Author teaching kids the value of mud with Colin Shannon and a buncha Pences and Danas.

My wife is a city girl. She grew up in the San Fernando valley. In a suburb called Canoga Park. Every house on her block had a concrete driveway and a manicured front lawn.

I grew up in the country. Near a little farm town called Arroyo Grande. A couple times a year one of use would use the old push mower to mow the weeds in front of the house. Our drivway was a quarter mile of dirt road.

They are different planets. Don’t think Venus and Mars, thats not it, think asphalt and concrete versus mud and dirt and all kind of things no city child ever dreamed of.

My daddy was what they used to call a dirt farmer. My uncle Jackie was a polled Hereford breeder. My grandfather, Big Jack Shannon started as a Butter and Egg man but soon switched to dairy. My uncle Ray Long was the real deal, a dyed in the wool Stetson wearing, bulldog heel cowpoke who sat a horse like God and liked his whiskey straight.  

 We all lived in old, old houses. We didn’t have central heat or insulation. We knew to put on another layer of clothes in the winter or sit closer to the stove in the kitchen. We drank our water from a well dug by hand. Purify was a word in the dictionary not in the water. Yellow and brown colored water was perfectly normal. There was a septic tank, though it wasn’t a real tank, it was a big hole out in the field lined with boards and when it was full, dad dug a new one. They were perfect place to grow the most beautiful Nasturtiums. Our roads were dusty dry in the summer and wet in the winter. The amount of rain we got could be measured by how deep your shoes sank walking home from school. Get off the road and it would suck the shoes right off your feet.

We live in adobe country. In the summer it makes great dirt throwing clods and gets so hard that chunks fly off the pickup tires and hit the fenders with a very satisfying bang. Maybe dents ‘em some too.

My brothers and I had no fear of the gross. We were the bane of my mothers existence for we attracted dirt and yucky stuff like magnets. When I was little she had an old tub washing machine, the kind with a hand ringer on top. All the laundry had to hang on the line to dry and nice clothes had to be ironed. Three boys and a husband; it was a full time job. Our water was “Hard” as they used to say and it added a tinge of yellow to anything white. You can see in the old photos of the house the line where the lawn sprinkler hit the siding, yellow below, white above.

On the ranches there were old barns, corncribs and odd old sheds where tools and seed, fertilizer and spare parts for everything lived. There were things dating back to when the chinaman raised pigs and the ranch belonged to uncle Pat Moore. Some had been saved for a hundred years, long after the machine it was meant for had joined it’s worn out companions in the old gullies where rolls of old Bob wire, tinned cans and whatever, was tossed. These places were a paradise of the found for kids. You could sit on the rusty old springs in the model T body my grandparents drove down from Berkeley in 1918. Long abandoned, it was a beautiful rust colored place where a little boy could imagine driving wherever he wanted. No glass in the windshield, no leather on the seats and no motor or radiator it was nonetheless a chariot of the imagination.

In my uncles calf shed there was a tool bench and a homemade set of shelves where resided every tool ever used on a ranch that had been in use since 1871. If you didn’t mind Black Widows and accumulated rat poop you could dig through the drawers and shelves, picking through wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers and clumps of welded by rust square nails. Over in the corner were the salt licks. Yes, they too were sampled.

J R Williams, 1931

We had black hands from picking walnuts, smelly hands from tomato vines; we were covered in mud from playing in the irrigation ditches, we’d clomp in the house shedding clumps everywhere. Shoes were not always left on the porch. The linoleum floor in our kitchen always had speckles of dirt sprinkled on it. My mom was an oilfield girl so she accepted it though she didn’t like it much. She had helped her mother wash my grandfathers oil stained work clothes in kerosene and carbon tetrachloride so it wasn’t new to her no matter her wishes or wishful pretensions.

We’d come in smelling of willow from the creek or covered in sulphur dust from running through the rows of pea vines. Our dogs, who followed us everywhere were just as fragrant from rolling in any kind of smelly thing they could find.

My dad told us that the cat poops in the sandbox were old Tootsie Rolls and we should just pick ‘em up and throw them away, so we did. He used that joke to good effect when telling stories as we grew older, especially to our wives and his grandchildren. I’ve had the pleasure of explaining to my sons the relative difference between cow flops. There are green ones, been there a few days, black a little longer, chocolate milk colored means under the crust it’s satisfyingly squishy. Flat and dried are good for sailing long distances, chocolate for smearing the unwary. Now I’ve heard that a pie tin company back east was the model for the first frisbee, but let me tell you it’s not true. A cow pie was. Judging pies is an art. Some are completely dry and might even have straw growing through them and they make the best ones for sailing. Others appear dry but are still gooey inside and they make the best if you need to blast a cousin with a little slime. Soft ones carefully picked up are best for placing under car seats or slipping into a friends school desk. Horse manure isn’t too good for throwing and is best kicked at your enemies or even better, your friends.

You could say we were scatalogical experts with mice, rats, cats dogs, goats and deer to choose from. Manny, another expert once came to our little two room school with a jar of brown pills he called “Smart Pills.” He assured kids that if they gave him a nickel he would sell a few to those who were struggling academically and they would soon be much smarter. After a few days a boy from Newsom Springs told Manny he thought the pills were just Rabbit pellets. “See, you’re getting smarter already,” Manny replied. Of course Manny went on to be a gifted salesman.

Did you know that a grease gun, they were for lubrication of all kinds of machinery and filled with 90 weight grease, look like a machine guns? Well they do and they can shoot too, a nice steady stream of greenish colored grease at anyone who gets too close when playing war, usually a younger brother but most satisfyingly, cousins and ignorant townies. 

When my dad was a boy he helped in the dairy barn after milking when all the manure and urine had to be cleaned up. They used scrapers to push it to the back barn door, then shovel loaded it onto a skip that ran down hill on a gravity cable with a trip at the end. the trip caused the skip to upend into the manure pile. Thirty cows a day, three times a day. It was a big and fragrant pile. Dad and uncle Jackie were happy to give city kids who came to visit a ride. My grandmother was not happy at all but my grandfather thought it was a lark and laughed until he cried.

The girls in the milking barn. Shannon Family photo.

On the old ranch they had cattle, hogs, and chickens who ran free in the pastures. In the old days when boys went barefoot in the summer they would have various kinds of manure squishing between their toes. If it happens often enough it can just be tossed off as normal. In 1922, a very dry year, the fleas were so bad that the boys calves and feet would swarm with them. Remember that boys used to wear short pants until they were about twelve. Before my grandmother would let them in the house they would have to bathe with kerosene to kill the fleas and then take a bath in the same water as their father and mother had just used.

There was only one vet in Arroyo Grande, Dr Doty. He was the man you called if your stock had a serious disease. He drove a pickup that was his office. The dash was piled high with receipts, gloves, an old syringe or two and a ragged “Gimme” ball cap. He’d drive up the road to where uncle Jack was and stop. A shake of the hand and if things weren’t too dire they’d shoot the breeze a little before getting down to business. Pickups in those days were built at just the right height so a man could rest himself by leaning on the hood or the sides of the bed. Nobody called the Doc unless it was serious. Cattle are usually in better health than their owners if you haven’t noticed. Sooner or later Doc would poke and prod, do his inspection and treat whatever the ailment was and be on his way.

Anything else was done by the rancher. Vets who worked in an office; there weren’t any. If your dog was really sick, he would likely live or die on his own. Cats in the barn weren’t remotely tame, had no names and had pretty short lives. The cattle were doctored, if at all possible by my uncle Jack. He would call dad and ask if he would bring me out to the ranch and I would spend a day or two helping with cow maintenance. Cows would be herded into the holding pen behind the old milking barn and then shushed into the chute, head forced through the squeeze to be doctored. Now cows are generally very nice and like human company but in this case they could be reluctant to say the least. They have a memory and if they’ve been through this before they can be a tad reluctant. So reluctant, in fact that we would place a board across the chute and I would drape my arms over the top board of the chute and push on the board with all my might. Both feet trying to shove the old girl the last two feet so her head would go through the squeeze. She would likely respond by drenching my feet and legs with manure. Some how uncle Jackie always let me do that job. He was smarter than I was.

Except when he wasn’t. Years later he was trying to do the job without help and cow got her revenge by slamming him against the side of the corral and breaking his femur. I guess it’s all even in the end.

Once we sewed up a prolapse in a cow with the shoelace from one my Keds. Helped the cow but the shoe kept coming off which didn’t help me keep my sock or foot clean either. He told me that shoelaces from tennis shoes were perfect because the would rot in a few days and didn’t have to be removed. At the end of the day, covered in cow slobber, manure and a little blood I’d be treated to a piece of homemade pie by my wonderful grandmother Annie. My grandfather always made sure the ice cream on the side was very generous. Topped off with perked coffee, scalding hot, it made a perfect day.

