"Mountain now loosens rivulets of tears.
Washed stones, forgotten clearing."
—Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
When my father was a boy, he learned that he’d been adopted by the man whom he’d thought was his father. Digging through a dusty trunk in his attic, he found legal documents that gave him the name he wore and the father he knew, but also uncovering an origin that had been hidden from him.
His mother was, by all accounts, a volatile woman — her siblings called her “the hornet” because her sting was quick and painful. She was a hard woman, and reticent to either acknowledge or divulge anything about his biological father. Over the years, he eventually learned from other relatives that she met Mr. Black — it was his name, but also a metaphor for much more — in a late 1920’s dance hall. He left her pregnant, taking whatever money he could get his hands hand on when he went.
Late in his life, after his mother died, my dad started quizzing other relatives for information about Mr. Black, and learned that he had a half-brother and half-sister. He reached out to them, curious about the man who would have been his father. Curious, too, about his other, unlived life, the one that you imagine still plays out, with another you — who isn’t really you, but a slightly better you, in a slightly better corner of the universe — with another family, another father who didn’t abandon you. It’s universal, sons and daughters searching for the person their parents used to be, if only a little more charged in those who’ve been disconnected from their bloodline.
Wandering through a bookstore in California, I happened on a bright orange and yellow-covered book, calling out to me from the shelves. When I pulled it down, my breath caught as I read the title — Farewell to Manzanar. I brought it home and shelved it with the other non-fiction titles in my library, but it pulled at me when I walked by, urging me to reconnect with my father.
Compact and paperback, it was a perfect choice for a recent business trip. In the pressurized air, as I began to read it, I heard my father in Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s story, saw his own longing and search for a father he didn’t know.
Farewell to Manzanar is generally categorized as a story about the internment of Japanese American’s following the attack on Pearl Harbor — a cautionary tale about how fear can overcome basic honor and respect. But it’s so much more, if you listen.
|George Ko Wakatsuki (Jeanne Wakatsuki's father)|
Bottom Line: Life in a Japanese internment camp — but also a search for a father.
Mac McCaskill (a.k.a., blackdogbooks) is a prolific reader and writer. I've had the pleasure of reading his reviews for almost ten years now, and his short stories for the last two or three. I suspect upstanding editors of online journals and print magazines of excellence will eventually do more than simply read Mac McCaskill's stories too. He knows how to tell a good one, doesn't he? Moved by what Mac had to say regarding Manzanar in his poignant piece above, I asked him for the privilege of posting it here.