In my past two columns, I wrote about turning and walking, two kinds of movement over the course of a human life. This week I want to write about different paths.
My mother and I have taken different paths. Both are appropriate for the generations we were born into—pre-War and post-War. My mother and I have managed to stay pretty conflict-free by avoiding the topic of our different paths. She has stayed devoutly apolitical, at least in her mind. I am devoted to the realities of water politics, which make party politics look tame.
Our paths crossed in a phone conversation the other day, and it was a revelation. She was wondering whether they teach about 9/11 in the schools now. Having neither children nor grandchildren, I said I didn’t know. We ambled on, remembering the day it happened and comparing it to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In December 1941 she was a freshman in high school. She remembered the terror, the uncertainty of what would follow. She remembered the drafting of young men she knew. Then she remembered the “rounding up of all the Japanese-Americans and sending them to concentration camps.”
“It made me so mad,” she said, still burning 80 years later. “It was so wrong. They didn’t do anything. Just because we could tell them apart from other people, they lost everything.” I asked her if she knew any Japanese-Americans in school. No, she said, they didn’t live around her town, but there were many who farmed up around Puyallup, my father’s home town, embedded in a small, fertile valley formed by the Puyallup River. “When we’d cross the bridge, you could see them out in their fields,” she said.
I asked how she found out about it then, whether her folks talked about it or kids at school? She didn’t remember. I asked her if she, or anyone she knew protested the action, and she said “no” with some embarrassment if not shame. I mentioned how eager some people were for their dispossession, who promoted the removal of Japanese-Americans in order to scoop up their farms (Carey McWilliams wrote about that in Delhi in Merced County.) Then I mentioned that in some communities, including Lindsay, some Anglo farmers took care of their farms while the Japanese-Americans were incarcerated, and saved their substantial profits for them so they had their farms to come home to and money to live on until the next crop.
“There was a guy in Lindsay who did that, Harvey Hartig,” I told her. “Really?” she said, astounded. Harvey was gone by the time I moved here, but his wife Ruby talked about it in a storywriting class I held at the Presbyterian church. I knew his daughter Patricia as well, and they were incredible people. One day for that class Ruby brought a photo of Harvey: he is holding both of his grade-school-aged daughters on his lap, all three of them asleep after a night running wind machines. I still have it, a treasure: it’s a picture of commitment.
“There were others,” I start to tell Mom on the phone, beginning to rummage through my memory bank, but it’s not important to our conversation. “Tell Harvey ‘THANK YOU’ from your 95-year-old mother!” she said emphatically. I don’t tell her that almost everyone is dead who could receive her appreciation. Instead I remember that collecting these stories was one of the things I hoped to do when I moved to this town, but haven’t, a path not taken.
It’s a meaningful story about our town and citrus belt region, however. Whether Exeter had farmers with similarly good instincts, I don’t know. I believe the town of Livingston (near Delhi) had parallel stories, and this might be a good time to collect them before they disappear. They are our communities’ saving grace stories. They tell us that greed isn’t the only instinct we know, and that some people will rise to the occasion of injustice to do something to combat it, even if they avoid politics like the plague.
So, thank you, Harvey, from my 95-year-old mother and me. May your path be replicated a thousand-fold, and may these stories come to light in our community histories.
Trudy Wischemann is a verbal spearmaiden who writes from her homemade pulpit in Lindsay. You can send her your saving-grace stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.