Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan.
“Mayor” Haru, attired in a freshly laundered, blue-checkered yukata, greeted her fellow early risers as sheepish men, women and children made their way to latrines dug along the tree line in back of the Takayama compound. She kept her practiced eye alert for any discarded trash along what had been a grassy corridor but was now a worn dirt path.
She waved at the polite lines of people formed at the ofuro. Her own bath was finished an hour before sunrise. She and Kenji kept to the 10-minute usage limit, although her “citizens” insisted she should not have to sign up or stand in line. “Your time is too important,” they said. Rather than argue with their kindness, she adopted the early-rise routine.
The “We will show those greedy plantation owners how tough we are” euphoric bravado of January’s walkout had given way to the long, restless days of late February as strikers now spoke of gaman — the Japanese philosophy of bearing the unbearable without complaint. Haru’s “city” of 400 persevered in a routine of forbearance.
Women worked the water pump, allowing each family one gallon per person for drinking and washing dishes. Pans were placed outside tents to collect rainwater.
At Wellington Carter’s behind-the-scenes insistence, Waimea’s public schools went into double shifts — the morning for students who normally attended and the afternoon for plantation children who no longer had access to the public grammar schools on the plantation. Kenji taught his Japanese school curriculum before lunch. Haru used the mission school to conduct adult English classes after lunch was served to the children. Adults skipped lunch.
The Parker Ranch cowboys planted vegetable gardens. Wellington Carter allowed one cow per week to “go missing.”
Men did what idle men have done for millennia. They gambled. Haru realized she could not put human nature on hold, but she did insist on no gambling in her “city.”
Worker 2436 was the first scab to sneak off for a $2-a-day wage to break the strike. Kurume, suspecting 2436 was Bilkerton’s source for the secret strike vote, had fed the spy embellished stories of fund-raising. Bilkerton had a tougher time raising a scab workforce than the Honolulu plantations, as the smaller local communities lacked the city’s urban anonymity. The bamboo telegraph informed Tamatsuke that Bilkerton’s planting was down more than 70 percent and the arduous task of weeding was haphazard at best.
The following morning, Reverend Adams left his church grounds, home to a chaotic group of 40 striking families, mostly Filipinos with a smattering of Japanese Christians, to stroll over to the Takayama compound. Although he was losing the battle to have latrines cleaned daily and trash picked up, he felt certain some of the pungent smells he endured must be the result of trade winds pushing the stench from the much larger Takayama squatters’ camp, only a quarter mile away, into his vicarage.
He was surprised that the foul odors decreased the further he walked. As the Takayama camp came into view, he found it difficult to believe his eyes: litter-free pathways, clean-shaven men weeding vegetable sprouts, teenage boys incinerating trash in 55-gallon drum barrels opposite Haru’s house and, at the back of the compound, well-scrubbed children sitting together under trees, engaged in lessons. Under bright sunshine, women sat cross-legged, mending clothes while others were bent over buckets, washing dishes. One skinny lady was sweeping out her tent. Then, it struck him. What didn’t he see? Idleness.
As the reverend entered the driveway, Haru ran out to greet him. “Reverend Adams! Welcome,” she said with a warm smile. “We are so grateful your church took in the Christian families.” She turned and swept open her arms to encompass her little village. “I can’t imagine where we could have put anyone else.”
“What amazing organization you have here. How do you do it?” he asked.
“Remember, we are the crazy culture that takes our shoes off before entering a house and makes our husbands bathe twice a day,” said Haru with an even broader smile.
Adams nodded his head. “I suspect Kenji’s leadership had something to do with this orderly camp,” said Adams. “Is Takayama-Sensei available?”
Haru escorted Adams up the porch steps and into her home, where Kenji greeted the reverend. He nodded his head to Haru, who left the two men to converse in private. A good hour went by before Adams took his leave. As he left the house, he spied Haru walking out of the schoolhouse.
“Madame Mayor,” shouted Adams. Catching up to her, he said, with an apologetic smile, “Your husband has told me of your gifted organizational skills. If it isn’t too much trouble, would you show me around your camp? I have much to learn.”
“Of course, Reverend. But, I must say that most of the camp’s discipline comes from the . . . plantation leaders,” said Haru, thinking this euphemism had a more friendly sound than “strike leaders.”
After Adams left, Haru wondered if the strike, which had divided so many, might bring Waimea’s Christians, Buddhists and Shintoists into a social harmony that would survive the strike.
To be continued . . .