, was in charge.
Mizuko wanted to insure that her quiet, eldest daughter remained well out of the crossfire. She also felt a keen desire to resume helping care for her granddaughter Harumi, who continued to require constant attention.
Living in the city had its attractions, but Mizuko was pleased to return to farm life. Although Henry and Mikako had had Norine Keiko, a third child to nurture in 1949, by 1950 Hatsumi and Arthur Ikuo were away at school during the day. Mikako was a capable mother and wife and as much as Mizuko enjoyed her company, the running of the small household was not overly demanding. On the farm, there were countless chores to attend to, and Mizuko was happiest when she was busy working.
The Hasegawa’s Chula Vista farmhouse was situated in a low-lying area very close to the beach. When the surf was up, the sound of waves crashing on the sandy shore could be clearly heard. The area immediately surrounding the farmhouse was being reclaimed from marshy saltwater flats into usable land for agriculture and housing.
The situation was eerily reminiscent of the property that the Takahashi family, Mizuko’s father and his ancestors, had once owned in long ago Onorimura, Japan. Countless mounds of soil brought in from construction sites in neighboring San Diego created an otherworldly vista. Feral cats could be spied prowling among the barren earthen mounds hunting for the nests of sea birds. The farmhouse sat incongruously in the center of this bleak landscape, a single dirt road its only link to the fields and the rest of the world.
Six year-old Harumi Hasegawa was delighted to have her obaachan with her again and immediately showed her around the house, taking special care to introduce her to her favorite dolls and stuffed animals. Ann, Harumi’s three year-old sister, followed them wherever they went.
Kinzaburo Hasegawa greeted Mizuko warmly, but at the same time criticized Sam for his brief absence from the farm. Mizuko distracted Kinzaburo with an observation about how much the children had grown which allowed Sam to avoid yet another confrontation with his father.
Despite his mercurial disposition, there was no question that Kinzaburo loved children. He indulged his granddaughters with toys he made for them, and bragged about their accomplishments to anyone that would listen. Mizuko shared his love for children and cared for them thoroughly and consistently.
Unfortunately, in March of 1951 Kinzaburo contracted the flu and after a short illness, passed away. He was sixty-nine years old when he died.
As Sam mourned the loss of his contentious yet beloved father, Mizuko’s presence in the household gained an even greater importance. She was a constant, dependable source of unconditional love and support for the suddenly diminished family.
Realigning herself to the rhythm of farm living, Mizuko awoke early, often before 4 am, to make breakfast for her son-in-law before he headed out to the fields to manage his workers. Hours later when the rest of the household would finally arise, Mizuko would have already accomplished multiple tasks: tending to her extensive garden of flowers and vegetables, supervising the feeding and care of the livestock (from plow horses to goats), caring for the family pets (assorted dogs, cats, and birds), helping Yoshiko make breakfast for the rest of the family, and working on numerous sewing, knitting, and crocheting projects.
Harumi, pale and thin, remained mostly housebound because of her fragile constitution. But no one had a quicker wit or a more mischievous sense of humor. Having been tended to by issei inmates in Manzanar, she was one of the few sansei, third generation Japanese Americans, who was fluent in Japanese. This fluency enabled her to communicate freely with Mizuko who, despite decades in America, had never managed to become comfortable speaking English. Mizuko shared stories from her past, including her early days in Japan. Harumi created fanciful tales involving her dolls and stuffed toys as friends from her own limited existence. The sharing of stories created a strong bond between the two. As rest time approached or if Harumi started to feel poorly, Mizuko would always be present to care for her.
In July of 1952, a third daughter, Jane, was born to Yoshiko and Sam. As was the Japanese tradition, Yoshiko was afforded a month-long respite from her usual domestic duties through the diligent assistance of her mother. With three children under the age of eight in the home, Mizuko was especially busy. In the fall of the 1952 her other daughter Ayako experienced a difficult birth of her own. Mizuko moved in temporarily with her and her family in La Puente, California until both infant and mother were healthy.
The years following incarceration were a period of change and adjustment for Mizuko and her children. She no longer needed to work long hours to survive, but nonetheless kept herself constantly busy with her duties on the farm and caring for her loved ones. Unlike her tumultuous existence before the war, Mizuko’s life became pleasantly predictable. Food was ample, the accommodations comfortable, and the work routine. She gratefully settled into the roles of a live-in mother and grandmother. She had ample time to write to relatives in Japan and friends she had made in Manzanar. Her newfound stability also enabled her to attend Mass with her devout daughter Yoshiko and her grandchildren.
1952 proved an auspicious year for Mizuko when a long delayed and unlikely opportunity materialized. For the first time issei alien residents were offered the chance to become U.S. citizens.
The idea of becoming a U.S. citizen was not universally embraced by the issei. Some were apathetic. Others felt that the opportunity had come too late to make a difference in their lives. A few harbored resentments over the years of discrimination they had faced and did not consider the option at all. But many, including some Japanese who had initially chosen to return to Japan during the war, decided to do what was necessary to gain citizenship.
For Mizuko, it meant learning about America’s history and developing a working facility with written and spoken English. Starting in 1953, after a period of soul-searching, Mizuko decided to study to become a citizen.
Nine year-old Harumi, despite the fact that she was often bed-ridden, became Mizuko’s de facto English tutor, patiently correcting her pronunciation, helping her build up her vocabulary, and quizzing her on U.S. History and notable Americans. The child that she had cared for since infancy became her devoted tutor.
Life became more predictable for all of Mizuko’s children as they grew their families and settled into jobs and their own homes. In 1954, Jimmy, her youngest child, was married and began his own family. His marriage illustrated the close-knit nature of the Japanese community at the time. In San Jose, where he found himself after the war, Jimmy was introduced to his future wife, Margaret by Kimiye Oshiba. Kimiye was the daughter of Mizuko’s step-daughter, Shigeko, Kazuichi’s second child from his first marriage. Because Jimmy was only four years younger, Kimiye and he had become friends as well as cousins.
Coincidentally, Jimmy's new mother-in-law had been born into a farming family in Onorimura, the same village where Mizuko had been born. When she learned of Jimmy’s roots in Hiroshima-ken, she was elated. She clearly remembered that Mizuko’s family, the Takahashis, had been revered in Onorimura. Margaret was told that when her mother was a child the townspeople and farmers of the village would fall to the ground and bow deeply whenever a member of the Takahashi family passed by. To her mother, her future son-in-law was akin to a celebrity, and she felt very fortunate to have her daughter marry him. As for the newlyweds themselves, each felt happy to have found and been accepted by the other.
In the Spring of 1955, Mizuko finally felt confident enough in her English language skills to sign up for a course on Citizenship offered by the San Diego City School Department of Adult Education. On April 26, 1955 Mizuko received a certificate of completion.
She took her citizenship oath and was approved for citizenship on July 7, 1955. Her actual citizenship certificate was issued on March 5, 1956.
After forty-five years of living in America as an alien, Mizuko Takahashi Nomura became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
end of Chapter 21, segment 2 of 2, 'After the War'