In my seemingly never-ending drive to uncover lost details of family history – both here in America and in Hiroshima – many surprises have popped up. Stuff I could have not even imagined.
For instance, finding out my grandfather went camping – complete with a Coleman stove from that time (circa 1915). It’s odd even for me to see Japanese immigrants camping let alone in shirts and ties:
Or that Grandmother Kono – also from a small farming village in Hiroshima as my grandfather – would pose for a picture on the running board of a brand new 1918 (c) Chevrolet Touring happily holding my Aunt Shiz:
I don’t think even she could have ever dreamed she would be sitting on the running board of an American icon from the poverty she had lived in before coming to Seattle as a picture bride.
On other subjects, I’ve developed unprovable conclusions based on detailed inspection of such photos… but I guess there’s no harm in believing them.
For instance, there are quite a few lefties in my dad’s side of the family. I’ve always wondered from whom that trait came from.
Well, in the few photographs remaining of Grandfather Hisakichi, I see some glaring patterns:
Here he is on the right, holding a cigarette in his left hand:
In July 1922, he is photographed here holding his hat in his left hand; however, as in his other photos in a suit, his gold chain (perhaps a watch) leads to a left vest pocket. I am unsure of which direction a watch would have been pocketed:
But there is one undeniable fact. While I cannot find the actual US Immigration manifest, the 1930 Census discloses Grandfather Hisakichi (legally) immigrated here in 1898 when he was just 17 years old.
But because he was a documented immigrant, the government knew he was here. He had to register for the draft in 1918! WWI was raging then. He was 38 years old.
I have been remiss in visiting Old Man Jack; when I arrived there today, I made sure he heard my Mustang he loved to ride in so much… I hope his now silent neighbors didn’t mind too much. As I neared his resting place walking on very sodden soil, it was clear I was his last visitor from some months ago. The grass had definitely encroached on his gravestone; even the hole where the water decanter should be seen was covered up.
As I trimmed away the overgrown grass, I fondly remembered a “Whhhoooo-eee!” Old Man Jack let out once. That one time, he had an extra emphasis on the “Whhhoooo”… with even more of a sopranic “eee” at the end. He then proceeded to tell me about how his old man kept him in line as a boy while handing me something from his past. More on that later.
And that word’s made up, you know…”sopranic”. But for that moment, he was definitely Julie Andrews. 🙂
In our chats in his cluttered garage, Old Man Jack used to tell me how he used to “tussle” a lot while growing up in Glendale, CA. You know. Fight. He wasn’t embarrassed to say he took a lickin’ – once in a while. He frequently said one reason why he took a lickin’ was that he was a runt so he took up body building for protection – as well as for the girls. He had flashed his trademark grin while gently shaking his head fondly left and right as while talking about his youthful adventures; you wonder what crazy memories flashed in his mind filled with life’s wisdom to power that grin.
He reminisced that his dad was also a bit of a trouble maker, especially when he had a bit too much libation but that he was the family enforcer. Old Man Jack said his dad was also a sailor – a baker in the US Navy to be exact but he also had worked as a barber. They were together out in the SW Pacific during the war but on different islands. He said his dad would once in a while send him a cake and cookies on a B-25 Mitchell that was making some kind of supply run. Old Man Jack instantly became the most loved sailor on that island when the cake and cookies were unloaded… provided the pilots didn’t eat them along the way.
On the way to visit him at his resting place, I decided to listen to the news. Well actually, the only time I can hear the news is while in my Mustang is stopped at a light – the exhaust isn’t exactly quiet (listen below)… and in that brief instant, the newscaster reported again about a pro sports figure and an alleged “beating” he gave his son. I turned it off as I am tired of the media making a circus out of every perceived “socially incorrect” behavior. Of course, I wouldn’t know of the intimate details of the allegations. Can’t trust the media, you know.
Don’t get me wrong. I sure as hell don’t condone BEATING a kid. No way. But… I believe there is nothing wrong with a spanking – or a “whippin'” as Old Man Jack’s generation used to say. Because of the social pressures exerted by a faction of our culture, taking a hand – any kind of hand – to your child means police show up at your door – at least here in California. “Positive reinforcement” goes only as far as your front door.
There is nothing wrong with a good spanking, in my opinion… Or, when I was going to junior high school, it was called a “swatting”. There was our PE teacher, a Mr. T. He had a swat board the size of Rhode Island made out of balsa wood thicker than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biceps. It was even taped at the handle to enhance the grip for his elephant sized hands AND he had several large holes drilled into the paddle section to increase the device’s aerodynamic characteristics, i.e., more paddle speed, more pain. I’m positive he had its aerodynamics tested in a wind tunnel. If any of my male high school buddies are reading this, they know exactly what I’m talking about. I think the paddle section was even painted black. All the PE teachers carried one of their own design.
Believe me, the threat of a swat kept MANY a kid in line… meaning they really gave it a thought before crossing that line and risk getting caught – and greeting the aerodynamically enhanced swat from Mr. T. One benefit was it taught respect – the hard way.
Frankly, the prohibition of spanking – in my opinion – has contributed to the growing disrespect and behavioral problems being shown by many of today’s younger folks. A kid never gets a well deserved licking, i.e., pain, if you did something bad. All a kid gets now is a painless lesson in positive reinforcement or detention. No pain, you gained. You learned it was OK to whine, too.