What we learned from all of this was that whatever had to be done, could be. Care should be reasonable. Though farm kids were sniffed at by town kids, they knew life close to the ground and it served us all well as we grew up. If we were going to be afraid it had better be very serious business. We were all prepared for the small stuff.

Will and Colin Shannon, two muddy boys. Shannon Family photo

All of this growing up prepared me for my husbandly duties. I’m in charge of all the yucky stuff that comes from having a dog and a couple cats, cleaning out clogs in the drains, removing spiders from the house, though I prefer leaving some to catch the flies and other things like the annual cleaning of the fishpond. I can tell you this, if your apple has a worm hole, eat it anyway. If you’re lucky the worm has moved on and if not, enjoy the extra protein.




And then when it was nearly over they went home. Many of the internees, particularly those from California knew by late 1944 that homecoming might not be such a welcome thing. Properties they owned or leased were in most instances gone. Fishing boats, houses, farmland, businesses of all kinds, money left in banks or other investments were confiscated by the government as Alien property and considered forfeit or simply stolen by neighbors and other opportunists. For many years there was an individual in my hometown who drove a Japanese farmers truck he had taken after the man was transported to Gila River. My father said he never showed any embarrassment and in fact was known to have said, “Served them right.”………  

The population of the camps had begun to wind down in 1943 as thousands of young men and women joined the military. Young people could go east for jobs, college or university if there was a family who would sponsor them or dormitories were available. Volunteers left to work in the beet fields of Idaho and factories churning out war materials. The only real caveat was that they couldn’t move to the west coast exclusion zone where most of them had lived before the war. Washington, Oregon, California and parts of Arizona were off-limits.

Leaving, 1945, National Park Service photo

A serious movement had begun, particularly in California to pass legislation at the Federal and State level to deny any Japanese the right to work or live in the Golden state. The same General DeWitt who had pushed so hard for 9066, Earl Warren, Harry Chandler who owned the LA Times and a cabal of like minded racists were trying to deny US citizens and their families the constitutional right to live and work wherever they wanted. 

Farmers didn’t need Japanese-American farmworkers anymore. The Bracero Program grew out of a series of bi-lateral agreements between Mexico and the United States that allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the United States to work on, short-term, primarily agricultural labor contracts. From 1942 to 1964, 4.6 million contracts were signed, with many individuals returning several times on different contracts, making it the largest U.S. contract labor program ever. 

The program was created by executive order in 1942 because many growers argued that World War II would bring labor shortages to low-paying agricultural jobs. On August 4, 1942 the United States concluded a temporary intergovernmental agreement for the use of Mexican agricultural labor on United States farms and the influx of legal temporary Mexican workers began. The program lasted much longer than anticipated. In 1951, after nearly a decade in existence, concerns about production and the U.S. entry into the Korean conflict led Congress to formalize the Bracero Program with Public Law 78.

The Bracero Program was controversial in its time. Mexican nationals, desperate for work, were willing to take arduous jobs at wages scorned by most Americans. Farm workers already living in the United States worried that braceros would compete for jobs and lower wages. In theory, the program had safeguards to protect both Mexican and domestic workers. It guaranteed payment of at least the prevailing area wage received by native workers; employment for three-fourths of the contract period; adequate, sanitary, and free housing; decent meals at reasonable prices; occupational insurance at employer’s expense; and free transportation back to Mexico at the end of the contract. Employers were supposed to hire braceros only in areas of certified domestic labor shortage, and were not to use them as strikebreakers. In practice however, many growers ignored many of these rules and Mexican and native workers suffered while growers benefited from plentiful, cheap, labor. Between the 1940s and mid 1950s, farm wages dropped sharply as a percentage of manufacturing wages, a result in part of the use of braceros and undocumented laborers who lacked full rights in American society. 

The program was simply another way to exploit immigrant labor. It was eerily similar to the formal and informal importation of cheap labor which had existed in America since it’s beginning. It started with the British transportation of Irish rebels and petty criminals to the plantations of Virginia and the Carolinas in the sixteenth century. Plans to transport the unproductive members of society first emerged in the late sixteenth century. Richard Hakluyt wrote to Elizabeth I in 1584 to suggest that ‘loyterers and idle vagabondes’ and Irish rebeldes should be condemned to service in Newfoundland and other parts of the Americas .” Within 35 years the first slaves arrived from Africa. Wave after wave of immigrants from different places have arrived in America, each to be exploited until they could work themselves up out of the muck and be accepted as Americans. The Japanese are no exception, though they do hold the distinction as one the two ethnic group to be incarcerated in concentration camps.

At Manzanar, the camp superintendent, Ralph Merritt said that, “The only relationship that Japanese understand is that of father and child” and that Merritt “had to become the father of Manzanar.” Merritt seemed to like this idea of being the “father” to the inmate population, quoting the head of the block mangers group as referring to him as having “been like a father to us” multiple times in his own project director’s reports. Neither the Issei nor the Nisei were children by any means and the reference to “father” Merritt could have been nothing but sardonic, dry, understated and faintly mocking. The leadership of the internees were nobodies fools.

To bear out Merritt’s paternalistic attitude and despite winning the respect of many inmates, there was never any question that Merritt was their overseer. In an editorial in the ironically named Manzanar Free Press, Merritt scolded his charges for indirectly causing their imprisonment by “crowding into the seven southern counties of California.” The prison director warned the soon-to-be-released inmates not to “create another Japanese problem” by trying to return there during a housing shortage. In no uncertain terms, he made it clear that the Japanese would not be welcomed to their previous towns. That Merritt is most often remembered by the Japanese inmates as a benevolent figure and as their champion suggests how much prejudice the prisoners had internalized.

Ralph Merritt perhaps without realizing it was the mirror image descendant of the slave owners such as Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson expressed the exactly the same sentiments in his famous Farm Book. The book, a diary of the operations at his plantations detailed life among the human beings he owned. Merritt owned his charges no less than Jefferson and unlike Jefferson, his were surrounded by barbed wire and high desert and had nowhere to run.

The Issei used their culture as a backstop in order to cope but the Nisei, American born had no such cocoon in which to hide. Merritt may have though of himself as a benevolent overlord but the young resented him until the day they died. 

Interviews with the parents of my friends decry the oft repeated, “They accepted their fate and moved on.” There is still resentment today, more than you imagine. Most of what your history books tell you is self-righteous nonsense. The Japanese-Americans did not write your school books and they were certainly not consulted.

Like Jefferson’s enslaved human beings who raised families and built a functioning society with celebrations, music, religion and, in some cases education, they were nevertheless confined, disfranchised, dominated,   coerced, deprived, imprisoned, chained, incarcerated, opressed, subjugated, suppressed; the list is very long, and they all apply. 

California itself tried to pass legislation to bar Japanese-Americans from ever returning but the state was ultimately unsuccessful in its campaign to keep the Japanese out. In late 1944 the last inmates of Manazanar were shown the door. The last reluctant internees, those who were very apprehensive about what was waiting for them were told that busses would be leaving and they must go. As with all inmates they were given a bus ticket to anywhere they wanted to go and twenty-five dollars in cash. 

They faced extreme difficulties in reintegrating into their old communities and in fact in some communities did everything they could do, both legal and illegal to keep them out.

Only about ten percent ever returned to the places they had lived. There was little or nothing of their former lives left in those places. The Japanese fishing industry in San Pedro and Wilmington never recovered. The boats, nets and hardware had been sold or confiscated by the government, houses foreclosed or taken over by squatters whose “rights” had been upheld by California courts. Many, many families relocated to the midwest and east where anti-Japanese sentiment was much, much less.

In the west it was very rough. There are true and documented stories of returning soldiers in uniform being spit upon or refused services in stores and markets. There were still “No Japs” signs in windows as late as 1948, years after the war. Hate has a long, long memory. It has burrowed deeply in to collective memory and there are those today who have no memory, too young to have direct knowledge who will not accept that the treatment of loyal American citizens was wrong, They simply accept the drumbeat of racial hatred as truth.

In Arroyo Grande were this story began it is difficult to get a firm count of returnees but it is thought by local researchers that somewhat less than half the Japanese ever returned. Nearly half the Arroyo Grande high school graduating class of 1942 were transported but few ever returned. Stores and businesses were gone, farm fields, if not owned, were gone too. A non-citizen of Japanese ancestry could not own property in California and if their children were owners it had it had likely been foreclosed. Banks were quick to do that as the expropriated property could be resold at higher wartime prices.

My father’s classmate Akira “Aki” Saruwatari  (Gila River Camp, File Number: 30434851121) who had owned a Radio and Electronics store downtown on Branch Street lost everything and moved to Santa Barbara. Aki was born in Arroyo Grande, a citizen of the United Staes. He started first grade in our elementary school and graduated with my father from Arroyo Grande high school in 1930. He was a registered Republican all of his life. People from farm and ranch families tend to be on the conservative side. None of this helped. As General DeWitt and one of my fathers closest friends said, “A Jap is a Jap.”

