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, Georgia and Japan.
Sachiko quickly fell into a set routine. From her first day, she washed the breakfast and dinner dishes without being asked. She presented herself in the kitchen every afternoon, eager to peel potatoes, wash the green beans or shuck the cornhusks. She enjoyed learning how to cook haole food. When requested, she cooked mahimahi fish with soy sauce. Her big hit was shrimp and vegetable tempura, one of her mother Haru’s favorites. Sachiko also enjoyed playing the role of a shopping guide to both downtown and Chinatown. It was easy for her to be a good listener, as she was too nervous to start a conversation herself.
One day three weeks into her home stay, Corrine was drying the breakfast dishes as Sachiko washed and rinsed them.
“Did I hear that McKinley has a home football game next Friday?”
Sachiko’s face lit up. “Yes, it’s our home opener against St. Louis.”
“I might like to go,” said Corrine, stopping her drying for a moment. “With your friends, of course, if you don’t think they’d mind.” She had already learned that Japanese parents seldom attended high school sports.
“Oh! That . . . would be . . . wonderful, Mrs. Shivers. I’m sure you’d like my friends. They’re . . . well . . .” She giggled. “We’re all just typical teenagers.”
“There’s one condition,” Corrine said with an impish smile. “I think ‘Mrs. Shivers’ is a bit formal.”
Sachiko stood still, her wet hands holding a coffee cup. She could not call Mrs. Shivers by her first name, but didn’t want to offend her.
“I was thinking . . . You know how some of the kids in the neighborhood call me ‘Mom Shivers’? How would you feel about calling me that, too?”
Sachiko almost dropped the cup. Tears flooded her eyes.
Mom Shivers stepped over to Sachiko and wrapped her arms around the girl. “I guess that means ‘Mom Shivers’ will work. If you have not already guessed, Robert and I would like you to spend the school year with us.”
Sachiko could not control her sobbing.
Neither could Mom Shivers.
* * *
Kenji’s recuperation dragged on. His expected three-day stay at Queen’s was extended to three weeks due to the artery tear complication. Having given up their Mö‘ili‘ili home to the parish’s new minister, Haru stayed at the Fort Street Hongwanji, bereft of children for the first time in almost three decades and worried about her husband’s slow recovery.
It was October before they returned to Waimea.
Five months later, Kenji was back at Queen’s — this time for a hernia operation. He was lifting a heavy item and thought he pulled a muscle, so not only did he ignore the unknown hernia tear — he also aggravated it.
Haru had begun to feel her age. More importantly, she was now aware of Kenji’s mortality. He had never regained the weight he had lost during the kidney operation nor anything close to his former vigor. He struggled to maintain the schedule his Waimea parish responsibilities required. For her own part, after three decades raising children, Haru missed them more than she had anticipated. The four in Honolulu — Takeshi, Tommy, Kenta and Sachiko — had promised to visit. While they wrote weekly letters faithfully, they had visited only once — for Kenji’s birthday. Did we make a mistake returning to Waimea, she asked herself.
Bishop Kuchiba solved her dilemma. The second successor to the legendary Bishop Imamura, who had died in 1935, had not tried to compete with the towering figure who had changed the face of Buddhism in Hawai‘i. Rather, Kuchiba reinforced his mentor’s message with his constant refrain in speeches and on the marquee outside the Pali Highway temple: “Prove your loyalty to the Stars and Stripes through the Buddhist faith.”
When his parishioners complained that the island’s best jobs were kept for the haoles, he replied, “Buy land, farm; buy boats, fish.”
Many Nisei did exactly that. Only a few of the ruling class caught on that job discrimination brought about the unintended consequence of handing over Hawai‘i’s fishing and farming industry to the territory’s hardest-working, best-educated ethnic group.
A few days after Haru shared her worries about an immediate return to Waimea with Kuchiba, he told her, “Let me give you some good news to lighten your mood. When Kenji recovers, he can help me with the daunting task of compiling 40 years of messy archives into a history.” As uncertainty clouded Haru’s face, the bishop continued, “We have found a charming cottage downtown on Queen Emma Street. There is a lovely garden, lots of rose bushes. We will pay the rent plus a stipend to Kenji.”
Haru’s sense of Kenji’s aging was reinforced when his reaction to the news was not the expected resistance to the idea, but rather, “Perhaps it is best.”
To be continued . . .