The Third Thirty

Ed Mayeda: The Third Thirty, Story 8

"We have a Buddhistic saying, the kids kind of tease me about it, but we have a saying, “from out of the mud, grows the lotus.” And I think that’s very true.You have to think in terms of, out of adversity good can come. So I try to keep that in mind. Try to always be positive."

Image credit: Molley Gillispie

"Ed Mayeda came into my life when he and his wife, Yoshi, hired me to come work for them temporarily as a caregiver for Ed. I was immediately struck by how easy it was to be around him and what a joy it was to be in his company. I always looked forward to my time with him and, to be honest, I was very sad when they no longer needed me. This interview was, for me, a truly meaningful experience."

-Carla Lindquist, Window Seat Media Community Oral Historian


I’m Buddhist. That’s a philosophy. You try to be compassionate. No matter what the other person’s position in life is. You treat everybody the same with respect and compassion. So that’s what you try to instill and what you try to live by. It doesn’t always happen that way. When you’re growing up it’s kind of hard todo [laughter]. And as you get older, I think you kind of -  mellow is not the right word - but you keep more understanding of those things. At least I do anyway [chuckles]. Yeah, I think I do. 

My parents were immigrants, first generation. You might say laborers. I’m the second generation, or what we referred to as Nisei, Ni meaning second. My kids would be the Sansei or the third generation, then so on and so forth.

We’re all immigrants from somewhere. The only true natives are the Native Americans. We spoke Japanese at home and English at school and wherever else. We lived in the country, so it was a very quiet childhood. I can remember my mother saying,“What you need is a good education.” That was always the main theme. And, of course, be a good citizen. Don’t do anything to bring shame to the family or to yourself. Just be a good person.

It was 1941 when the war was declared. So, in 1942, I was 10 years old when I was sent to the camps. The name of the camp was Amache, and it was in Granada, Colorado. It was kind of a desolate area. Nothing but sagebrush, and the summers were very, very hot and dusty. The wind would blow. And in the winter it would snow. We had never experienced snow in California, and it affected different people, depending on their age.

I arrived there in the 5th grade. When we were released I was a freshman in high school. So, what is that, 3 ½ years or so? All we were thinking was, “what are we playing?” You know, we’re there to play. Others, like my sister, who was seven years older, had just graduated from high school so whatever dream she had of going onward after that was pretty much scrapped in terms of what she may have wanted to do. So it kind of depended on your age, I guess, and what you lost. Older people had an occupation that they had to give up or if they owned property they either had to sell it or find someone who would be a caretaker of it until they were able to get back. If you were going to get back.

Even though we’re in a barbed wire fence and there were military guards and guard towers every so often, we didn’t at our age think so much about the - oh, what’s the right word - the depth of what that meant. As far as I was concerned, at 10 years old, you’re not so deeply philosophical about things. You’re more interested in what today brings. What you’re going to do today and the situation that you’re in today. You lived in the moment.

It was not that long after we were in camp that they allowed us to get day passes. The town of Granada [Colorado], which was within walking distance, it seemed farther away when you’re just a young kid. And they had a drug store there and I remember they had a soda fountain. They would mix it for you. If you wanted a Coke, they pour this coke syrup in this glass and then they would have this tap - carbonated water -  and you would get this glass of coke. And it was quite the treat! And they had a whole rack of different comic books that you could purchase. And, of course, with limited funds, you are pretty selective in terms of what you bought [chuckles]. But it was a nice outing.  

There were within the camp places where the barracks stopped and then maybe there’s an empty area. Well, that’s where we’d go. Kind of a secret place that us kids [chuckles] would go to. No one was around. You could fantasize as kids would do. And that would be our kind of secret hiding place or play area.

It was cold, and hot in the summer, and the wind blew, and there would be dust storms. We’re at the age where you slick down your hair with pomade and the wind would blow sand and you’d come home with sand stuck to your hair.  Oh, things you remember. 

And we were able to get a job. My mother worked in the mess hall, as did my sister. She was not in camp very long because they were allowed to go out and work. And my sister went - with a lot of other girls her age and her friends - to Denver to work as house girls. They took care of the kids inthe household and they cleaned. After a while there were jobs for us -primarily farm labor - and I remember getting $16 a month. And we were so rich.And we would look through Montgomery Ward catalogues or Sears Roebuck catalogues to see what we could buy with $16 a month pay and all these visions of grandeur you know [chuckles].

I don’t know how much work we did on the farm. I think we played more than we worked [laughter]. But it was something that kept us out of trouble in the summertime and gave us something to do and got paid for it. And the recollection I have is that there were snakes in Colorado. Rattlesnakes because it was warm. It would not be unusual to see rattlesnakes and there was an instance that we may have heard of that under these stacks of bean vines there’d be a rattlesnake underneath so that became more of a story than reality [chuckles].

