Memories of Portland and Hood River Reunion August 11th

By Diana M. Cole

The flights from Reno to Oakland and Oakland to Portland were the most scenic flights I have ever taken. When we took off from Reno, the pilot predicted a spectacular view of the Tahoe area and it certainly was as beautiful as he promised. The flight from Oakland to Reno gave us a wonderful view of the Cascade mountain range as we approached Portland including a wonderful view of Crater Lake. I thought how mountains symbolized immortality, the sacred and continuity. The continuity aspect came to mind because my parents used to look at those very mountains when they farmed and raised a family in Oregon in the early 20th Century as I was doing now, returning to the land of the original Morita settlement in America.

Finding my sister, Flora, in the airport was easy. She was sitting right by the baggage pickup area. I remember how she and I decided to form a train to get over to the car rental center: I pushed her in the wheelchair while she pushed the luggage cart. We made it all the way across the street to where Wayne was waiting in line to sign up for the rental car. Everything seemed fine until we got into the hotel room and found that we had left Flora’s bag with all her medicines on the back of the wheelchair. Fortunately the airport police had turned it into the Lost and Found Department. Unfortunately for Wayne, he had to rush back to the airport and retrieve it.

While Wayne was returning on the hotel shuttle to the hotel, he met up with my two sisters-- Dorothy and Fumiko-- and my brother-in-law, Hiroshi. Eventually Hiroshi had to turn back as well, because he neglected to pick up one of his bags that contained valuable antiques he was going to donate to the local museum. Fortunately he too was able to recover his lost bag.

Someone was looking out for us because there were a series of mishaps of a similar nature that were corrected without much trouble: Dorothy left her handbag in the bathroom of one restaurant, which Chizuko, my sister-in-law, recovered, and I retrieved Chizuko’s hat from the Koida’s as she was getting into her car. Oh yeah, I forgot Betty Shibayama, another sister, accidentally sat on a bag of blackberries we picked in the Koida’s backlot. She was trying to close the rear car door that swung open suddenly while we were driving back to the Koida’s. No, she didn’t end up with a red behind.

Then there were those logistical issues that invariably crop up when so many Moritas congregate trying to make connections. On Sunday evening when we were to meet at Hood River Hotel for dinner, Paul, my eldest brother, drove his family to the Hood River Inn instead. That dinner arrangement had been rescheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. because we finished lunch around 3pm at the Nishimotos. We forgot to tell Dorothy so unfortunately she, Hiroshi, Rulie and Mrs. Tanaka were waiting at the hotel for an hour and 45 minutes until the rest of us arrived. Then there was the time Dorothy and Hiroshi left Mrs. Tanaka at the hotel for some event which I cannot remember.

I’ll never forget the determination in my brother, Claude’s, voice as he told everyone at Lil Nishimoto’s that he was definitely going to catch a fish that day because he got some tips from Lil’s brother, Roy. Claude promised that whatever he caught would be brought back to the Nishimoto kitchen. And by God, didn’t he do just that! After lunch, he and Chizuko rented a small row boat, went out to Lost Lake and caught a "fair-sized" trout.

In the Nishimoto’s kitchen is where I first saw Claude washing dishes. He said it wasn’t the first time. As I brought the plastic spoons for him to wash, he told me how he developed his skill. He said he learned to wash dishes in camp when he substituted for our mother’s duty in the mess hall. Claude said he did as any self-respecting son would do when he found out his mother would have to wash dishes.

It was wonderful to meet Paul-Erhick, my grandnephew, from Norway. The last time I saw him, he was a little premmie in a hospital incubator. Now he is a strapping lad. Wayne and he went swimming together in the Comfort Inn pool in Hood River. I remember seeing Paul-Erhick throw water on Wayne just as Aaron had when he was that age.

At the Friday mixer in Portland I talked awhile with Bessie, my sister, Ruth’s , friend from Hood River. Bessie is a very distinguished looking woman who I’m told played the violin. She and I were talking about the detrimental effects of imprisonment on the health of the Japanese American internees, especially those who were children in the most critical developmental period of their lives. Bessie, who was in charge of the mess hall at Minidoka said that she would not be surprised if that were true. She recalled the time when wieners came into the kitchen all blue from the mould that was growing on them. She said that she had to scrape off the mould and feed the wieners to the inmates.

The Saturday night dinner at Doubletree was very interesting and boring at the same time. We heard the same old JACL rhetoric about the 442nd battalion with no fresh insights, no mention of the Japanese Peruvians and no recognition of the men and women who fought for our constitutional rights during WWII. It is no wonder why a relative from the area told me that JACL is unable to move forward–that it is stuck in old issues. To my mind, in old propaganda. It was interesting that only males were given the microphone to speak during the program, and everyone in the audience appeared to accept what was presented without any critical assessment afterwards.