Throughout the state there were those people who were outraged by the treatment of their neighbors and went to extremes to preserve whatever they could of the property and possessions of the dispossessed friends. Houses were occupied by neighbors and friends to stop vandalism. Some of those suffered ridicule, gunshots in the night and attempted arson. Property that was owned by the deported had taxes and mortgages paid by citizens who saw that rents were collected. Some shop owners refused payment of debts upon return. Some debts were forgiven and lest you think that these were people who had no personal stake in war, many had family members, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends who served in the Pacific. There is a universe of difference between the pejorative “They” and “my friend.” One is intensely personal, the other, and not to put too fine a point on it, maligning, slanderous, and vilifying, the refuge of the ignorant and hateful.

The returning citizens had some things going for them, they were mostly young, had been decently educated and had lived in a closed highly co-operative society. They helped each other. It didn’t matter whether they retuned to their farms in Arroyo Grande or were forced to live in crummy trailer camps in south Los Angeles and shanty towns in the San Joaquin, families even working two or three jobs to make ends meet, they persevered just as they had been forced to do in the camps. 

Years after Manzanar was abandoned, it’s buildings sold off or bulldozed, the towers taken down, barb wire removed, blowing sand gradually covered the site. It almost completely escaped the collective historic memory. In an interview for local television in Inyo County, site of Manzanar, Dee Uyeda, a former internee and Joan Busby who grew up in Independence, just a six miles drive from Manzanar  were filmed during a trip they took together to the old camp in 1981. Dee was sent to Manzana from San Francisco with her family, including her father, Shinjo Nagatomi, who was a Buddhist priest. Joan Busby grew up in Independence, just up the road. The two women met as adults when both were teachers in Mill Valley. A chance encounter in the staff room in Mill Valley prompted them to take a trip to the old camp. As they wander the desolate and abandoned grounds they talk about the huge gulf between how they spent their young lives. Joan saying that people in Independence talked about the “Bad people” locked up at Manzanar. Dee wondered if Joan’s family was one of the ones she would see passing along the road, wondering who they were and where they were going. She had no idea that Independence even existed. Dee told a little story about the kids from her school going on a picnic outside the wire, something she was allowed to do only once. The most striking thing is her description of the air outside the fence, “Free air,” she said. Even though in reality it was the same, longing made it seem softer, more pleasant, somehow different. Even an eleven year old she could tell the difference.

The Nagatomi’s were the last family to leave Manzanar, motoring north in an old station wagon in November of 1945. Her father stayed to the last, saying it was his duty as a priest to be there for the last survivors. In 1943 Shinjo helped build the permanent cemetery behind the camp. It is a shrine which has been tended by survivors for 76 years, the only intact piece of the camp other than the original gatehouse entrance. The inscription on the Obelisk which stands in the center of the old cemetery was written by Dee’s father and says, ”Monument to console the souls of the dead.”

National Park Service photo

Former Manzanar prisoners were the initial force behind the preservation of the site. 1969, the Manzanar Committee started an annual trek the old site, led by Sue Kunitomi Embrey. Embrey, a Los Angeles-area teacher who had been evacuated to Manzanar as an 18- year old. She attributed her drive to preserve and protect the site to the memory of her mother. “My mother was a very staunch Buddhist and she would always say, ‘Those poor people that are buried over there at Manzanar in the hot sun, they must be so dry. Be sure to take some water as an offering.”

Later Embrey along with another survivor,  Warren Furutani formed the Manzanar Committee and began a decades-long campaign to gain recognition, first as a state monument and then as a national historic site.

Outside the Japanese American community, resistance came from those who viewed the planned historic designations as a tribute to the nation’s former enemies. The push to have Manzanar declared a California historic site, which was successful in 1972, “was very, very ugly.”  Both WWII’s major veterans groups were adamantly opposed to the declaration. 

For the Manzanar Committee and other supporters of the project, the period of historical significance was the internment period, 1940 to 1945. This approach generated controversy among some World War II veterans. Acknowledging the wrongs of Manzanar complicates the collective memory and reputation of World War II as America’s “Good War,” which upset many veterans. One veteran went so far as to leave a voicemail message for the first National Park Service superintendent at Manzanar, saying that he traveled north from Los Angeles on a “pilgrimage of disgust” to urinate on the site’s commemorative plaque. Some felt that the public would view the park as a monument to the Japanese Empire. They viewed it as ennobling it as a prisoner of war camp

Educating the legislature and congress on the true nature of the site was hard fought and at times very bitter. Initially Inyo County in which the camp lies was also opposed, saying, “We don’t want to be known as the site of a concentration camp.”

The push for national historic site designation was delicate work that involved educating the public about the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II. Embrey and the committee once took a group of Japanese American World War II veterans of the 442nd and other combat commands with them to a meeting in Inyo County, where resistance was very high. When residents saw the old veterans in their uniforms, wearing their medals and campaign ribbons from the European and the Pacific theaters, the assumptions about the camp being a tribute to the enemy completely unraveled.

Manzanar was declared a national historic site in 1992. For the next several years, Sue Kunitomi Embrey remained involved with the park, leading a commission created to advise the National Park Service on matters related to Manzanar and the history being preserved. Even as she looked back at the past, Embrey’s eye was on the future.“I think having Manzanar named a national historic site is important for the whole nation, not just for those who were interned there,” she said. “It’s part of American history and it gives the public an idea of what can happen if people don’t care.”

Today if you drive up Highway 395 and stop at Manzanar you can see little of what was once there. There are touches though. Some ancient fruit trees still persist in the rocky soils, foundation stones litter the roadways, the cemetery with its few stones is well tended. The Japanese style Gardens still exist. The streams are dry and the vegetation so lovingly crafted by the artisans who cared for them are gone but you can still wander along the stream beds, walk the arched bridges and perhaps feel the ghost of something that once was, both horrible and at the same time sublime, for the park is not a monument to Ralph Merritt or the armed tower guards or the government who forced the camp into existence but to the courage and resilience of the internees. People who persevered in the face of humiliation, disenfranchisement and hate. People who made a life from nothing. 

Manzanar Cemetery and monument, authors photo

Perhaps the challenge here is to realize that all those involved in Manzanars present and future have to see the difference between history and nostalgia. Our memory lies somewhere between the two. Memory is a mix of history and a bit of emotion. History is what you need to know and nostalgia, what you want to hear. Nostalgia has no place here. A place like Manzanar cannot be relegated to the past and simply forgotten. The history of places like this points to who we are as a people, warts and all.


Primary sources – “provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occuring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.”

Densho Archives: The Densho Archives contain primary sources that document the Japanese American experience from immigration in the early 1900s through redress in the 1980s with a strong focus on the period of incarceration. It includes digital media, journals and letters, personal interviews and a mass of first person information.

National Park Service: The NPS has archived photographs and personal histories of dtainees, their families, camp staff and local residents in the telling the story.

Interviews: Personal interviews with family members and their children from the local Arroyo Grande area, both evacuees and non-Japanese residents.

USC Digital Library: Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive, 1941-1946.

Japanese American resettlement through the lens : Hikaru Carl Iwasaki and the WRA’s Photographic Section, 1943-1945.

US National Archives: Digital Archives

Los Angeles Times: Photo Archive

Particular thanks to those families and individuals who provided insight into the experience. Kazuo Ikeda, Haruo Hayashi, Vance Akinaka, Senator Daniel Inouye, Sandi Hirase, Will Kastner, George Shannon, Gordon Bennett, Marylee Zeyen, the Dohi’s, Henmi’s and Saruwarari’s. In a small community as ours used to be, where people knew each other there are many individuals and families that provided ancillary information for this series. I thank them all for their insights.

Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi. July 25, 1924 – September 25, 2016


Ursus arctos horribilis

There was a funny thing about old Arroyo Grande, it had two barber shops. Strangely enough they were almost right beside each other. George had one and Buzz and old man Kelly the other. Used to be men had their hair cut every two weeks and if you were sartorially serious, once a week. Nobody seemed to mind waiting, there were lots of chairs and the gossip and story telling did everything to supplement the local paper, the Herald Recorder. Men could and did flesh out stories they read with pertinent details from personal experience or just from a desire to add some spice to small town life.

We went to Buzz’s place, the one with the old lighted barber pole slowly spinning its red, white and blue. As a youngster the narrow little space had an exotic appeal. Both of the long walls sported large mirrors set so that when you were up in the chair you had an infinite view of yourself, reflected again and again into the forever. Above the mirrors were a legion of stuffed birds and small animals, surely a taxidermists paradise from the days when all wild things were fair game. In the back was a doorway that led to Buzz’s wifes beauty parlor. A pink plasticized curtain shielded the women inside from prying eyes. The whole place was redolent of pomades, Butch Wax, Wild Root Hair Tonic and the pleasant oily smell of the different kinds of electric clippers in use.

