I visited one of my aunts today to show her my work and at first she wasn't happy to see the album of old photos in my draft booklet.
"That's not interesting enough," she said. "There is much more you must tell and it's not there."
I reassured her that I had lots of stories that I had recorded from her, my mother and my other aunt at the back of the album. When I finished reading to her she said, "That's correct but I have many more stories, one for each day. Your mother was the smart one. She should have written our story, but she won't!"
Each of my aunts are so different that it's truly fascinating. My mother is always cautious of people's feelings. This aunt is one of the most honest people I know. She's told me I still have a lot to write and improve. The wonderful thing about her stories is that she's not afraid to remember. She remembers colors, sounds, feelings, smells and details that sketch the events of their days into a vivid picture. She also wants me to write the truth about all her adventures whether she behaved heroically or...not. I will tell one of her stories later but for today I'll just copy another story from my mother.
In 1945, Japanese citizens had been rounded up in Joshin (now Kamcha'ek, North Korea) and sent by train to Kanko (now Hamhung, North Korea). They were detained there for nearly nine months before being allowed to return to Japan. My grandfather was in a Siberian prisoner of war camp. My grandmother tried valiantly to keep her five daughters and young son alive throughout their ordeal.
And now my mother's story:
My brother, Toshi was stricken with diphtheria in Kanko. The terrible deprivation had stunted his growth and weakened his immune system. Diphtheria nearly ended his life. My mother and I took him to a medical facility that was run by Japanese volunteers and were told that Toshi needed a blood transfusion.
In order to receive blood from a blood bank we had to donate some. My mother tried to give her blood but something was wrong and it was not accepted. I tried also, but my veins were too small and they couldn’t extract enough. This may have been due to dehydration. The situation was desperate until a medical aide volunteered to supply his own blood for Toshi. We were eternally grateful and relieved. Toshi was able to get the transfusion as needed. However, he remained sick for a long time.
Crossing at the 38th parallel border between north and south Korea after the exodus from Kanko we saw a line of American soldiers watching us. We couldn’t trust the Russian soldiers because we never knew what kind of people we’d be running against. However, seeing the American soldiers filled us with relief. We just knew we could trust them.
They noticed how ill Toshi looked. My mother told me to show them my passport. I didn’t understand why at the time but I realized later that she wanted them to see that I had an American passport since I was born on Molokai. After looking at my passport the soldiers decided to do what they could to help Toshi. They located some medicine that we could give him and after taking it, he improved. My mother said Toshi would surely have perished the next day if he’d not gotten that medicine at that time.
After crossing the border we had to walk another distance until we caught a train to Fuson (now Puson or Buson, South Korea) where we boarded a boat to Japan. Docking in Fukuoka, we took a train to Tokyo and then to Sendai.
We could hardly believe we had reached Sendai. On the last leg of our journey, from Sendai we caught a trolley to go to Shichigahama where my mother’s family resided. When we boarded the trolley we could not believe our eyes! We saw the medical aide, our angel of mercy who had given his own blood to save Toshi! We recognized him immediately and had a joyous reunion acknowledging our lucky survival together. After those eternity of miles to suddenly meet up again was more than we could quite comprehend. He was thrilled to see Toshi still alive with prospects for recovery.
Uncle Toshi is actually just 8 years older than me. He is my mother's youngest sibling. I'm happy to say he survived those turbulent years and graduated at the top of his class. Eventually he became a much respected high court judge in Tokyo and recently retired though he is still involved in many areas of law. My cousin, his daughter tells me he is looking forward to seeing what I've done.
Needless to say... I don't have a lot of time to polish up this work for him to review. Yikes! Next week, I'll be taking what I've done to another aunt to get her input. Unfortunately and fortunately, every time I talk to the three sisters, I have more to add and more to revise. How will I ever finish?