Los Angeles~A Distant Memory and Resonance Part I
Memories are peculiar. Sometimes they are accurate, but quite often, they are not. Memories become distorted at times and become a progression of events in a way that we would have liked them to have happened. My story here is something that happened when I was very young. Therefore, this story may not be as accurate as the truth, though I believe it is quite close to it. I have pieced the episodes together by relying on my mother's recollection of them and how she has recounted them to me. This is a memoir written through these recollections.
THE BEGINNING ~ 1971
The eternal sunshine, the endless blue sky and the freeways...
This land called Los Angeles, once renown for citrus farming, became synonymous with the entertainment industry in the early part of the 20th century. My parents, myself, my brother and sister moved to this land in 1971 from Tokyo, Japan. It was the first time for any of us to step outside our native Japan. My father was an assistant professor at a university in Tokyo and his department was awarded a fund for scholars to go on an overseas study leave. My father was chosen and decided to study at UCLA during his sabbatical and bring his entire family with him. Indeed it was an adventure for all of us.
My father left for Los Angeles in August 1971. His English was limited but he was able to acquire a driver's license and a home for us to live. He had some trouble finding a rental home for the family as some owners did not want small children as tenants for fear that they could wreck their homes. He was finally able to rent a two bedroom house in Culver City, a short driving distance from MGM Studios (now Sony Pictures). Nixon was president, and the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War.
My mother, myself, my brother and sister arrived in Los Angeles in October of the same year. The only direct flight between Tokyo and Los Angeles in those days was Brazilian Airlines with a stopover in Honolulu. It was a very long trip. My mother endured taking all three of us aboard the plane and we finally arrived in L.A. safe and sound.
The first few months in Los Angeles were very difficult for my mother. Though she had met her neighbors, Mr. & Mrs. J originally from Wisconsin and Mr.& Mrs. D who were from Quebec City, my mother did not befriend them right away. I enrolled in a kindergarten at a public school but my brother and sister who were 3 years old and 21 months old respectively were put on a waiting list for daycare provided by mothers whose husbands were affiliated with UCLA. Consequently, my mother was left alone at home with two young children with no adult to talk to during the day. It didn't help that she did not yet have a driver's license and my father drove our only car to UCLA. She felt isolated and before long she started experiencing stomach trouble and weight loss. She finally visited a doctor to find out the cause of all her health problems. After a few tests, nothing out of the ordinary was discovered.
It was decided that my mother needed a driver's license right away. Three months later, she had a driver's license and her own vehicle. As many know, public transit in L.A. was very poor in the early 70s so it was impossible to get around without a car. My brother and sister were finally admitted into daycare, and my mother started volunteering there twice a week and was able to meet and befriend like-minded moms. There were hardly any Asian families at this daycare. Mrs. Y was about the only one; she was born and raised in Hawaii but her parents were from Japan. She was married to a Chinese and her son Jamie and my brother became friends immediately. Save for one episode when one child came up to my mom and said "I hate you", my mom and my siblings liked the daycare.
Life At the Public School
According to my mother, it took me awhile to learn English. My kindergarten teacher Mrs. B didn't give me special attention even though I walked into her class not knowing English. There was no separate ESL class. Mrs. B did try to help me, however. She sent home a picture book with a note saying that she wanted my mother to go over the book with me at home so I could get accustomed to the English language. In first grade, I had Mrs. G, who did give me special attention. Though I reportedly spent nearly my entire kindergarten year being silent and just listening, I started speaking English like my classmates when I was in Mrs.G's class. I had been immersed in English for almost a year by then and was quite comfortable communicating in the language. With the introduction of the alphabet, I further mastered the language. Strangely, I don't have any recollection of struggling to learn the language. I'm able to give you these details because my mother recounted them to me in later years.
At the time there were few Asians at this school. I would say there was one or at most two Asian students per class. Nearly a quarter to one-third of my classmates were of Mexican descent. I don't remember befriending them. I remember one episode quite well. Linda, a Mexican girl in my class, scratched my face viciously on the school playground during recess! There is a visible scar on my face in my school yearbook photo. Nevertheless, I made a few good friends at the school and I believe I was generally happy there.
The neighbors were friendly overall. Mr. & Mrs. J who lived next doors to us were in their 40s and had one adopted daughter. I don't recall Mrs. J being unfriendly but apparently she complained when she found out that the water got onto her lawn when my brother was watering our backyard with a garden hose. There were some cardboard boxes in Mrs. J's backyard and those became wet. My mother didn't like Mrs. J for reasons I couldn't fathom. She said Mrs. J only talked about "money" when she wrote us a Christmas card after we returned to Japan and mentioned that the house we lived in was still not sold and was "being rented out for $900".
Mr. & Mrs. D who lived across from us were from Quebec City and spoke English with a French accent. Their two teenage children attended the local high school. Mr. D worked for a company that made "milk machines" and he and his family were looking to settle in L.A. permanently. Since we were both foreigners, they were somehow very nice to us. One time, my sister scribbled on Mr. and Mrs. D's garage door. Before my parents could do anything about it, Mr.and Mrs. D were found scrubbing their garage door with a steel wool in attempts to get rid of the scribbles. Apparently, they never really voiced their complaint. My mother tells me she felt bad that they had to go to all the trouble.
After about a year or so, Mr. and Mrs. D and their children decided to move back to Quebec City. I'm not exactly sure why. At any rate, their plans on settling permanently had not worked out. They packed their belongings onto a U-Haul and without even a hint of regret, waved a farewell and told us they were going to drive all the way back to Quebec City! My mother says she admired their resilience.
Our first out of town trip was to San Diego. Then it was onto Santa Barbara, Big Sur, then to San Francisco, Yosemite, and Sacramento. My father acquired camping skills and was soon able to set up a tent at the campsites we visited. We travelled in a small camper so when we didn't want to bother with the tent, we slept in the camper. In the summer of 1972, we camped for two weeks throughout northern California and crossed over into Oregon. On another trip, we camped at Death Valley. I can still recall the vicious sand storm that attacked us in the middle of the night. The high winds shook and rattled our camper. The sand swept in through the cracks in the door and windows of the camper. I was terrified and felt helpless at the same time. I remember seeing the gray sand that had accumulated in my sister's ear, who was trying to sleep. The force of nature was so intimidating and we felt unprotected and at the mercy of the terrible storm, even while being inside our sleeping bags in the camper. I hoped and prayed morning will arrive safely.