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.
A light spray tingled the faces of Haru and her young charges. The 3 o’clock sun had painted a double rainbow arching down from rainy Wa‘ahila Ridge, curving into sunny Kapi‘olani Park, a mile from the Takayamas’ home.
“Check your backpacks,” reminded Haru.
A dozen boys, ages 7 to 11, including her Tommy and Yoshio, stood almost at attention in their starched blue Cub Scout uniforms. Stitched merit badges peppered their upper sleeves and unblemished yellow bandanas hung around their necks.
Haru pulled out a list from the sleeve of her yukata and began reading off her checklist. “Three Band-Aids?”
“Hai!” the chorus shouted out.
“Onigiri?” called out Haru, referring to their rice balls wrapped in pressed seaweed with a pickled plum in the center.
And so went the list.
Haru and her assistant den mother, Saki, were loaded down like donkeys with marshmallows, hamburger meat, buns, ketchup and mustard.
In need of additional income, Saki had taken to raising rabbits, thanks to an advance from Haru.
“Better than pigs,” Saki said. “They don’t smell, not much poop and they multiply like . . . rabbits.” The line always got the laugh she’d learned to expect. Her husband’s carpentry business “was starting slow.” After quitting the Rev. Okumura’s carpentry class, Yoshi had pressured his critics to let him join their tanomoshi loan club and lend him money to buy an electric planer.
Haru had birthed the Cub Scout idea in Waimea as a way to Americanize her children. She had approached Wellington Carter, whose ranch sponsored scouting for the children of his paniolo (cowboy). Haru had served as an assistant den mother for three months with the troop. She had entered her apprenticeship in order to provide her mission’s children an American activity, only to find that she enjoyed the outings, too. While the Cub Scouts was an American institution, the activities of rope tying, reading a compass, and identifying birds and animals held universal appeal to boys of any ethnic or cultural background. Later, when Takeshi was of age, Kenji had promised to start a Boy Scout troop.
Assured that everyone was prepared, Haru announced, “Until we get back, let’s speak English only.”
A voice squeaked, “Each time somebody speaks Japanese, he loses a marshmallow.”
After a ragged chorus of “hai!” and “yes” and then pointing fingers at each other for their “hais,” it was agreed to count the marshmallows. “Eight,” said Yoshio. “There’s enough for everyone to have eight.”
Haru caught herself just as “Ikimashö!” was about to slip out from her mouth. Instead, she yelled out in her best sergeant’s voice, “Let’s go!” The boys set out at a trot, a pace the women hoped would soon slow.
Two hours later, the point scout on the hike called out, “That looks like a good spot.”
Haru hurried to the front to take a look. Flat ground. The remains of burnt wood settled in shallow fire pits indicated that others had found the spot to their liking. She glanced at Saki, who nodded her head.
As the boys gathered firewood, Yoshio swung his machete to trim tree branches to fashion poles for the tents. When Saki started to make hamburger patties, Tommy dug his fingers into the ground beef mixture and squealed, “Orega yaruyo!”
“You might do it,” said Yoshio, “but you just lost a marshmallow.” Ignoring the rebuke, Tommy looked at his mother: “To earn our merit badges, we must do everything ourselves.”
Saki stepped back, making way for the proud hamburger chef.
After dinner and with the cleanup finished, someone hollered, “It’s time to roast the marshmallows!”
And play the presidents game, thought Haru. Could the boys name all of the American presidents, from Washington to Harding? As she was about to open her mouth, one of the boys pronounced, “The Yankees will win the pennant again this year because they’ve got Babe Ruth, the greatest player.”
“Maybe they will win,” said Yoshio, “but Ty Cobb is the greatest player. Almost 4,000 hits and 900 stolen bases!”
“You are both wrong,” said another boy. “The best hitter ever is Roger Hornsby. He averaged almost 400 for the past three seasons. Nobody else ever did that.”
Maybe, thought Haru, debating whether America’s baseball players were more important than ticking off the presidents. The boys certainly needed no prompting to study America’s favorite pastime. She and Saki retreated from the fire. If the boys noticed their departure, no one said anything. The last name Haru heard was Cy Young. Was that a name or a description? she wondered.
Setting her empty backpack off to the side, Haru pulled out a light-blue aerogram letter from her yukata. “I think my parents are worried that my sisters plan to stay forever,” she laughed.
“Well, read it out loud,” said Saki.
“Let me jump to the part about my sisters.” Haru unfolded the letter and held it at an angle to catch the light from the fire. She scanned toward the bottom of the front page and began reading.
“Your sisters are settling into your old room. We welcome them to share our meals and enjoy their silk factory stories. If I were younger, maybe I would start growing mulberry trees. Gin and Kin are delightful companions, although they seem a little lost. Their initial energy looking for work has diminished. The best place for their skills is in Töhöku, but they seem to have fallen in love with Hiroshima, my cooking and your room.”
Haru set the letter down on her lap.
As if on cue, Saki asked, “How old are your parents?”
“Kiyoshi is almost 70 and Midori five years younger.”
“Your parents are rather elderly to be taking care of two middle-aged women,” said Saki with a disapproving voice. “It should be the other way around.”
A shout from the sweet-smelling marshmallow campfire distracted them for a moment. “Ty Cobb never had a candy bar named after him!”
Haru smiled and then continued, “My sisters lacked the love of parents like Midori and Kiyoshi. They were sold off to a Niigata silk factory in their early teens. If they were younger, they could find husbands.”
“Are they really too old?” asked Saki with renewed interest. “Maybe too old for a man’s first wife in Hiroshima, but how about as a wife to a man in Hawai‘i who lost his first wife and is now burdened with children?”
“Before Japan stopped the picture bride program, that might have been possible,” said Haru.
“Some desperate men are traveling to Japan to marry their arranged brides and bring them back as wives,” said Saki.
“That loophole might not last much longer,” said Haru. “The Hawaii Hochi reported that Congress is considering passing an immigration law that will prohibit any more Japanese from immigrating to America.”
The thought lingered until Saki blurted, “The Miho brothers are widowers. They both lost their wives to the Spanish flu.”
“Who?” asked Haru. She knew practically everyone in Mö‘ili‘ili, but not these Miho brothers.
“They work with Oki Tama on the Ala Wai dredging project. They had machinery jobs on a sugar plantation.”
“Why didn’t they remarry?” asked Haru. “There were plenty of widows who needed husbands.”
“I don’t know. That’s your department,” laughed Saki.
Haru nodded, looked at her watch and began to rise. “Let’s get our adventurers inside the tents.”
To be continued . . .