There was a sort of hierarchy to the place if you were a kid. Toddlers sat in the chair that was shaped like a pony, when they grew some they graduated to the big chair with its handles a foot peddles where a box was added for your fanny. Grow a little more and you finally sat in the man’s chair. All of it a rite of passage.

The two barbers were as different as night and day too. With Buzz it was quick, zip, zip, a brush on the back of the neck and “Next.” Buzz was a family nickname one he’d had since childhood but couldn’t have been more perfect.

The other barber, Kelly was the artist, much preferred by teenage boys. With Kelly the process was king. The drape placed just so, carefully tucked in around the paper collar to keep clippings from going down the neck. Electric clippers next, carefully applied to avoid nicks and cuts, a flourish of scissors delicately applied, the scalp massage, fingertips relaxing the neck and then application of the pomade or hair oil as required. The perfect Ducktail, a’glimmering spectacle in the fluorescent light. Paper collar tossed in the trash bucket, the drape whisked away with a flourish and the neck lightly dusted with talc and brushed. A choreographed little drama played out to the glances and murmurs of the men waiting.

Those boys who wore them, Johnny Hopkins, Larry Hill, David Askins, Sean St Denis and Charley Silva, champions of the Ducktail. Don Pace with the Ducktail and the carefully coifed Jelly Roll on top or Charley Pino wearing the last vestiges of the Pompadour. They were much admired by blond boys with fine hair like me whose cowlick could never be tamed and whose hair ,no matter how greased with Butch Wax would never stand up.

Men went to the same barber all of their lives. It was as if once you chose you were stuck for life and it couldn’t change. That happened to my dad. He pulled to the curb in his pickup, jumped out and looked into buzz’s where every chair in the place was filled and because he was in a hurry he went next door to George’s place. When he came out to get in the truck, The door to Buzz’s place opened and Buzz himself came out and buttonholed my father and said, “George you’ve been getting your hair cut in my place for thirty years, What are you doing?” Dad said he felt like he’d committed a crime.

Boys mostly sat and listened to the men talk while they waited. You didn’t hear any real profanity. Guys in those days were more circumspect than they are now even though it was completely a mans world. There was lots of story telling though.

Many writers through history have begun their careers in barber shops. Great stories and a lot to learn if you listened carefully. A story told would be polished and refined by the barbers until it was a masterwork of oral presentation.

I was in there once and Kelly asked the guy next to me, “Hey McGoo, I tell you what I heard yesterday?” McGoo said he didn’t so Kelly started in.

“So, you know that Gal that lives out by the Finks, I believe her name is Linda. Well she supposed to be some kind of topnotch animal tracker, world famous is what I hear.” Kelly went on, “She just came back from a trip up north working for some government commission studying Grizzly bears, trackin’ ‘em around, trying to learn where they go and such. According to what I heard she went up to Alaska on an emergency mission to find some guys who were lost in the Tongass Forest. Thats the place where Buzz got that moose head he has mounted down there by Vereen’s Beauty parlor, see, its right up there.”

Kelly used his comb to point it out as if there was any doubt there was a moose head on the wall, like it’s hard to miss with the mirrors reflecting the image everywhere

He went on, “It seems a couple of animal experts from eastern Europe, a guy from Russia and another from Czechoslovakia wanted to study bear habits. The thinking was that they might reintroduce bears back into that part of the world. They wanted to study them, you see, like in the wild.”

Kelly went on, gettin’ his teeth into the story so to speak. He says, ”They helicoptered them in, faster’n the roads, thats real rough country you know, nobody out there for hundreds of miles. The idea was they’d find some likely bears and follow them around, studyin’ their habits like. Check in by radio at regular times so’s the park service’d know where they was. So, looks like they’d been up there about a week and every things fine, radioed in right on time, all good until their radio went dead. Couldn’t raise them at all.”

Kelly finished up his customer, took the cash and rang up the sale on the old brass register and said “Next.” He did his little dance with the collar and drape and continued. “I talked to old man Sullivan and he said that girl Linda told him that she got a call to fly up to Vancouver because the forest service was a little concerned about the two guys, said the were a couple days overdue at the pickup point and the Mounties and the Forest Service Rangers were putting together a search party to go in and get them out.”
They flew Linda up to Juneau and then took one of them puddle jumper planes to the Windfall Lake trailhead.

The whole party loaded up and took off down a road that had seen much better days. The trees were so close that they banged their branches again the cab and the grass in the ruts was tall enough to make a hissing sound as they passed above it. I took roughly three hours to get where they were going but finally after miles of bucking and bouncing they pulled to a stop. An old and badly battered Ford pickup was parked off next to the wall of trees that circled the clearing. The truck could have once been green but that would be just a guess. One front fender was completely gone and the other was mostly rust. If you looked closely you could tell that it had been yellow. Still hitched was an old wooden, obviously homemade horse trailer with four horses waiting patiently inside. Sitting on the tailgate was a man dressed in western clothes and when he stood and walked over it was pretty clear that he was an Indian. He walked with the particular sliding gait that Indian people used, slipping his boot along the ground, not walking heel first as white men do. He was a little pigeon toed, wore blue jeans and an old Pendleton shirt with a large silk bandana looped around his neck. His high crown no-droop brim Stetson shaded his face but as he approached the roman nose and obsidian eyes, creased from being out in the sun hinted at his ancestor’s. He put out his hand for Linda to shake, that soft almost feminine grip almost always used by Native Americans meant to show acceptance and respect. With the soft touch of the hand still fresh he introduced himself, saying, “Inae Zuzeca,” but you can call me snake.” His sibilant speech marked him as one who spoke one of the Siouxan languages. “Means snake who makes safe.” he translated.

“Trail is very hard to see,” he said, “Two weeks with a lot of rain will make it hard to follow.” Snake and Linda walked to the break in the tree line where the Scientists had gone and spoke a few words to each other and then returned to the two rangers. “I will saddle the horses,” Snake said, “You pack up what you need and we’ll get on the trail.”

“Early in the afternoon the headed out and that gal and Snake, why they just followed their trail like it was nothin’. Darned if she couldn’t see the tiniest trace they left. Must be some Indian in her too you know?”

Any way after a couple days they come upon the base camp the Europeans made. They saw it was all torn up, tents ripped to pieces, gear scattered everywhere and no one in sight. The Indian guide with them pointed out a blood trail goin’ off into the trees. Somethin’ bad had happened, it was easy to tell. They all got together and made a little plan about what they were gonna do and then checked all their gear and especially checked their rifles, made sure they were loaded full. With the indian and the gal in the lead they moved off into the trees, steppin’ as soft as Dan’l Boone in Kentucky cause they didn’t know what was up ahead. “She said they walked a couple hours through the trees and brush, followin’ the trail until, finally they come to a edge of a little clearing. They could hear some noise, some rustling and snorts out there. Something big was scuffling around. So they all very quietly checked their loads while Snake and Linda slithered forward, moving real quiet like. After a minute she motioned for the rangers to come up and get a look. They raised their heads to see what she saw. Sure enough there was a big female Griz feeding on the carcass of a man and just over by the other side of the clearing a monster male was sharpening his claws on a Fraser pine.

The Rangers very quietly consulted by just a look and the whispered to Linda and Snake, “We have to take them, they’ve killed a man.” With a nod Snake carefully sighted on the female and, quick as a wink he put four big 44-40 slugs in her. She softly grunted, looked up in their direction and then slowly laid down on the dead man. She gave a little chuff and died.

Across the clearing the male stood up, looked for the placed the shots came from, spotted the woman and the Indian, glared at them and then, shaking his enormous head, he bolted into the trees. Linda and the Indian crept carefully out of hiding, listening to the male racing off through the forest, the crackle of broken branches and his enraged roars at the fate of his female fading into the distance.

Across the clearing the male stood up, looked for the place the shots came from, spotted the woman and the Indian, glared at them and then, shaking his enormous head, he bolted into the trees. Linda and the Indian crept carefully out of hiding, listening to the male racing off through the forest, the crackle of broken branches and his enraged roars at the fate of his female fading into the distance.

They carefully approached the dead sow, knelt down and looked for signs of life in the scientist but there were none. Neither of them knew him but a quick search turned up his wallet. The Indian opened it and pulled out the deadman’s identification. “Him name of Nikita Oleg Bulganin,” He said, “Is Russian.”

Linda stood up and looked all around the clearing. “There’s no sign of the other guy and we didn’t see him coming in, I wonder where he is?”

The Indian guide thought a second and replied, “Czechs in the male.”

Note: No bears were actually harmed in writing this story.


