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 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, Georgia and Japan.
Sachiko’s knees quivered as she stepped out of the Packard and looked up the path to the house on the hill. She took a few steps . . . slowly, hesitantly. The scent of plumeria blossoms should have reminded the girl of her childhood in Waimea. Instead, all she could smell was her own fear.
Coming around from the other side of the car, Charles Hemenway spoke with calming reassurance. “It may be hard to imagine, but I was young once and can still remember what it’s like to leave home for the first time.” He shifted Sachiko’s wicker suitcase to his left hand and gently guided the girl up the path with his right. “But I wish I had had your mission.”
“Mission?” Sachiko’s voice came out as an anxious squeak.
“Why, yes. Mr. Shivers might be an FBI special agent, but he is new to Hawai‘i. He and his wife have no children, no friends to show her around.”
What Hemenway did not say — but Sachiko’s older brother had hinted at — was that her presence in the Shivers household would give the Japanese community a human face, even if it was just for a couple of weeks.
Hemenway and Sachiko were halfway up the steps of the wooden porch when the screen door opened. Corrine Shivers stepped out, dressed in a brightly colored mu‘umu‘u and a sporting a toothy smile.
“You must be Sachiko,” she said in her warmest Southern drawl. “It’s so wonderful to meet you.” She gave Sachiko a conspiratorial look and whispered, “Now, you just ignore Mr. Shivers’ severe face. It took me months before I ever saw his teeth.”
Sachiko’s knees stopped quivering. She started to bow, caught herself and held the awkward pose for a moment of indecision before completing the gesture. She tried to hide her surprise when Corrine bent slightly at the waist in response.
“That’s a lovely custom, sweetheart, but I think a simple handshake with Mr. Shivers will do.”
Robert Shivers stood uncomfortably in the middle of the living room.
“Hello, Sachi-ko.” He had practiced saying the unfamiliar name, but still separated the third syllable.
Taking her cue from his wife, Sachiko offered her hand. The hesitant Shivers glanced at the limp offering before clasping the girl’s hand and shaking it gently. “We hope you will be comfortable here . . . in our home . . . for the next few weeks.”
Having completed his delivery, Hemenway broke in. “Sorry to rush off, but Jane and I have plans this evening, at a university function.”
“Thank you, Charles,” smiled Corrine. Then she turned to Sachiko. “Sweetheart,” she said — not realizing she skipped her r’s much like the Japanese did, so “sweetheart” came out “sweet-haat” — “let me show you to your room. Our bedroom is on the left side of the house . . .” she gesticulated vaguely, and then added, “along with Robert’s home office. Your room is this way.”
Sachiko’s face lit up as she entered the room catching the sunset’s last rays. Her own private room for the first time in her life. A twin bed, a desk with a scratched top, a rack of pigeonholes at the back and a tired grey dresser had been crammed into the cubby-sized room. She warmed at the sight of a petite Chinese vase filled with violets sitting atop a nightstand. No closet, but hangers dangled from a row of hooks nailed to the wall opposite the bed — more than enough for her skimpy wardrobe. A double-screened window, its shutters split open, brought the smell of cut grass to freshen the musty smells of the long-vacated room. She spotted a rocking chair on the porch outside her window that seemed ideal for reading her school assignments. A wonderful setting to find out if Hester would commit seppuku.
“I know you Japanese love fish. Maybe you can show me how to cook it.” A little doubt crept into Corrine’s voice. “Tonight, we are having steak.”
“Oh, I love steak. We lived next to Parker Ranch in Waimea.”
“Why, yes, America’s biggest ranch. You simply must tell us all about it.”
When Sachiko offered to help in the kitchen, Corrine replied, “There will be plenty of time for that over the next few weeks. Tonight you are a guest. Have a seat in the living room and entertain Robert.”
Entertain Robert? Sachiko asked herself. She was relieved that the living room was vacant. Wherever Mr. Shivers was, she hoped he’d stay there awhile. She noticed the Pacific Liner, her favorite Hollywood magazine, atop the coffee table. She picked it up and flipped to the Lana Turner feature story. As Sachiko gazed wistfully at the starlet’s photo and wished she had breasts like America’s “sweater girl,” Mr. Shivers walked in. Flustered, she closed the magazine.
