December 7th, 1941 is a day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed was “A date which will live in infamy.” I had just turned six years old and was living in the del Rey apartment house in Spokane, Washington. The most memorable thing about that day was my dad giving me a lecture about my new relationship with my Japanese friends. Several of my friends were of Japanese ancestry, and I was slightly aware that they were different from real Americans … but so were we. My father was half Irish and he told me there was a sign on the local mom and pop grocery store that said, “No dogs or Irish permitted on these premises.” I asked him if there were any signs like that for my Japanese friends. He said there weren’t because they already knew they weren’t welcome. My childish response was … okay that’s the way that is … we just go to the big grocery store. Right? – I remember the conversation, but I don’t remember ever seeing such a racist sign.
Directly in front of me was my playground for the next several years, and the big grocery store was thirty adult steps away. The strange thing to me and my Japanese friends was that we were just as American as the other guys we played with.
A few days later, in a public show of American military strength and prowess, a large number (probably about six) of B-17 bombers flew back and forth over Spokane at low altitude. They were very noisy, and that was great fun for us six-year-old boys. A few days later I was shipped off to the family farm near Homedale, Idaho, to live with my mother’s parents. Supposedly I would be safer there while my mom and dad got involved in war work.
There wasn’t anything for me to do on the farm, so I was immediately enrolled in grade school. Technically I was a couple of months under age and school was already in session, but they all thought it would be best for me, so off I went. I was in a one-room building, and it held the first, second and third grades, all in that one room. So, there I was, starting school in with the third-grade kids. The one person I did know was Millie, the teacher. She was a relative of some sort, a second cousin or a great aunt, or something … I never learned those relationships, but to my grandparents they were very important. Everyone got along just fine; our families shared a lot of things. I had a wonderful year in school and a wonderful childhood.
Soon it was summer, and school was on vacation, and since I was no longer in school I went barefoot. I really disliked shoes at that time, they were hot and too tight. One day I was running barefoot through the pasture, headed down to Millie’s house. (It was a hundred yards down from the barn behind me) … I was running fast when I stepped on something squishy … I thought it must have been a cow pie, but I turned around and went back, because it obviously wasn’t a cow pie. On closer inspection I discovered it was a rattlesnake. I had been running so fast that it hadn’t gotten into a striking curl, or even tried to rattle at my fast running approach.
We looked at each other for a few moments and went our separate ways, and we lived happily ever after. At least I did.