Chapter 9, segment 2 of 2, 'One Son, Two Sons'
After two years of farming in Christopher, a record rainstorm hit the area. The raging Shirakawa (White River) overflowed, wiping out the Nomura spring crop along with those of many other farmers in the area. Without the funds to replant and start over, Kazuichi and Mizuko abandoned their property and moved on.
The search for alternative farmland to rent proved fruitless. The labor laws for Japanese immigrant farmers had become increasingly restrictive since Mizuko had arrived in Washington in 1911. By 1913 a California law had passed that restricted alien land leases to three years.
In Washington, anti-Japanese sentiment was growing as well. Non-Japanese farmers, businessmen, and whites-only ‘patriots’ sought the passage of laws restricting the employment and working choices of Japanese immigrants. By 1914, those Japanese in Washington without established farms had little chance of starting one.
Without the possibility of running a farm of his own, Kazuichi resorted to being a day laborer. He toiled on the farms of others and took whatever other jobs he could find. By 1915 his sojourning landed the Nomura family in Everett, Washington, a bustling community twenty-five miles north of Seattle.
In Everett, the lumber mills and railroad were the main employers, with a few small-time farmers growing crops east of town. Caring for an active two year-old son limited Mizuko from getting regular work away from home. With Kazuichi absent more often than not, Mizuko found herself fending for herself most of the time. To earn at least a survival wage she had to go back to doing laundry for others, sewing, cooking, and whatever other work she could find.
In the midst of these hard times, a second son, Jiro was born. On November 17, 1916, Mizuko birthed her baby in a rented room in Everett, Washington. With Kazuichi ‘taking care of business’ elsewhere, only three year-old Takuma was in attendance when Jiro was born.
Fortuitously, America’s entrance into WWI in 1917 opened up moneymaking opportunities for Kazuichi. While a few of the Japanese living in Washington responded to the calls for enlistment, Kazuichi, at age thirty-eight was too old to be even considered.
However, he did benefit from the increased demand for workers who arrived in Everett in support of the war effort. This influx of laborers provided a steady stream of novice gamblers to con and fleece. Kazuichi soon amassed a sizeable cache of money.
When he announced his intention to take a prolonged trip to Japan on his own ‘to visit family’, Mizuko was troubled. I n the past, when her husband had left her on his solitary excursions, life had become even more difficult for her. Now, with two children under five to care for, the task would be even more daunting. Despite her protestations, Kazuichi left Seattle for Kobe in March 1917 aboard the Japanese freighter, the Chicago Maru.
As expected, life for Mizuko became incredibly difficult. After four months of fending on her own, Mizuko’s entire body ached from too much work and too little sleep. The pain in her back, knee, and elbow joints kept her from sleeping soundly at night. She was several days late on her laundry work, and knew that further delay would result in non-payment and loss of customers.
The rent on her shabby room was nearly a month overdue and she had had to dodge the landlord to avoid eviction. And baby Jiro’s chronic colic had rendered him fretful and unable to sleep for more than an hour at a time.
Early one evening in July, almost as if in a trance, an exhausted Mizuko trudged wearily with her sons to a desolate stretch of railway tracks on the outskirts of Everett. It was a balmy night following a hot day. The section of track she ended up at ran from the rail yard in the town center to the west, and in the other direction, to Chicago and all points east.
She gathered her threadbare skirt around her legs and sat down in the middle of the dusty train tracks. She untied Jiro from his sling carrier and took him into her arms. The baby stirred fitfully for a moment then fell back asleep. Four year-old Takuma wandered aimlessly near by.
“Come here,” she said to him in the gathering gloom.
Takuma walked over and hunched down on a railroad tie facing her. “We didn’t eat dinner yet,” he said.
Over and beyond Takuma’s thin shoulders, Mizuko could see a pinprick of white light shining in the distance.
“I’m tired,” he yawned, laying his head down on the nearest rail.
Mizuko shifted to her side so that her head rested on the same rail as her son’s. “I’m tired too,” she said, facing him.
The white light grew in size and intensity
Suddenly, Takuma’s eyes brightened with excitement. “I hear something. Listen!” he exclaimed.
Mizuko could hear it too, a rumbling tone rising slowly in pitch and volume emanating from the steel rail at her ear. Jiro began to stir in her arms, as if he could sense the oncoming danger.
“It’s getting louder,” Takuma said excitedly. Mizuko looked at her son’s animated face, and shook herself out of her malaise. This boy deserves more. What am I doing? she thought. I haven’t the right to give up on his his life because of my misery!
The light from the train was as bright as a searchlight when Mizuko jumped to her feet. She lifted Takuma and Jiro up and away from the track an instant before the screaming locomotive sped by. The roar of the accelerating freight train all but drowned out Jiro’s startled crying.
She soothed her frightened baby and reached down to hold Takuma’s hand. Takuma counted the train cars out loud as they raced by. Although he could only count to ten, he did so over and over until the entire train had passed by. Mizuko turned to watch the train until it disappeared from view. Then, with Takuma leading the way, they crossed the track and began the long walk home.
When she returned to their room, Mizuko was astonished to find Kazuichi had returned from Japan. “Where were you?” he demanded.
“We went for a walk and a long train blocked us on our trip home,” Mizuko replied. “Have you eaten?” she continued, changing the topic. Kazuichi grunted out what sounded like a ‘no’.
After sharing a meal of warmed over soup and rice, Kazuichi surprised her yet again. “I had a very auspicious trip to Japan and Taiwan. Your brother Katsumi-san, has a very impressive position as a provincial police chief in Taiwan. He is prospering and sends his regards. Next year I must return to Japan. I also want to introduce my sons to their relatives. Get a travel passport for you and the boys. I’m taking everyone to Japan.”
end of Chapter 9, segment 2 of 2, 'One Son, Two Sons'