Since Father’s Day is just around the corner, I thought I would write about my father. May I wish every father a very Happy Father’s Day and if you received a necktie, I hope you liked it.
In 1906 when Papa was 19 years old, he arrived in San Francisco in August. The city was being rebuilt after the devastating earthquake that occurred in April of that year.
Papa was extremely ambitious and met and conquered every challenge he encountered. He was an itinerant fruit picker, worked on the railroad trying to cook for the rail workers. He had a terrible experience when the foreman of the rail workers threw the batter of pancake in his face because he disapproved of it.
Papa swore at that moment that he would learn how to cook and indeed he did. One could consider him as a chef in years to come. He made my birthday so happy with the best Southern fried chicken and strawberry shortcake one can ever enjoy.
He worked as a stock boy in a famous department store, the Emporium, in San Francisco during the day and attended night school learning how to read, write and speak English. Eventually, Papa could read, write and speak, English and Spanish. Of course he excelled in Japanese.
He could do wonders with the soroban (abacus). He and my younger brother would play a math game solving answers from a math problem. My brother would use his calculator and Papa would use his soroban and Papa would always win.
He met a seminary student in San Francisco who later became a very well-known Issei minister. Through this minister, Papa was baptized and became a dedicated believer in God. In the early ’20s, Papa became one of the founders of the Japanese Congregational Church, which is now known as Pioneer Ocean View United Church of Christ. He was very active and served in many capacities as an elder. He also wrote the weekly Japanese church section bulletin.
Papa was a great teacher and it could have been his occupation. He patiently taught Mama how to write her name in English and the alphabet, which was, of course, a great asset for Mama throughout her life. (Mama was a picture bride. She married Papa in 1920 in San Francisco and they went to San Diego, making the city their permanent location). He taught her enough English so that she was able to communicate with customers while operating a small mom-and-pop fruit and vegetable stand.
When I was in San Francisco, I wrote weekly letters in Japanese to Papa and Mama. Papa would carefully go over each letter and mark the corrections in red pencil and return the letter to me. If I made the same error twice, believe me, he would let me know by saying, “Don’t you read what I’ve corrected?!!!”
Papa was an extremely talented actor. He could play the role of a woman, an old man or whatever the role required. Papa would always take part in every play when there was a special church program and a play was given. He also enjoyed participating with the Buddhist Church group actors. He performed as an utai singer, along with his utai friends in various areas of the city.
The nurses at the convalescent hospital loved him for his wit. One day he asked one of the nurses to cut his fingernails. The nurse said, “Oh, they’re fine. It’s not necessary to cut them today.” He told the nurse, “I think you need glasses because you can’t see how long they are.” The nurse told me this and we both had a big laugh. He was in his 80s at that time.
Papa and I had a wonderful relationship. We would converse in the evenings or on Saturdays for hours. The only two subjects we did not discuss were politics and sex. Papa was well-versed and he could talk to anyone about anything because he read well and meaningfully.
Speaking of conversation, Papa had one bad habit. When speaking on the phone, he would say whatever he had to say and when he completed what he wanted to say, bang, he would hang up. I tried to break him of this annoying habit, but bang!
Although Papa vowed he would live to be a 100, it was not God’s will and he departed at 96. He survived two bouts of cancer of the large intestine, one in his early 70s and a recurrence in his late 80s. The doctor said to the family, “I have never operated on a patient at his age who fought so bravely to survive.”
When Papa passed away on March 7, 1984, I came back from the funeral and wrote 15 pages reminiscing about Papa. Writing these pages helped me cope with my grief of the moment.
I don’t know when, only God knows, but I know I will share thoughts and have timely discussions with Papa again. I thank God for giving me such a wonderful papa.
Maggie Ishino is a Rafu typist. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.