But back to his “Whhhoooo-eee”…
As Old Man Jack belted out the whhhooo-eee, he handed me this; it has been hanging safe and sound in my hall closet since he gave it to me:
It’s a barber’s leather razor blade sharpening strop (not strap). Specifically, a “Scotch Lassie”; it was his father’s:
While I wasn’t clear if this was the one that was used or not, Old Man Jack got a whippin’ with this on occasion from his dad…the same one who sent him cakes and cookies out in the Pacific during a vicious war. From a couple of the stories he told me, it sure sounds like he deserved the whippings and therefore, the reason for his whhhoooo-eee. And you know what? Old Man Jack turned out to be one helluva respectful and forgiving man.
Remembering he was giving me that trademark grin while handing it to me, he said something to the effect of, “Koji, I’ll tell ya… The thought of getting another whippin’ from my dad sure kept me from getting into more trouble…but not ALL the time.” Knowing Old Man Jack well by then, it made me grin, too.
With that, he said it was time for him to part with it, to move on and that he wanted me to keep it… if I wanted it.
Knowing how it was an intimate guiding influence of how this great man turned out to be as he was, of course I did. I think he was glad.
But I sure miss his trademark grin and I think he misses my cigar in return… but not the whippin’ I gave him when he challenged me at stop lights in HIS ’68 Mustang on our way to breakfasts.
But you have to be obsessed…when time is working against you.
Retouching faded or damaged family photographs can become a labor of love.
Perhaps the finished product is meaningless to people outside of your family. Maybe to some within your own family as well. But somehow, you become obsessed with it because in spite what others feel, you know in your heart it is important… and perhaps more important as the years roll by.
Family members come into this world, live, then pass on. How did they live? Where? What was it like “back then”?
That’s my mission. To leave hints of what it was like for my descendants as well as interested family.
To let others see what “they” looked like. How “they” smiled. How “they” grew up.
The first snapshot above is but a page from my Grandmother Kono’s photo album.
Brittle pages. Photos that were lovingly pasted onto those pages by my Grandmother. Photos now eaten by insects. Faded. Damaged.
Now is the time. Restore and retouch. Hundreds of them. That’s the mission. Before all knowledge of their lives disappear.
They are disappearing today.
Having but free software, the retouching being done is surely amateur. Basic at the best. I wish I could afford professional software but then again, there would be a tremendous learning curve. Make do with what you have…as “they” did.
And when you finish one photograph, you receive gifts. Gifts of seeing what would have been lost. Lost to their descendents forever.
Here is one example from that page:
While the detail is surely not “lost”, it is hard to make out things. The print is small to begin with; a quarter was placed for size reference.
But after restoring and retouching, some fun things come into clearer view – especially if there is a companion print to compare with:
In another pose on the same album page, you can see both my dad and Suetaro were holding food in their hands and dad had a bandaged thumb. Here, after restoration, you can more clearly see the food but it blends into his bandaged thumb which would have been hard to separate. I’m pretty sure Dad is eating an “onigiri” or rice ball, likely wrapped in seaweed. Uncle Suetaro had already devoured his. Minor detail, yes. But now we have an idea of what Grandmother fed them in Seattle while growing up.
Aunt Shiz…well, it appears she would rather have been playing with her friend but we know she wore a uniform to school. And she has a hair clip. Berets for boys were in fashion, also, it seems. Funny as Dad doesn’t like to wear hats much. We also know that on that day, they wore very Western clothes…down to his overalls.
One barber pole is also different than the other. When dad saw this today, for some reason, he just proudly blurted out, “620 S. King Street”, and very happily. I think he was amazed at himself for remembering. But the confirmation of the address came from retouching the print. He also said, “That’s wood (referring to the sidewalk),” implying he doesn’t remember a wooden sidewalk. But I mentioned to him it was cement when you look at it carefully and he was happy that he wasn’t a “pumpkin head”.
From this retouched print, Dad also added one startling comment out of the blue. He said a number of “hakujin”, or Caucasians, came to the shop, even though it was in “Japanese Town”. I asked him why. His reply was, “I don’t know… but Japanese are more attentive, I guess, than the other barbers…especially in shaving.” I know what he means.
So all this “stuff” came from retouching a faded photo… Things that would have been otherwise lost. Face it. Dad isn’t the little boy eating that onigiri anymore. But he still eats like a horse. A good sign. Aunt Shiz didn’t feel like eating much the day she quietly passed away.
One of the finds from the 100 year old shed were photos from my Grandfather Hisakichi’s barbershop. It would appear these are from about 1917 through 1930.
His shop was in the Hotel Fujii at 620 South King Street in Seattle, WA. Being raised here in America, it is not only striking to see my grandparent’s barbershop but it is so unlike those of other barbershop photographs of that time being manned by “non-Caucasians”. Is that best way of putting it? You can see the hair tonics that were used as well as the Koch porcelain barber chairs. Through the help of my friends interested in WWII history, we believe the calendar indicates shows “Thursday, October 9, 1930”.
In this picture below, a “no nonsense” Grandfather Hisakichi is holding my Aunt Shiz; this would put the photo as being taken in 1917.
According to my dad a couple of weeks ago, Grandfather would work the shop by himself during the slow times but would bring in others as the season changed. They lived upstairs in a room at the hotel.
It is difficult to imagine he supported the family with this one barber shop but you would think he worked hard and was a sound businessman in a foreign country.
Oh… Since WWI was raging, he registered for the draft.
Ninety years later, I thank him.
True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family