“I see you and Corrine have the same interests,” said Shivers, sitting across her.
Wondering if she had been caught envying Lana Turner, she couldn’t find the words to respond.
Assuming the girl’s reticence was a consequence of youthful nervousness in a stranger’s house, Shivers asked, “Who’s your favorite movie star?”
Sachiko breathed easier. “Clark Gable. But I like Errol Flynn, too.”
“Who is your favorite Japanese movie star?”
A perplexed expression washed over Sachiko’s face. “I can’t speak Japanese so well,” she said, feeling a bit guilty.
“So you don’t go to Japanese movies?”
“I went once with my mother when I was 10 or 11. I fell asleep.”
“So your mother goes to Japanese movies?”
“Sometimes. But not so much anymore. Her favorite actor is William Powell. He’s a little boring for me. But she also loves Gabby Hayes. We both like Westerns. We wish Gene Autry and Roy Rogers would sing together in a film.”
Remembering her mother’s admonishment that a polite lady shows interest in others, Sachiko braved, “Who is your favorite movie star?”
Shivers’ G-man instinct urged him to snap back that he would ask the questions. He resisted, however. He could not help but smile at the names rolling off of his lips. “James Cagney and Bette Davis.”
As Sachiko looked at Shivers’ teeth, she thought of his wife’s welcoming remarks.
“Have you seen “Dark Victory?” It’s playing downtown right now. I like Humphrey Bogart. Mother likes Ronald Reagan; she thinks he’s handsome. But when he speaks, you can tell he’s just memorized the lines. He’s not very believable.”
“Actually, Mrs. Shivers and I saw ‘Dark Victory’ in Washington shortly before we left.” Shivers found himself enjoying the light conversation and went on at some length about how he had enjoyed Bette Davis’ portrayal of a vacuous socialite suffering from a malignant brain tumor. When he finished, Shivers looked into Sachiko’s expectant eyes and reminded himself of why he had asked Corrine to give him some time with the new houseguest before dinner.
“Did you go to a Japanese language school?”
Sachiko’s lips turned downward, telegraphing unhappy memories. “Yes, my father runs one of those schools. We — that is, my brothers and sister and I — we hated it once we got to junior high school.”
Trained to ignore such protests from hundreds of suspects he had interviewed, Shivers continued, “What did you learn at your father’s school?”
“I can write my name in kanji characters and read simple signs over Japanese shops in our neighborhood. Father taught us Confucius’ golden rule: ‘Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.’ Respect the elders; take good care of them. Honor our teachers. Bathe twice a day. Wash your hands after you . . .” She blushed.
Shivers locked on to Sachiko’s eyes. “What do you think of the emperor? Hirohito?”
“He likes horses.”
Shivers’ face betrayed his confusion.
Seeing his reaction, Sachiko hurried to explain. “I don’t know that much about him. But we have his picture in our home. He’s sitting on a white horse.” Sensing that this didn’t sound quite right, she rushed on. “His picture is right next to President Roosevelt’s, who is sitting in a car. I think this shows America is more modern . . .” Her voice rose at the end of this statement, making it more of a question.
“But Japan has modernized very quickly. You must be very proud to be Japanese.”
Sachiko snapped her shoulders back. “I’m not Japanese!” She pressed the fingers of her right hand over her upper chest. “I’m American.” Leaning forward, she pressed her fingers harder. “I’m proud to be an American, Mr. Shivers.”
Shivers felt he had overstepped some type of boundary with the naïve 17-year-old. He wondered how he would feel if he had a daughter of a similar age whom the FBI surreptitiously interrogated.
They were both relieved when Corrine walked in. “Dinner is ready.”
In between bites of steak and forkfuls of mashed potatoes, the three discussed movies. They all agreed John Wayne was a comer and planned to see “Stagecoach” together.
* * *
While driving to the office the next morning, Shivers studied the many Asian faces that he passed on the street. Most were neatly dressed, walking along the sidewalks with purpose or standing at tram stops engaged in relaxed conversation with Asians, Hawaiians and whites alike. He wondered how many Japanese Americans were like Sachiko. She was so at odds with his mission to intern her and her parents when war with Japan broke out.
To be continued . . .