By Joe Abo
My memories of school start at Griffin School near Olympia, Washington.
Actually, the first school I attended was in Red Bluff, California, about three months after we were released from the Tule Lake internment camp in late February 1946.
We returned to Oyster Bay, near our early-war residence in 1942.
It was in September 1946 when I restarted first grade at Griffin. My teacher was Mrs. Hawks, maybe in her 50’s. She also taught second grade, so I think the two grades shared her time. She may have been the person who suggested a name change or addition for me, saying that “Masatsugu,” my given name, was too difficult to pronounce.
“Joe” was added and changed on my birth certificate. My parents must not have really discussed this with her as they still called me “Masa” at home. It was not until many years later that they started calling me “Joe.”
Lunch at Griffin was served in the cafeteria where we all lined up and picked up one of those stainless steel compartmentalized trays, like pictures I’ve seen of meal time in the Tule Lake mess hall. One of my most memorable experiences with cafeteria food was when they served cooked spinach. I liked spinach and still do—but the way it was cooked there, was completely different from the way Mom made it.
At school, when they plopped the spinach on my tray, I didn’t recognize it was spinach. Although it was a dark green, the consistency was more like gooey mush. I couldn’t eat it.
Mom’s cooked spinach looked like spinach, bright green, and barely cooked. We added a little shoyu (soy sauce) just before eating it with hot rice. There was no resemblance between Mom’s spinach and the cafeteria spinach.
At recess, we would play in a field with big oak trees behind the school. I remember finding acorns on the ground beneath those trees.
Close to the school building, there was a slide-and-swing-set combination. It is linked to the only overtly racial incident I experienced at that school.
I was on the swing, pumping away to get higher and higher, wearing my new birthday gift—a very popular faux leather pilot’s cap complete with goggles and ear flaps. In many WW2 Hollywood movies, American pilots were depicted wearing similar styled caps on bombing missions. Then, I heard from the top of an adjacent slide, a voice calling out “Bombs over Tokyo.”
I stopped swinging and went into the building.
Although I really liked that cap I never wore it to school again. I learned many new and unusual things in my first year at Griffin School.
Joe Abo, of Bremerton, is a retired federal engineer. He grew up on an oyster farm near Olympia and is a graduate of the University of Washington. He and his wife, Mary, are longtime members of the Omoide writing group.
Editor’s notes. “Bombs Over Tokyo” was the title of a U.S. Marine Corps documentary that Joe’s schoolmate may have seen (YouTube, 19 min., 1945?). The Omoide writing program is described on the JCCCW website under Programs, Nikkei Horizons (jcccw.org).