So when you lifted them up with a pitchfork you always looked underneath [chuckles] if there was a rattlesnake down there. That’s what you come away with. What you remember when you’re a kid. 

To me, it was kind of a relief to not be persecuted so much outside. You were with your own ethnic group, so you didn’t have to encounter all that. Before we were interned it was highly prejudicial in terms of all of a sudden you were not welcome in places that you went to regularly or even certain kids that you played with. But I’ll say one thing, I recall teachers when we were getting ready to leave gave us all autographed books. They had written words of encouragement.So those kinds of things I think you reflect back and remember and appreciate after, then you did at the time. At least for me it was that way.

After the war some went back. Some stayed in the area or stayed in the Midwest or even went East. I think those that had maybe stronger reasons to go back to the West Coast went back. And those reasons may be because they owned property or they had assets that were left in care of people who were willing to do that. We didn’t have any property or any reason to go back.

My father had passed away in camp. We had another family friend from before the war who was single. We knew him well and he and my mother then got married. We moved to the Western part of Colorado called GrandJunction. There were maybe a handful of other Japanese that were going to high school, but I think I was the only one that was going to high school coming from a camp. And it was a very, very different atmosphere than the West Coast. I think those were my happiest years of high school. Everybody treated me just like their own. I think the best years of my life as a high school age child.  

Then the Korean War broke out. After I completed two years at the community college I volunteered for the Navy, US Navy. I spent four years in the Navy. A notice came out that there were openings in the Far East for those who wanted to transfer. So I put my name in and was selected to transfer to theFar East Command. And you didn’t know where, just in the Far East. But, fortunately, I got stationed in Japan, which I enjoyed very much. This was after the Second World War was over and we were still occupying, so it was the occupation of Japan that the military was still involved in.

WhenI first got there I wanted to show off my Japanese. But then, in the cities, they didn’t know what I was talking about! [laughter] Because I had learned from my mother who came from Hiroshima, or the country, and so it was all this country dialect. They didn’t know what the heck I was talking about! [laughter] So I was more embarrassed [laughter]. After a while I got more and more refined in my Japanese, but I had an opportunity to go visit my relatives before I came back to the United States. My mother had a sister there, an older sister, and she and I got along great. She understood exactly what I was talking about[chuckle].

I got back in 1955 and went to school for two years. I finished up my education at the University of California. Then I got married in 1958 and the rest is history [laughter].

We lived in the Haight-Ashbury district . It was not the Haight-Ashbury hippie era. It was working class. There was a grocery store and an old butcher shop and they delivered near the area. And it was a great area.

We moved when our first two children were getting ready to go to school. We moved out of the city. And our company was sold to a company in Dallas, Texas. We didn’t want to move to Dallas, and an opportunity opened up here. So, finally, we made that big jump. California to Olympia. That was 48 years ago.

I was invited to join The Service Club, The Lions Club, of which I’m still a member.I became a trustee at the South Puget Sound Community College. And various other community activities. My son was in The Boy Scouts, so I was part of the Tumwater Council. This area was very welcoming to those volunteer activities, and which I enjoyed.

Olympia became a sister city of a city in Japan. They used to be called Yashiro, but Yashiro was not a city per se. It was a town. And there were three towns within geographically. It’s like Tumwater and Lacey. These three townships became a city and it’s now called Kato City, K-A-T-O. So it’s no longer Yashiro. Although there’s a Japanese garden here on Plum [street] called Yashiro Garden.  So I volunteered for that and became an active member. Every other year the organization would make a trip to Japan and the other years a delegation from there would come here. 

They sent numerous plants and I think there’s some stone decorations that are in that park that came from there when it was still Yashiro. And that’s where the name comes from. The Fourth Avenue Bridge The Friendship Bridge. I don’t know whether it’s called The Yashiro Friendship Bridge or if there is even a Japanese designation to it, other than Friendship.

They did send, if I recall, a number of cherry trees. And they were available to the public. I planted one in front of our old home in Ken Lake. And it’s still there. I still correspond with some of the old members from back there. I enjoyed it very much. 

I had my stroke in 2003, and what I miss the most is my independence. My stroke affected my right side. My speech came back - the first thing that came back -then my hand and arm, then my leg. I still have problems with it. I can’t walk.I was walking with my walker, but I had a flu and an infection a couple years ago and I lost my ability to walk with my walker. And I am now taking up my physical therapy to get back to where I was before. But the main thing I lost is my independence. 

You just accept that, and it’s something you try to work to get back. When you have these setbacks it’s kind of disappointing, but makes work harder to get back to who you were. So I don’t dwell on it. It’s how it is. Keep your ups. Don’t let minor or major setbacks affect attitudes in terms of always being positive. 

We have a Buddhistic saying, the kids kind of tease me about it, but we have a saying, “from out of the mud, grows the lotus.” And I think that’s very true.You have to think in terms of, out of adversity good can come. So I try to keep that in mind. Try to always be positive.