I’m sitting here thinking, a familiar posture these days. If Sansei or Yonsei, you automatically roll your eyes and prepare for yet another recitation on “What it was like before/after The War,” those never-to-be-forgotten years when such and such happened and how much times have changed. The past always wins, a reverse of the movie “Back to the Future,” recently resurrected from thirty years ago. As you should know by now, the world of the Nisei is an amalgamation of good and bad, old and new, a unique bridge from there to here.
You can’t blame us (too much) for our nostalgic recollections. Just wait until you get there, wherever “there” might be. Without benefit of any sociological or psychological training, I can only guess that looking back, reminiscing, is universal. Like war and pestilence. It is a major part of a Nisei’s id.
CR2S is sitting here right now wishing his mother was fussing over Terubo the Terrible, smearing Mentholatum over a scrawny chest to get rid of a persistent cough. None of that “Feed a fever, starve a cold” nonsense (or vice versa?) The powerful old-fashioned, smelly, burning ointment was the answer to anything cold or flu related. (Geez, I can smell it now!)
Of course, them were the days when milk wasn’t pasteurized, butter was churned and people ate chicken gizzards and liver.
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Our next-door neighbors in Riverside, CA, circa the 1930s, were the Nielsens, a fairly large Scandinavian family of eight. They had horses, milk cows and pigs; we had chickens. Mr. N was a rotund, jovial man who always wore overalls, the farmer’s uniform of blue denim with metal buttons, no zipper. And do you know what I remember most about him? He taught me how to spell “Czec-hos-lov-akia” when I was maybe eight years old. Yup, he perched me on the truck bed of a fertilizer truck one day and sing-sang the spelling of the country Adolph Hitler would eventually invade and conquer. To this day I can still do it, without pause or hesitation.
As was the case with all country families, sharing was a way of life. Vegetables, fowl, fruit, equipment. Barter and trade. Shake and bake. Hard to imagine today, but it was a time when refrigeration was not available. Butter was churned. Washboards slaved over and clothes pins hung. Salt and ice were as important as money.
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Twice a year the Nielsens slaughtered two pigs. They were special occasions that required planning and preparation, starting with the unfortunate duo lured to the feed trough for one final meal. [In earlier drafts, CR2S went into great detail describing the sequence of events. Reluctantly I’ve decided to eliminate the description because it would make some readers squeamish. But I will point out the procedure included a sledge hammer, .22 caliber bullet and a knife.]
I still vividly recall the first time I watched a porcine turned into pork chops. Not a very normal growing up experience. The dead animals were eventually chained up by their hind legs by a hoist, throats deftly slit so blood would rapidly exit (a must). A weird Mr. N ritual required everyone present to taste a dab of the blood. Don’t ask me why, but understandably memorable. It was then lowered into a vat of boiling water to make scrapping off the hog’s tough hair easier. Other than the hooves, nothing was wasted; the skin making a choice pork rind eatable.
To be sure, this is not exactly like recalling a first kiss. But CR2S has always been anything but orthodox. [Pun (un)intended.]
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As much as I’ve consistently shared with all you nice people, there are a few personals left unmentioned. Bacon is one. That succulent, sizzling, salty stuff that doesn’t exactly remind you of the Three Little Pigs, Miss Piggy or Porky Pig.
I’ve been eating the fried delicacy ever since the above described pre-war introduction. To be sure, there were the lean years of Poston incarceration, when horse meat intruded. Even in natto-land Japan, the Army made sure I had an ample supply. Here at Keiro Retirement Home, I haven’t missed a single breakfast in over four years of residency – and not a single morning without the meat delicacy during the last three! [As food chair, I made certain bacon would be a regular Sunday and Wednesday morning staple – and I bring my own supply to the dining room the other five morns.]
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WHO, the World Health Organization, has issued a stern warning that red meat – and especially bacon – is a major factor leading to colorectal cancer. I’ve often wondered how I would die. Now that I have a pretty good idea, there’s nothing to be concerned about. And as if the verdict needed added emphasis, pastrami was indicated to be another threat!
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.