Semper Desiderari:

Penny Ameracauna, Noble Chicken


Penny Ameracauna Shannon passed away Sunday, August 29th 2021

Born at Dare to Dream Farms, Lompoc in 2013 Penny came to Arroyo Grande in the spring of 2014 with her two sisters and took up residence on Sage St. They lived in a custom built home built just for them. She and her sisters, little Girl and Topsy were joined by friends Big Red and Salt n Pepa. They quickly made themselves at home and began doing their duties. The snacked on the wild and elusive snails, snacked on Manduca quinquemaculata, the five-spotted hawkmoth or Tomato caterpillar and turned over the soil like so many cultivator tractors. A crop of Aphids stood no chance against Penny’s razor beak.She loved the tasty leaves of the milkweed plant and would fight with her sisters over them. The Heirloom Scented Geraniums had to be protected by wire cages from this wily beast.

The chicken coop and run are quite large but it wasn’t big enough for Penny. She was the only bird who concentrated on escape. If you didn’t free her to roam in the morning she would tunnel under fence or figure out a way to fly over the walls. She liked to hide behind something and then rush the gate when it was opened. It became a great game for her.

She roamed our yard. She would follow Nancy into her studio and sit in an old wooden crate just to keep her company. She used the dog door in the garage and would sit quietly near me when I was working. She was never freaked out by the sound of table and band saws. Of all the girls she was the only one who seemed to prefer our company to her own kind.

We gave her meal worms, scratch, oyster shell and fresh lettuce and corn on the cob. She gave us, each day, a delicate sky blue egg with a pure golden yolk.

Chickens are not very long lived, perhaps seven or so years if cared for and Penny just made the limit.

The Garden seems less friendly without her and for the first time, this year the Tomato worms ravaged the plants.

She was a Christmas present from my oldest son and I have to say, the best ever.

Semper Desiderari:



My father with cousin Bruce Long. Shannon Family photo.

Farm boys weren’t in Little League, we didn’t hit tennis balls against garage doors, our sports were rock throwing, at each other of course, we could shoot baskets against the old tank house but we couldn’t dribble in the dirt so we were handicapped compared to town kids. Thats what we called them. Town kids. In return they called us farmers and you can be sure it wasn’t any kind of compliment either.

We knew them of course. Our parents were friends and we picnicked at the Tar Springs picnic grounds where an older boy might work me over just for fun. I sat with them in Sunday school class, Harry Hart, John Lindstrom, John Marshall and Billy Perry. We were in Boy Scouts too. We didn’t know smoking, didn’t kiss girls and we didn’t run around in packs. We lived too far apart for that. On the other hand, we knew poison oak and Horse Nettles. We didn’t burn poison oak in campfires like Blair Sheldon, Skipper White and Hardy Estes did, who were Oceano Boy Scouts. It made their Camporee pretty short. We knew where vegetables came from and could identify them by sight and smell. We knew how to get dirty and muddy and we really knew about tractors.

Before we were old enough to drive them we found other uses for them. My brother and I would take old gunny sacks and saddle up the big rubber tires of the wheel tractors, take a bit of rope for reins and ride with the cavalry. We climbed up to the seats of the tracklayers, pulled the steering levers and yanked the throttle lever as we rode with General Patton’s “Hell on Wheels” tank battalions across France. You could take a broken piece of an old bean pole and chip away the caked mud on the bogie wheels like you were sculpting Mount Rushmore. We inhaled the sweet smell of diesel in the tanks and tried to smear the grease from the lube guns on each other. We were the bane of my mothers attempt at keeping us clean.

The tractors on our farm were as common as cars and trucks on a city street. When I was about eight my dad took me in his pickup down to Santa Maria to see his old friend Ralph Hanson. Ralph grew up just down the road from my great-grandparents farm on the Guadalupe road. He and dad were in the same class at Santa Maria Junior College. After they returned from University Ralph started a tractor business on the corner of West Main and Blosser road. By the 1950’s he had expanded it to a large operation where he sold International Harvester tractors and repaired any kind of farm equipment no matter who built it. For a little boy no place could have been more fascinating. We went into Ralph’s office and as they talked about stuff an eight year old wasn’t interested in, an adult conversation can be pretty safely ignored when you’re that age.  I walked out to the showroom where the brand new machinery was displayed. International painted their machines bright red and just like an auto showroom the were polished until they gleamed.

After a bit, since no one was paying any attention I wandered out to the shops where the real action was. The repair bays were all occupied. There were machines up on hydraulic lifts and others parked over grease pits. The men working were dressed in greasy overhauls, wrenches and screwdrivers poking from their pockets so that they clanked faintly as they moved about. Down at the end a welder was working on a disc and when I walked up he said, “Hey kid, don’t look at the flame you’ll go blind.” I already knew that so I peeked through my fingers like my dad had showed me. No one seemed to think there was anything odd about a boy wandering around unattended, farm kids knew to stay out of the way and were expected to do so without prompting. One of the mechanics looked up and saw me watching him and said, “Hey kid, wanna stick a gum?” He took out a pack of Beeman’s Black Jack and thumbed out a stick. “Thank you,” I said, “My Uncle Jack likes this kind.” My dad was a Juicy Fruit man but Uncle Jackie liked the licorice flavor of the style. The first chewing gum distributed in sticks, Black Jack has an unmistakable black licorice flavor, rounded out by anise and ginger. Black Jack gum got its start from Mexican chicle brought over to the states by El Presidente Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Knew about him ‘cause he killed Davy Crockett on TV. 

When I wandered back to the office the two men were still jawing away, don’t think they even knew I was gone. Eventually they stubbed out their cigarettes, shook hands and Ralph walked us out to the pickup. They said good bye again and we drove down the Guadalupe Road to my great-grandparents house to see my uncle John Gray. “What did you do there dad?” And he replied, “Why, I bought a tractor, a brand new one too.” 

Brand new Model C

I clearly remember when the truck from Hanson’s delivered the first one we had ever had that was brand spanking new. It was an International Harvester Farmall model C cultivator. A shiny bright red with cultivator bars painted royal blue and all the implement clamps a rich ebony black. A farm boy could identify make and model by color, the same way townies identified cars. International, red, John Deere, green and yellow, Caterpillar, yellow, Fords were grey and Allis-Chalmers were bright orange. Olivers were Green. Of course they only sported these gleaming colors for a few days, for they were made for hard use and no one was in the least concerned with keeping them shiny. They were made for work and work they did.

…A few months later.

It seems the all cousins and family who came to visit wanted a tractor ride and my dad was happy to oblige. We have photos of them sitting on machines which were evidently a big thrill for them as none of them lived where they could ride or drive them. Our reality was different though. Six days a week, sometimes seven you could see and hear them in use on our farms and all ones ones around

Yours truly with Nancy Brown, 1949. Shannon Family photo

To farm kids they just were. You grew up watching your father George or Lester Haas who worked for my dad, Uncle Jackie, Lester Sullivan, Oliver Talley’s men or Kaz Ikeda’s on the farm next door over even, as we got a little older, “Tookie “Cechetti would drive his dad George’s Farmall to Branch school once in a while. Driving them through the fields or down the roads from one farm to another was just the ordinary thing, not special, just a fact of life. When we were very small small we rode on my dads lap, when we grew tall enough we rode on the the cultivator bars, standing up on them and holding on to the drivers seat. Dangerous? Of course it was but as with all things, if one kid did it they all did. Dad knew the worst that could happen was you could fall off the back into the dirt. I looked more dangerous than it was. He would never let you do something like that if he was pulling something behind, ever.

When I was eleven, dad tried having me drive the tractor that pulled the broccoli cart through the fields when harvesting. This was a large two wheeled cart used to collect the cuttings before packing. The laborers hand cut the broccoli heads with a knife and then tossed them into the back of the carts. The tractor dragging the cart moved at walking speed between the rows of the crop while this was done. By having me drive the tractor my dad would save money not having to pay someone else to do the job.  At eleven, my legs weren’t long enough to reach the brake and clutch pedals so they were rigged to operate by pulling the levers that operated the hydraulics that raised and lowered the cultivator bars. Left one for the clutch, right for the brake.

Broccoli is a spring crop. Planted in the winter it is harvested in early spring. It likes the cool weather. Rain in the spring also makes this a typically wet and muddy job and holding the single front tire in the furrow takes more strength than I had. I’d go along fine for a bit then the wheel would suddenly turn sideways and begin plowing a wide swath through the broccoli plants. This ended my driving career pretty quickly which was ok for me as I had to do it before school when it was cold and wet. I did like being with my dad and the men in the fields though.

It’s legal for kids as young as ten.

We had many kinds of tractors over the years. There were several kinds of wheel tractors, John Deeres, Farmalls, and the Allis Chalmers. Caterpillars or Cats were properly called crawlers because of the revolving tracks that provided grip, we called them all “Cats” even though they may not have been built by the Caterpillar corporation. Dad had a big International Harvester track layer. It was red, which was the international color and it served many uses. It could pull a 14 foot disc followed by a drag harrow and a ring roller when it was used to prep a field for planting. One winter dad and Lester Haas welded a frame on the back of the tractor, bought a large two blade propeller at the Oceano airport, mounted that on the top of the frame, hooked it to the Power Take-off and used it as a wind machine to move air across the tomato fields on nights when a hard freeze was expected. Those acres were right outside my bedroom window and I soon became very familiar with the sound of a big Diesel engine’s roar as it spun that blade all night.  A couple years later during a very wet winter the same tractor had three foot long 4 X 4′ bolted to each track plate to increase the width of its feet so it could pull the celery carts through the mud-sloppy fields when it was harvesting time. Dad said he made more money renting out the big Cat to other farmers than he did on his own celery crop.

