• Art Nomura

Chapter 9, segment 1 of 2, 'One Son, Two Sons'

In the late fall of 1912, Mizuko and Kazuichi Nomura moved from Fife to the small town of Christopher about twenty-five miles southwest of Seattle. Christopher sat in the fertile farming crescent fed by the waters of what the Japanese farmers called Shirakawa, the White River.

Kazuichi subleased a ten-acre plot that was still dotted with stumps from an old logging operation. Without being cleared, the land could only be used as pasture. So Kazuichi hired a Japanese team of stump removers, who used dynamite to blast out the tree remnants.

Such work was fraught with danger, but the experienced crew made short work of it. Mizuko, by then a seasoned teamster, drove a pair of rented horses to haul the stump debris into the center of the plot where it was burned. Gradually, between the winter sleet, rain, and occasional snow and with Mizuko doing the bulk of the work, the entire acreage was cleared and tilled in preparation for planting. After the last frost in March the land was finally ready for planting. Mizuko was eight months pregnant with her first child.

Mizuko spent the week before her due date tending to the multiple rows of cabbage and cauliflower seedlings she had planted. On April 5th, Kazuichi left home for the nearby town of Auburn to ‘take care of important business.’ The next morning while she was weeding on hands and knees, Mizuko’s contractions began. When they intensified, she walked back to the wooden shack she called home. There without the benefit of a midwife or assistance of any kind, she labored.

On April 6, 1913 after hours of frightening and solitary effort, Mizuko gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She was so ignorant of the delivery process that the placenta afterbirth shocked her. When the secondary contractions started and the placenta began to emerge she thought, my insides are tearing out of my body! After a brief recovery and an initial feeding of her newborn, she swaddled and tied him on to her back with a shawl and went back to weeding the field.

Kazuichi re-appeared several days later hung over and broke. “You are the father of a baby boy,” Mizuko said quietly.

Kazuichi gave his wife a puzzled look for a moment, than realizing what she had said, shouted, “Finally!”

After a cursory look at his newborn son, he threw on his coat and headed out of the house. “I need to spread the news,” he called back, the door wide open behind him.

Mizuko shook her head wearily. Her erstwhile husband had not even acknowledged what she had been through. It was as if she was no more than a brood mare to him.

It would be another two days before she would next see her husband. The birth of their son meant that the Nomura name would continue, but beyond the ego gratification of telling his friends that he had fathered a boy, Kazuichi took no interest in his son. Isolated from the rest of the farming community by her husband’s unpredictable behavior and questionable business ethics, Mizuko had little choice but to raise her baby by herself.

When she asked Kazuichi what they should name their child, he responded, “Whatever you want.” Wanting the child's name to be meaningful, Mizuko decided on Takuma, which meant “true pioneer”. It was a dignified and seldom used Japanese name, but one whose meaning she hoped would encourage a personality far different than that of his father. The name also sounded similar to Tacoma, the name of the city closest to where he was likely conceived.

With the arrival of Takuma, Mizuko struggled to find enough time to do all that was expected of her. Doing the fieldwork, housework, cooking, and cleaning, in addition to taking in other people’s laundry, and caring adequately for her son was basically impossible.

“I can no longer take in laundry,” she told Kazuichi one morning.

“Why not?” replied her irritated husband, wolfing down his third bowl of rice.

“There is not enough time to do everything since Takuma was born.”

“What a bother. How will you afford to buy our food?” he complained.

“Perhaps you could provide me with an allowance for such expenses. After all, I have never been paid for the farm work I do.”

“Working is expected. And what is this nonsense about being paid? A wife should not be paid. What foolishness!” Kazuichi grumbled, his voice rising.

“Do you wish to live on yasai-no mono, vegetables only? That is an option if you do not want to spend any money on food. It is possible, but if we choose to do that we’ll have to forgo rice from now on,” she said with feigned sadness.

Kazuichi looked at his wife as if she had unleashed a string of obscenities. “All right,” he finally said reluctantly. He made a big show of digging through his pockets before placing a five-dollar gold coin on the table.

“Don’t waste a penny,” he warned. “This will need to last for the entire month. Now get me some more rice,” he ordered, handing her his empty bowl.

After dinner was over, Mizuko picked up the shiny gold coin and examined it incredulously. It was more money than she had ever received from Kazuichi in nearly three years of marriage. Not wanting to entrust its security to their ramshackle living space, Mizuko carefully inserted the coin into a small pocket that she had sewn into the waistband of her work skirt. A full day of fieldwork followed, as she weeded the fast maturing cabbage crop by hand and hoe.

Later, while preparing dinner, she discovered that gold coin was no longer in her pocket. She fretted throughout the meal until Kazuichi, oblivious to her anxiety and soon in bed, was asleep. Once his snoring filled the shack, Mizuko dressed quickly and snuck out of the house with baby Takuma strapped to her back. She lit a kerosene lantern and examined every inch of the field she had worked that day. At the break of dawn, after searching all night, she found the five-dollar coin nestled in the wilted remains of a recently harvested cabbage plant.

Her feelings of relief at finding the coin countered the fatigue she felt and enabled her to begin her daily chores as she normally did. Kazuichi never learned of this incident although Mizuko had nightmares for many months about what might have happened if she had not found the coin.

end of Chapter 9, segment 1 of 2, 'One Son, Two Sons'

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