I remember Wayne and me screaming at each other all the way from the Doubletree Hotel in Portland to the picnic area in the Oaks on Sunday. Flora was the rare passenger who found the anxious, high-pitched discussion immensely funny. Unfortunately, Fumiko didn’t find it as entertaining while we drove her from Portland to Hood River Sunday evening. She rode in the car in stunned silence and I saw her body relax when Wayne made it to the highway and figured out where he was going. I heard from other people that similar "discussions" were going on in other vehicles in our motorcade.

Thank God, Joe Koida, a relative through marriage, had the good sense to lead us to his home in Milwaukie while we were still in Portland. There is no telling how many divorces he prevented with his leadership skills. What was amazing, besides the 200 greenhouses at the Koida compound, was the sheer numbers of bonsai trees that Mr. Koida cares for daily in his garden around his home. There were at least one thousand and as Joe puts it, "these were only 1/3 of what he had before he decided to give some away." Another testament to his obsession with volume is the Mr. Koida’s rock collection. One comes away from their homestead with an appreciation of the incredible Koida work ethic and management style.

At the picnic on Sunday, Fumiko learned to play Bingo. She had never played it before and won a dinner for two in Portland which she promptly gave to Claude and Chizuko since they were returning to Portland after our visit to Hood River. People were sharing their prizes with those who wanted them or who could make better use of them than those who won them.

It was kinda neat running into June Oda, my former piano teacher, and her sister, Lillian. Holding June’s hand and singing that great Japanese favorite, Ole Lang Syne, was rather touching.

Eating dinner in our first night in Hood River was a bit of an adventure. The hotel clerk recommended a greasy spoon down the street where the locals went to eat because the price was right. The majority of our family fit into two big booths while Wayne and I sat in a booth by ourselves. Wayne was in a very testy mood, and I thought his mood was attributable to the lack of beer on the menu. However he told me later back in the motel that he was upset about what he observed in the restaurant as the family walked in. He said there was a white family eating at the front of the restaurant when we entered the restaurant. As we filed by, Wayne said the look on the father’s face changed to match the angry look Wayne remembered in the faces of white Southerners who didn’t like what he was doing to integrate lunch counters in Atlanta, Georgia in the summer of 1961. It was the look of pure hatred, violence and anger.

Wayne’s recognition of racial hatred put me in a rather reflective state. Thinking about the degree of hatred that must have been present in this small rural community during the war when my siblings were little children, I wondered to myself: "if this is the kind of feeling natives exhibit during peacetime in the 21st Century, what must have it been like during the war?"

It also made me think about the prejudice that Aaron faced in Nova Scotia--another place of great scenic beauty and immense ignorance. I thought how fortunate Wayne and I were to be living in Incline Village, a place of beauty with virtually no white settlement before 1950, where everyone was pretty much on equal footing except for the amount of money in your bank account and the elevation of your building lot.

Walking by the local American Legion building the next day, thinking about the bigot in Carolyn’s restaurant and how the Legionnaires stripped Frank’s name off their honor roll after he was killed in action, I wished the building had been open so I could go in and confront them about their pathetic behavior during the war. After dinner at Carolyn’s, I began to understand the ambivalence my family feels every time we return to Hood River for a reunion or consider buying land in Oregon for recreational purposes.

Thankfully, there were a couple of nice things that happened in Hood River that made up for the bigot at Carolyn’s. While Wayne and I were out scouting the local brew pubs, we ran into a stone obelisk, right outside of one of the taverns, with Frank Hachiya’s name on it along with all the other veterans that died during America’s many wars. One of them was Konyo, a man who had been drafted along with my brother-in-law, Hiroshi Kaneko. Konyo was sent overseas and died.

The other was the friendly waitress at the Hood River Hotel who asked whether our family had been interned during the war. She was so interested in what Claude was saying in reply that she forgot to take our orders. Wayne, Shiba, my brother-in-law, and I looked at each other and placed a wager as to where she was from. I said there was no way she was from Hood River because she was too aware and too comfortable around Asians for her to be a local. Wayne guessed Berkeley, and Shiba guessed Santa Clara. Shiba was correct.

After we finished our dinner, we started to read Junior and Betty’s memories right at the hotel. Betty’s memories made many people cry. When we went downstairs to leave, Pam, my niece, played "When you wish upon a star." which cheered us up before the trip back to the Comfort Inn.

Back at the Inn, we used the conference room to finish up the memories. It was very intimate and warm with Claude interpreting for Fumiko. Everyone shared memories of some significance, and I believe those memories were appreciated by everyone present.

The drive to Portland Airport was relatively calm. This was due to the presence of a new braver passenger, Stirling, my nephew, who navigated Wayne around Portland when we missed the turnoff to the airport.

Memories of Early Days

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