1930 John Deere Model A. The “Johnny Popper” which replaced the horse. WWW photo

We had two old John Deeres, both built in1930. One was a Model A and the other, a Model B. They were both a quarter century old when I learned to operate them. They were early twentieth century technology at it’s finest. Neither had an electric starter or even a crank. They were started with a big flywheel mounted on the side. A very heavy chunk of cast steel that weighed at least a hundred pounds. That flywheel weighed more than I did. They started when you opened the settling bowl to drain any collected water in the gas line, then opened the petcock to let gasoline back into the line. Next you closed the choke and retarded the spark, turned the flywheel over a couple times to draw gas down into the cylinders then advanced the spark, threw the flywheel as hard as you could and hopefully the danged thing would fire. On a cold morning, a little seriously applied swearing helped. The spark was supplied by a magneto because those old girls didn’t have batteries. Magnetos are something you can look up if you want, I’ll just say that the spark they supply is seriously nasty. Ever touch a spark plug or uninsulated magneto wire and it will shake you like a dog passing peach pits. You will surely have to change your underwear if you do. Very simple machine and they will run forever. You can fix them with a Crescent wrench and a screwdriver. At least one of those old Johnny Poppers still lives and runs up in Creston and is closing in on a hundred years old. Why the Johnny Popper? Listen to one run sometime, you’ll know why they call them that.

Cultivators were hard on the man who drove them. The steering wheels were offset slightly to the left so the operator could hunch over to the right and see the implements as they ran by the plantings, sometimes on both sides at once and usually just an inch or so away. One slip of the wheel and the blades could take out several feet of crop. It takes a lot of concentration and it’s darn hard work. No romance in it at all.  There are thousands of plants in a farm field an each and everyone is worth money. Each is vitally important to the grower. 

By the time I was 13 or so I drove every kind we had. Weekends and days after school and in the summer before I was old enough to drive a real car and had a license. There was nothing quite so cool as driving the big D-4 

Cat pulling a 12 foot offset disc. Tulare County Museum photo.

Cat pulling a disc, harrow and roller back and forth across the fields doing figure eights , trying to figure out how to make the turns come out just right. I seems silly now, but we drove without a mask to fight the dust. You might wear a bandanna if you had one but they were of limited use. We didn’t have mufflers, either, on the big diesels. Your ears rang after hours of powering up and down the fields you’d park the rig and wobble to the house, still vibrating from the shaking tractor, ears buzzing, covered with a thick coat of dust and blowing muddy boogers to clear your nose. When you’re thirteen it’s all pretty manly.

Running the steep side hills planting my uncles hay crop we would stand on the uphill axles of the tractors , hoping that if she went over you might have a chance to jump clear. Once in a while the tires would lurch sideways in the loose dirt and your heart would stop every time. No one in the family ever tipped one over during sixty years of working but we all had the “jumping out of our skins” experience at one time or another.

Jack Shannon plowing the hills with his 1917 Fordson.. Shannon Family photo

I used to drive one of the John Deeres for my uncle jack. Pulling the mower to cut hay or the side delivery rake to drag it into windrows ready for the baler and of course the most fragrant job of all, the manure spreader. We would load the wagon full of manure from the corrals and then pull it through the plowed fields all the while the spinning auger at the rear throwing manure high in the air where the breeze blew it all over. At the end of the day you had a very nice coating of sweet, semi-digested feed from head to toe. The funny thing is, no one who actually did the job seemed to mind. It didn’t help much to pull down the hat and turn up the collar; the breeze brought a shower of stuff that would make Mom’s laundry even more challenging.

I don’t know what it is about big machines but hardly any boy I know doesn’t remember them fondly. Those machines were simply built and easily repaired. Today you must have an education in order to work on farm machinery. The cabs of tractors are now enclosed, with air conditioning, dust filters, GPS and computer screens that provide the driver with all kinds of information about moisture content and nutrients in the soil. You can’t buy a used John Deere for a $100 dollars anymore. Lots has been gained but lots has been lost too. It’s not farming, it’s agribusiness now. That might have been helpful in the back of the bus in 1959. Instead of “You stupid Farmer” it would now be “You stupid agribusiness man.” I doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?

Dad and his little drivers in training, 1953. Shannon Family photo.


My dad, George was a singular person. I don’t mean his personality, his intelligence or his heart, though he had all of those. No, I mean his name. 

His full Name was George Gray Shannon. The Gray, I think a wonderful and singular name was his mothers maiden name. She was Annie Gray, no middle name or NMN as they say in the Navy. 

She came from a long line of Irish as did my grandfather Jack. His name was John William Shannon and they called him Jack or Big Jack since my uncle, John Patrick was little Jack or Jackie. I’m John Michael and my eldest is John William, Will. You have to go to the backup names when there are too many Johns alive at the same time. The curiosity is, where did the George come from? Now we had some Georges around Arroyo Grande, George Kitchel, George Oliver, George Arita and George Carnes the barber, but they were all younger than my dad so it wasn’t any of them. My grandmothers brtothers, John, Thomas, Robert and David didn’t fit the bill either. On my dad’s side, beside his father and brother their was a Lester, a Bill and Tom; no Georges. 

George is not a popular name in Ireland. They had some Kings named George, pretty famous if you’re from great Britian but not guys that are revered in Irish history. Matter of fact, they are seriously hated. The first one, actually named George the first if you can believe that, remained unpopular in England all of his life, partly because he couldn’t be bothered to learn or speak English. He was really a German, sort of a fill in King because no one in Britain wanted the job except a Scot. That guy was a Catholic and therefore was basically persona non grata, You know, two hundred years of war between Catholics and Protestants. It was so wild, a couple of Kings lost their heads over it, not to mention the scrumptious Anne Boleyn whose “little” neck was separated from her head by a French axeman.   Anyways, the Brits thought George was greedy and so were his mistresses. He also showed his wife some “Rude” treatment, meaning he knocked her around a bit. My grandparents wouldn’t have liked that sort of thing so it couldn’t have been him. That English George died on 11 June 1727.

Ones kid, George II (1683-1760) was king of Great Britain and Ireland and elector of Hanover from 1727 to 1760. During his long reign the system of governing Britain through an oligarchy of powerful political parlamentarians took the reins and marginalized the king. No more power for him. Again the George just couldn’t do the job. He also had mistress trouble, the wife didn’t like them at all. The thing with a mistsress is that they are way expensive politically and financially even for Kings.

So Two kicked the bucket in 1760 and his kid, number Three, who was pretty smart in the beginning, he actually did some pretty spectacular math concerning the movement of the planets but he ruined it all by doing two other things. He tried to put down a rebellion in America on land he thought was his; he was wrong of course. Two generations of Shannons, who lived in western Pennsylvania at the time, took their Kentucky rifles and joined up with General Washington and then proceeded to pot a few Lobster-backs for which their country paid them a pension and they got a nice handshake from General Lafayette. 

The second thing about Three was that he went crazy and had to be put out to pasture in 1811. His son George four was next but he didn’t like the job too much either and made the mistake of marrying a Catholic girl, Mrs Fitzheber which irritated his people no end. He tried to make up for it by taking a protestant mistress or two, kind of balance things out so to speak but he basically failed at his job and the British decided they’d had enough Georges for the time being and traded them in for Alexandrina Victoria, who took over and ruled for 63 years.

These guys were certainly not candidates for my dads naming. I though maybe Georges Suerat the painter or George F Handel the composer or even Lord George Byron of poetic fame or finally as a last resort George Eliot, who was really a women. I guess that would be a little too kinky for parents raised in the Victorian era though.  

So dad was the only George, which is something. From 1735 onward the most common given name in my family has been John with quite a few Williams thrown in, a couple Davids and at least one Edward I’m the only Michael. Two Patricks, three Leachlainn’s (Lock-len) which is an ancient Irish name meaning “devotee of Saint Seachnall.” Seachnall is believed to have been a nephew of St. Patrick, arriving in Ireland from France in the fifth century. I can’t imagine my father being given that one.

It all seemed a dead end until one of my brothers said that dad told him that the name came from someone whom my grandfather worked with when they lived in Berkeley in the early 1900’s. He didn’t know anything other than that.

