Arrival, Work, and Marriage at Topaz

October 26, 2012 by Admin

By Nora Hataye

Leaving Tanforan Assembly Center, we traveled for two days by train, finally stopping in Delta, the town nearest to the newly constructed camp; from Delta we traveled by bus to our final destination, Topaz, Utah, which would be our new, unfamiliar “home”.  This place introduced most of us to snow for the first time; each season presented an extreme–from bitter cold to sweltering heat.

My family’s block was on the south side and housed most of us from the Bay Area.  The administration office, hospital, store and security buildings occupied the first several barracks.  I was appointed the block manager for our block, Block 36.  For several weeks I was the only woman in this position.  Later, a young woman from Mt. Eden joined me.  There were 40 block managers in all, 38 men and 2 women.  Other than my position as secretary for the local JACL board, I had no experience with taking on this kind of responsibility.  This was true for most of the other block managers, too.   We became determined to do the very best we could; to give up was not acceptable or an option.

I met with the group of managers each morning to review any new regulations, information, and instructions that needed to be passed on to the inhabitants.  We established committees to address the situations that arose–problems with living conditions, the lack of care for elderly persons, and the need for better medical attention.  Eventually, due to our work, activities for the youth and elderly were initiated, hospital and medical services were available, an exercise facility was created, and banking transactions could be done from inside the camp.   Our duties required us to oversee all the operations and activities in our blocks, and to keep the necessary supply of “papers” in all the washrooms.  Often block managers returned from their meetings with rolls of “T.P.” on all their fingers!

As we addressed these various issues, the camp began to run more smoothly, and slowly, our lives took on a routine.  We lined up for meals and we learned to rise early if we wanted hot water to do our laundry before it was used up.

Months later, we were given an opportunity to seek jobs outside the camp.  I accepted a job working for a Mormon family, the Minor’s, in Salt Lake City as a housekeeper, cook and live-in babysitter for the family and their two small children.  This was the first time I had this type of work, which was so different from the farm work I was accustomed to.  The father was an attorney for the Salt Lake City Railway System; the mother was a schoolteacher.  The family lived in a large, brick house with three bedrooms, a large living room, a kitchen with a pantry.   I was given a large bedroom located in the basement with its own bathroom.  My room was furnished with a bed, a large armchair, chest of drawers, a desk and chair, and shelves already filled with books. The family was warm, kind and considerate.   At dinnertime, I sat at the large, round table with the family to eat meals that I had prepared minutes before.  Once I prepared sukiyaki for the family’s dinner–everyone loved the new exotic flavors, and soon I asked to prepare it every week; rice and noodles became a part of the family’s menu.

*           *           *

During the period I lived in Salt Lake City, my boyfriend, Tats (Tatsuo) Hataye, from my hometown of Irvington, came to visit me while on his furlough.  I first met him when I was a young teenager (around the age of 14) and we had begun dating when I was a bit older.  Tats had been inducted into the U.S. Army in 1941 and was now stationed at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas.

We went out to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and afterwards came back to my room in the Minor’s home where we talked for hours.  I told him about my duties–taking care of the children, cooking and the housework.  Tats returned to his hotel room that evening.  The next day he had to begin his trip back to Ft. Sam Houston, but before he left, he told me that on his next furlough he wanted us to be married.  I was so happy!  I could hardly wait for the days to pass.

Finally, many months later, in September 1944, the day finally arrived!  We were married in the Topaz camp by the Buddhist minister, Rev. Motoyoshi.  However, before we could begin our trip back to Ft. Sam Houston, we learned that because Topaz was not in the same county where Tats had picked up the marriage certificate (Salt Lake City), we had to return to Salt Lake City to have the certificate signed by the Buddhist minister residing in Salt Lake City, Rev. Taniguchi.  The reverend not only signed the certificate, but he performed the wedding ceremony again for us—so we were twice blessed.

Our first child, David Tadashi, was born at Ft. Sam Houston.  It was a very long and difficult birth; Tats and I went through two shifts of nurses before he was born.  David finally arrived, weighing a bit over five pounds, with all limbs intact and healthy.  Tats and I were able to find a large room to rent outside of the army base.  The space was a living room, bedroom, and kitchen all in one and could hold a small portable stove, a double bed, and a small table with two chairs.  The bathroom was located on the first floor and had to be shared with two other tenants; fortunately this never posed any problems.

Our building was located on Main Street and was managed by Mrs. Stewart.  She probably never had any interactions with any Japanese Americans before meeting us, but she did treat us fairly, and I believe she was fond of us.  In fact, she played a big part in David’s care during his first year when he developed colic and was often unhappy.  Mrs. Stewart would pick David up and hold him in her ample arms while settling into the rocking chair.  Soon David would stop crying and fall fast asleep.

In the aftermath of World War II, more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry – roughly two-thirds of whom were American citizens – were released from forced imprisonment in U.S. concentration camps. But released to return where, after being taken from their homes along the West Coast? When they were finally allowed to leave the internment camps, they faced a new challenge: How do you resume a life so interrupted.
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