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Uncle Harry

By Deems Tsutakawa, For The North American Post

My wife is from the inland empire of Spokane and has far too many cousins to keep track of. Her dad was born in Bellevue Washington around 1914 and had eleven siblings. In those days Bellevue was all farmland. Today of course it is a bustling suburb of asphalt, condos, and shopping malls surrounded by miles upon miles of fancy homes. In 1928 Jean’s grandfather was tragically killed by a tractor in a farming accident. Subsequently her grandmother had to raise a dozen kids by herself through the Great Depression of the 30’s. I must admit that it is virtually impossible for us Sansei to comprehend the degree of difficulty they must have endured. John Yamamoto, Jean’s dad, had a younger brother named Harry. When we were first married Harry lived just across the street from John and bore a striking resemblance to him. During the family dinners in Spokane I would from time to time have a opportunity to quiz the uncles on what it was like when they were kids. Many of the stories were sad and heartbreaking for sure.

As times for her dad’s family were beyond lean and it was all they could do to put food on the table all the Yamamoto kids were sent out to find work from a very early age. When Uncle Harry was a mere eight years old a Hakujin family friend took the child to a neighboring farm to try and get him a summer job. The friend told the farmer to try Harry out for a week and if he didn’t like the kid he didn’t have to pay him. Naturally the first job that came up was quite a challenge. The neighbor told the youngster to saddle up a large horse and put a harness on too. The grade school aged Harry must have been barely three feet tall and at first he just stared up at that big old horse thinking ‘how the heck am I going to get a saddle on that animal’? Somehow he did in fact manage to saddle up the beast and ended up working all summer for the guy. Hats off to the Issei and Nisei for their dogged determination and hard work that made our lives so much better than what they had to go through just to survive.

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Deems Tsutakawa was a local Sansei musician (deemsmusic.com; obituary, Mar. 12). His monthly column will be with us until autumn 2022.