Curiosity will linger though and years after my father and uncles deaths while going through a box of old, old photographs I came upon one in which my young grandfather was posed before a storefront. The photo was printed as a postcard which was not an uncommon thing a century ago. The cards were handed to customers and friends as a form of advertising. We have a small collection sent to the old dairy my grandparents owned, some from salesmen hoping to sell things like Fly Bane or feed supplements or even just chicken feed. They always feature a photo on one side. This one features four men and a boy in a casual pose outside a storefront with the word Exchanges in large letters above a retracted street awning with a display window and doorway below. Jack is 28 and a real estate salesman. He’s even listed in the Alameda county directory as Shannon John W, real est, r 1927 Dwight Way, Berkeley. That happens to be the house my father was born in and I do mean in. My grandmother was attended by a doctor but my father was delivered in the family bed just like most people in 1912.

The two standing side by side are Jack Shannon and George John Lawson, owner of the business. They are the same age, 28, though you might not guess it. In the way of the early twentieth century they are already a little paunchy and dressed in three piece suits, button shoes with knobby toe caps and small heels, all shined to a mirror finish. They have all the appearance of successful business men which is what they need you to think. It’s the real estate business after all and looking successful is as important as always. The other two look like the kind of men who give real estate a bad name or they might be building contractors which is kind of the same thing.

My grandparents weren’t too flush, the house they lived in was rented as you can tell by the R in his directory listing. My grandmother received a small income  from her fathers oil company stocks which helped but eventually, just a few years after this they packed up the family goods and motored back to Arroyo Grande where they lived for the rest of their lives. 

George J Lawson. Glover Family photo

 As the story goes, George Lawson offered my grandfather fifty dollars if he would name his son George after him. Try to imagine the conversation they might have had around the kitchen table at the Dwight Way house. My grandmother listening to her salesman husband of three years explain why he thought George would be a good name for the little boy who would come in February 1912. Why they thought it would be a boy nobody knows. All the old “saws” about a woman carrying high or low or having, or not a protruding belly buttons were likely bandied about but, of course they couldn’t have really known. Just the same, she agreed.

The fifty dollars would have amounted to a months pay for Jack and surely the money was needed. So on February 1st 1912 my father came into this world and was dually christened George Gray Shannon and quickly baptized as such. In 1912 the “Infant Mortality Rate” for Oakland hovered around 18% so for devout mothers like my grandmother insuring the survival of the soul was as important as the child’s welfare. Pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, and enteritis with diarrhea were the four leading causes of death in the United States, and children under five accounted for 40 percent of all deaths. Scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria, mumps, and childhood diseases now practically unknown caused mothers and fathers to fear for their children. Dad was lucky. He was born at a time when a wide range of improvements begin the drive the infant mortality rate down. Central heating meant that infants were no longer exposed to icy drafts for hours. Clean drinking water eliminated a common path of infection. More food meant healthier infants and mothers. Better hygiene eliminated another path of infection. Cheaper clothing meant better clothing on infants. More babies were born in hospitals, which were suddenly being cleaned up as the infectious nature of dirt became clear.

Annie and little George, Dwight Way, Berkeley, 1912. Shannon Family photo

When my dad was six years old Jack and Annie decided to chuck the up and down life of a salesman and moved back to their hometown Arroyo Grande. She owned a Ranch given to her by her Uncle Pat and they determined to try their hand at farming.  Thats where my uncle Jack and my father really grew up. Starting as little boys and growing to men, they both took up the land, my uncle Jackie became a cattleman and my father a vegetable farmer. They both stuck with it to the end of their lives.

We all think we know much about life and its ups and downs, the reasons behind things, but there are always little surprises just around the bend.  For after all, everyones life seems to follow a curve and around that bend you cannot see. 

So it was in 1912. George is a boys name which comes from the ancient Greek name Georgos or Georgios. The name roughly translates as farmer. “Ge” for “earth” and “Ergon” meaning work. 

My dad was all of that. He always wanted to farm. He always took pride in his work and a farmer he was.

Oh, and the fifty dollars, George John Lawson never paid up. He welched on the deal.

Dad on the tractor, 1982. Shannon Family photo

The Old Ballgame Part Two

Arroyo Grande Boys League Baseball 1963

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame, Let’s play two”…..Ernie Banks Chicago Cubs.

Sometimes, in little towns like ours threads will cross each other and create a narrative and human fabric from disparate and yet similar experience. This skein is nearly unbreakable and so involved that any one person cannot be addressed without causing ripples.

Vard Loomis was as tied to the sport of baseball as any man who ever lived here. He played with my uncle Jackie and future major leaguer Thornton Lee at little Arroyo Grande high school. Like Thornton he went on to university. His university was Stanford. Known during his time as the “Cardinal,” not for the bird but for the color of its uniforms. Vard was no slouch either, he captained the team in his senior year. It was not a particularly good year for the Stanford nine, but Vard, at least had a winning season and was their ace pitcher. 

Stanford Baseball

When Vard came home from Stanford and entered the family business baseball was in full swing. From the turn of the century until the mid-fifties and the rise of television, amateur and semi-professional teams toured the country and town-ball teams were everywhere. It wasn’t unusual for a little town to have more than one team. Some would be sponsored, other were school ball teams. Our Arroyo Grande high school played Cal Poly and Santa Maria Junior College. Pick-up teams played on weekends and after work in the summer.

My father told me of going down to the high school field to see barnstorming teams play. They played on the old diamond at what is now Paulding Junior High. Kids could earn a nickel for fetching balls hit into the creek or even across it onto the fields of Garden Street.

The famous House of David came through every year or so, playing town teams along the railroads where they could play two or three games a day against teams from different small towns. They could play Paso Robles, Atascadero and Arroyo Grande on the same day. 

The House of David teams fielded one of the most popular baseball teams in the country at the time. Famous professional players occasionally donned fake beards and joined the team for exhibition games. Grover Cleveland Alexander, Satchel Paige, and even Babe Ruth. (They considered signing the Sultan of Swat in 1934, but decided his outrageous lifestyle would be a poor fit for the ascetic, Jewish orthodox team.) The hirsute athletes also popularized the art of the “pepper game,” a collection of Harlem Globetrotters-esque antics where they juggled and tossed balls, bats and gloves, made them vanish only to pull them out of their beards. They even played innings while mounted on donkeys. Playing as far afield as Hawaii and Mexico, the House of David continued to draw crowds into the 1950s, when television and the rise of Major League Baseball led to a decline in popularity of touring professional teams.

1927 Tour of Japan. Zenichi Kinimura between Gehrig and Ruth. National Archives

They weren’t bush league teams either. They often played against teams of major leaguers or Negro League teams who were picking up extra money in the off season. Babe Ruth and his “Bustin’ Babes toured with Lou Gehrigs “Larruping Lou’s for many years and both took on not only the House of David but also toured Japan 1934.  

That Japanese tour was organized by Kenichi Zenimura, a Japanese-American baseball player, manager, and promoter from Fresno. He had a long career with semi-professional Japanese-American baseball leagues on the west coast and Hawaii. These leagues were very active and extremely popular from about 1900 to 1941. He is also noted for the successful barnstorming tours he organized that brought famed players such as the Babe and the Iron Horse, Gehrig to the west coast and to Japan for exhibition games in the 1920s and 1930s. Zenimura brought his teams to our area during the depression and played at the high school and at the old ball field in Pismo Beach which used to be about where the sewer plant is today. There’s a series of old photographs kicking around taken during one of those games. The all Japanes-American teams dressed in their heavy woolen uniforms playing on a Sunday afternoon, the ranks of automobiles down the foul lines parked facing the field, the fans sitting on the grass, picnic baskets open, adults watching the game and kids running around playing games of their own, all of this surrounded by the artichokes which used to be grown there. Just off to the east the Southern Pacific railroad, where at four o’clock the SP Daylight Limited would thunder past, pulling its even dozen Pullman cars, their bright Red, Black and Orange livery flashing in the afternoon sun. The game pauses, players watching the train, the pitcher, his head down hands on hips, pauses in his work. Kaz Ikeda, the catcher, squats patiently in behind the dish, his brother Seirin stands at short using the toe of his shoe to smooth the dirt in front of him.

Arroyo Grande Growers, Vard Loomis center. SLOCHS photo.

Coached by Vard Loomis the Arroyo Grande Growers were playing the Kenichi Zenimura’s Fresno Athletic Club or FAC as it was known. 

Prior to the war, Juzo Ikeda the father of Kazuo and Seirin asked Loomis, to coach a Japanese-American baseball team. 

“There were between 40 and 50 farmers in this area at the time and many had big families, so there were a bunch of boys around here who needed some type of recreation after school. “Vard coached from 1932 to 1942 until the Japanese were forced to had to evacuate to the internment camps.”….Kaz Ikeda

Kaz and his brother were both lettermen at Arroyo Grande High School and attended Cal Poly, a small agricultural and engineering college in San Luis Obispo where they both played ball. Seirin was a crackerjack shortstop and Kaz caught though he was always careful to say he rode the pine most of the time.

He started playing on a Japanese American team from San Luis when he was just thirteen and was the first player Vard chose when the Arroyo Grande “Growers” were formed in ‘32. They played Japanese teams all over the coast from Salinas to as far south as Santa Barbara.

