By W.T. Wimpy Hiroto
“We basically don’t want people we know to change too much. We crave the familiar cues. They keep us in our comfort zones. That is why reunions are perilous. We keep trying to put old friends back in the old boxes.”
Gary “Doonesbury” Trudeau
As any Rafu reader of CR2S can attest (ad nauseam) these many past weeks, I was faced with an impossible task: Putting together a program without benefit of emcee, keynote speaker or entertainer. You wanna know the definition of challenge?
If you’re not a Nisei, on the far side of “older” or have a distaste for nostalgia, I strongly suggest spending your precious time washing your car, hair or dishes. Without pause or apology what follows will most certainly fall into the category of unabashed sentimentality and reminiscence. [I promise to make time and effort on behalf of ACLU and Concentration Camp adherents at a later date.]
As Frank Sinatra sings “It Started All Over Again” in the background, I will try to create what occurred during and after the 2009 Poston Relocation Center Unit I Reunion held at the Cal Club in Las Vegas Sept. 28-30. (Shame on those of you who decided not to attend; condolences to those who could not come.)
Nearly 250 hardy if not hale mixer and banquet attendees gathered for a last hurrah to relive memories of Poston. This was the 8th and undoubtedly final all-camp reunion. As with recent wrap up revivals staged by Heart Mountain, Tule Lake and Manzanar, it appears Age the Conqueror is going to have the last word.
It was apparent nothing would or could douse the enthusiasm of the ex-Postonites, let alone a neophyte program coordinator who did his best to revive thoughts of 70-mile wind storms, 112 degree weather when sunblock meant a parasol, trying to make believe the mess hall clanger was a symphonic refrain. But I tried, oh how I tried.
When not near the speaking caliber of Father John or Senator Dan, material and presentation becomes all important. So when memory and notes had temporary relapses, it was a choice between a firing squad and Titanic. But it was a “Susume, Susume, Hai-tai Susume” moment and a challenged Wimpy soldiered on.
No matter the many kind comments and warm compliments at program’s end, I unfortunately did not achieve a *Riverside moment. Not bad though, considering. Considering I decided to cut down my material by almost a half, alas, leaving out some of the best stuff (personal opinion)! For example I had spent more than 40 hours downloading every issue of the three-year camp newspaper Poston Chronicle, looking for forgotten events and names that might trigger a pleasant memory or two for ex-campers. I shoulda quoted more. (*My first official public speaking gig was at Riverside earlier this year, a shocking success.)
Now as if on cue, Andy Russell is crooning “What a Difference a Day Makes,” a reminder that looking backward isn’t all bad. People choosing to look into the rear view mirror of life are chastised and criticized. But wait a minute. Isn’t there a reminder etched into the glass that warns the image can be distorted and a second look might be in order?
I will allow reunions are not high on everyone’s list. But you wanna know something? I haven’t met many who have ever regretted attending a school reunion, work place, church or neighborhood gathering. We’re all social animals. And what could be more unique and memorable than an assemblage of special Nisei commemorating a time in their lives no one else will ever experience? A latrine. Mess hall. Outdoor movies meant stand up, not drive-in. Well-educated students emerging from chaos. A miracle of peaceful coexistence. The basis of friendships that would flower after relocating out of the centers. Poston was not Cloud Nine, for sure, but neither was it Stalag 17. (It‘s no wonder CR2S is never interviewed about incarceration and constitutional rights.)
So maybe I fell short of what I had in mind today. Never no mind. Methinks I’ll be continuing this subject in many more columns to come.
But there is always room for another confessional:
I was so relieved and comforted after the banquet I forgot departure time Wednesday a.m. Which meant a search party and embarrassment of seeing my bag sitting alone on the sidewalk beside an idling bus waiting to leave for San Gabriel (I don’t wear a watch.) At Barstow stopover I bought an ice cream cone and made up my mind another faux pas would not be committed. (There was only our bus in the lot upon arrival, the second in our convoy arriving shortly thereafter.) I got back aboard to insure I wouldn’t be the last dummy straggler, there’s always one who delays departure, right? Well, they had to come get me again. I had reboarded the wrong bus!
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.