A Childhood Changed Forever
Excerpt from “A Childhood Changed Forever” by Jean Ariyoshi
My childhood changed forever on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Hawai’i and the world changed that day. It was a lovely morning in Wahiawā and I was walking up California Avenue to a tiny Christian church presided over by Reverend Shimamura. It was a fifteen-minute walk. I turned left on Westervelt Street, unaware of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor until I got to church and the adults were herding all the children into the back of the sanctuary. We stayed there for hours.
We were at war. Military personnel began pouring into Hawai’i. Wahiawā, being next to Wheeler Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks, suddenly became a boom town. Soldiers, afraid they would never make it back from the war in the Pacific, stood in line in front of my father’s studio to have their pictures taken to send home to parents and sweethearts. My father moved his studio to a more prominent location on Kamehameha Highway in the center of Wahiawā, next to Galloway Drug Store. My oldest sister, Helen, had to forgo her college education to take over and manage my father’s business, since my father, a Japanese alien, was not allowed to own a business during wartime. He and Helen worked long hours, six days a week. They ate dinners at the studio, meals my mother prepared and packed in a jubako (layered lacquer box). My father lived in constant fear of being sent to a concentration camp, as my Uncle Toru Nishikawa had been. Uncle Toru, born in Hawai’i, was deemed a threat to national security because he was a reporter for a Japanese language newspaper in Honolulu. He was locked up on Sand Island and later moved to Honouliuli Internment Camp on O’ahu. His bank account was frozen and his wife’s sewing school forced to close, so Uncle Toru’s wife and son, my Auntie Grace and cousin Albert, moved in with us. This is the family who had offered to adopt me when I was born. Uncle Toru sent me rings to wear, made out of melted plastic toothbrush handles. He also sent me seashells, sanded flat and sewn on grosgrain ribbon. He did drawings of camp life and kept himself busy with artistic pursuits. We all looked forward to his gifts and sketches.
Because the photography business was so successful, our family didn’t suffer the hardships many Japanese Americans endured during World War II. In fact, my father was able to purchase a two-story home for us at 251 Valley Avenue, in an area known as The Terrace. Our neighbors were the Carmichaels, Tagudins, Komoris, and Buenconsejos. I can still close my eyes and hear all their family noises, reminding me of birds chattering in their nests. Dad also bought a beach house at Kawailoa for three thousand dollars, and a car to drive between our two homes.
Best of all, he bought me a piano. My oldest sister, Helen, now in charge of the finances, hired a Miss Howard to give me lessons. She also sent me to a beauty shop to have my hair curled, and to a dressmaker for new clothes. I was only nine.
My best friends throughout my school years were Alice Hyun, Margaret Kim, Helen Andres, June Kim, Kyung Sing Yang, Phyllis Wong, Edna Miyaguchi, and Marian Yokoo. We were inseparable. We roller skated and ice skated in a rink behind Marigold Market on California Avenue just above the Buddhist church. I fell down and skinned my knees so often that my mother made me pairs of corduroy slacks. My dream was to be an ice skater.
Helen Andres and I earned money for our activities by cleaning house for a third-grade teacher, Mrs. Chun, every Saturday. She gave us twenty-five cents each. Helen used her extra money for crack seed and I used mine to buy war stamps. We loved going to the movies. For a quarter each, we went to Wahiawā Theater. We bought candy at the Sawada store and “crack seed” (Chinese preserved seeds), from big glass jars at the Tai Sing store on the corner of Cane Street and California Avenue. We even sucked on the paper bags the seeds came in, savoring every last bit of flavor. Our pastries came from Kilani Bakery. They were good but I remained loyal to my mother’s applesauce cake and pumpkin pie. Nothing could beat them.
Author: Ariyoshi, Jean
Item: “A Childhood Changed Forever”
Source: Washington Place: A First Lady’s Story
Page #: 25
Call No./Location in RC: H B Ariyoshi (T 10542)
Translation from Japanese? No
A Childhood Changed Forever