Sent to Gila River, Kaz and his brother continued to play. Kenichi Zenimura had quickly organized nearly 32 ball teams there. Some were for kids, some for teens and some for adults. “Zenny” even built the ball fields in the rocky soil around the barracks in which they all lived. He and the other ballplayers painstakingly removed rocks and pebbles and did their best to make the rough fields playable. There was no grass on those fields. They had to make the bases from scrap lumber left over from the building of the camp, they even put together a grandstand for the primary field. 

Gila River Field Home Plate. National Baseball Hall of Fame photo

For the three years the 10 camps existed baseball was played year round weather permitting. Snow storms at Tule Lake California delayed games as did howling dust storms at Manzanar. Torrential rains at the Rohwer and Jerome camps in Arkansas washed out the fields and games could be cancelled over intense heat or clouds of mosquitos and biting flies. And yet they still played.

Gila River Baseball on the home made field. Tets Furukawa, 3rd from right rear from Guadalupe. With only one suitcase allowed, he carefully packed his uniform from home. Densho Archive photo 1944

Survivors of the camps have stated that the games did much to foster a sense of community and give the internees something around which they could rally.

After the war Kaz and his brothers Seirin And Saburo and their extended families were amongst the first organizers of The Arroyo Grande Boys League. Returning veterans of the military, men who had played at Guadalcanal, Saipan, in the fields England, France and Germany began to have families and the league filled up rapidly with boys eager to play. 

They were the last decades of baseballs dominance. Here at home, boys lay awake at night dreaming of the World Series. There was no superbowl and the NBA could still characterized as a minor sport. The biggest thing in basketball was the seemingly utter dominance of UCLA and its annual trek to the college championships, regular as clockwork. It was still baseball and in the fifties it was still a radio sport with no teams west of St. Louis. Didn’t matter though, kids were wild for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Saint Louis Cardinals and the Giants of New York. 

Not yet did the leagues simply use the names of Major League teams. Local adult and kids leagues used their sponsors names or simply called themselves the Gators or the Growers and Merchants.

Pismo Beach Merchants at the old Pismo field, 1939

In the photo above, made up of players from Santa Maria, Arroyo Grande, Pismo and San Luis are many familiar names including Floyd Hoover and “Mutt” Anderson, owner of the Greyhound Cafe in Arroyo Grande. Butch Simas and Carl Barbettini were big supporters of the Santa Maria Indians. These guys were the fathers of the kids in my generation.

It all changed in 1958 when Walter O’Malleys Dodgers stepped of the plane in Los Angeles. They were to dominate the west coast television market and quickly relegated the Los Angeles Rams, which had been one of only two NFL teams in California to the status of also rans at the box office. 

The All-Star played in the 1959 season was also the first All-Star Game played west of St. Louis. The American League defeated the National League 5-3. Hall of Fame All-Star starters included Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial and Willie Mays. For kids out here is was unbelievable that these players were actually in reach and not at the end of a three thousand mile radio signal.

That same year the Dodgers beat the White Sox in the World Series at the old LA Coliseum and it’s strangely configured ball field behind the great relief pitcher Norm Sherry who saved two and won two. 

During the 1959 World Series against the Chicago White Sox, attendance at all three Dodgers home games exceeded 90,000. Game 5 drew 92,706 fans, a World Series record that will likely remain unbroken. The Dodgers won the series 4-2, capturing their first World Championship on the West Coast.

The sad thing was that it began the erosion of the old town ball teams. It was too easy to watch baseball on TV now instead of heading out to see the locals play. Other than a few high school college summer league teams they have slipped back into the shadows of history.

The San Luis Blues still play every summer but the old Santa Maria Indians with their bright red uniforms and “Scoop” Nunez running the show are probably gone forever. It took a dedicated group of men to operate a team, most of them former players themselves and it seems there are few willing or able to serve anymore.

Arroyo Grande Varsity Baseball 1961. Vard Loomis’ son, rear. AGHS photo.

In the picture above is our own Jimy Williams. Jimy is from a pioneering ranching family and holds the distinction of being the only native ofArroyo Grande who owns two World Series rings as both a coach and manager. The best memory Jimy though is of Coach Eugene “Pee Wee” Fraser hitting endless ground balls at him, over and over until it was too dark to see. Thats the real game behind the game.

Gene “Pee Wee Fraser. AGHS photo

Youth leagues are now it if you want to see a game. Little, Pony, Senior, American Legion and Babe Ruth leagues are how kids learn to play today and its always fun to walk on down to Soto field to see them. Those fields are likely a last testament to Arroyo Grande’s athletic past. Designed and built strictly by community volunteers you can see in the names, Porter, Campbell, Ikeda, Santos, Pilg, Volunteer and Don Roberts fields and if you know where to look the autographs of “Bub” Robertson and Tony Janowicz inscribed in concrete.

1964 Babe Ruth All-Stars, Kaz Ikeda Coach. Cayce Shannon photo.

Literally thousands of Arroyo Grandeans have supported baseball since it’s earliest beginnings almost a century and a half ago. Though things have changed in many ways there is one thing to remember, kids play for fun and it’s not uncommon to see boys and girls down at the fields playing home run derby or three flys up and having a whale of a time. My boys and their friends would come by our house which is just a long block from Soto, pick up a bucket of balls and some bats from my coaches bag and walk down to Santos or Porter field and play until dark. Its best to leave the folks at home. Thats the real game.

Chad Smithback, The Real Deal, Mike Shannon photo

Just a little note at the end. Years ago when I was a coach at Arroyo Grande High School, one of the ball players, a big, supremely talented seventeen year old took me aside and said, “Coach, lets take a walk.” 

We ambled side by side out to a spot just behind second base where the outfield grass offered us a whiff of the perfume that only comes from a fresh mowed field. The boy laid down on his back and I sat beside him for a moment just taking it all in, a warm spring afternoon on a ball-field. The crack of Fungo bats lofting balls to the outfielders, the slap of leather as pitchers threw their long toss warm ups and coaches sitting in the dugouts penning their lineups before the game. Sean turned to me and said, “Isn’t this the best Mike? I could die right here today and be happy.”

L-R, Steven DeRose, Tony Martinez, Tim Davis, Tommy Sugushita, Colin Shannon, Joe Wighton, Eli Panos, Sean Mosley, Ben Hodges, Anthony Luis and Cameron Walton.

Just a note. In the photo above, players on the 1997 14 year old Babe Ruth All-Star team, about to play at Sinsheimer Stadium in San Luis Obispo features two players who were coached by Tom Woods, who as a boy played for Kaz Ikeda, who played for Vard Loomis, who played with my uncle Jackie coached by my grandfather. Thats how connections work in a small town. 

Father and Sons, Nipomo Baseball, 1898.


Hanging in pride of place in my grandmothers office was an aged poster print. It was a once popular poster that hung in fraternity houses and university boarding houses across the country. It shows a group of insouciant college boys playing poker. Though it was my grandmother Annies I somehow imagined it to be a depiction of my dad’s fraternity house days at Cal Berkeley. I thought he must have whiled away those idle hours passing the old pasteboards across a baize cloth covered table like the young men in the painting, killing time in the way young men do when the horizon is just at hand but not yet touchable. It seemed vaguely romantic when I was ten.

In the days before television people played cards. My grandparents played Canasta with Clayton and Cornelia Conrow every Wednesday night for decades. She had a little round table in her front room as they called it, stocked with decks of cards, pencils and tally slips always at the ready. The folding card tables even had a special deep closet in the entry hall where they lived between games. 

My grandmothers bridge club motored along for over fifty years. I knew most of them, I used to drive her to Mrs Brisco’s or Mrs Jatta’s house after she could no longer drive herself. As those old girls dropped away and the group got smaller, they still kept it up until they could no longer fill a table. Listening to them talk was a better way to get the news than the local paper.

My mother belonged to a bridge club too. Mrs Loomis, Mrs Taylor, Mrs Wood, Mrs Waller, Mrs Rust, Mrs Talley formed a rotating group of Bridge players who stuck with it for fifty years. In those days the women would dress in their best, hair done, makeup on, the good heels and when I was little, she still wore glovesto go out. . Putting her purse under her arm, mom would offer her cheek for the good bye kiss, saying. “Careful honey, don’t mess up my lipstick.”  She would be off for an afternoon of card playing and serious gossip. It had to be the gossip because my dad always said she never won a trick in fifty years. She was an artist not a mathematician. They played for fun but were very serious about friendship. When my mother was dying of cancer, they all came to see her and say goodbye. Every single one. 

When my parents first met, what do you think my mother was doing? She was playing solitaire of course, something she did almost every day for the rest of her life. When you visited in the morning, dad would be in the fields and mom would be sitting at the enamel kitchen table ensconced at her end, drinking coffee, smoking the first cigarette of the day and playing solitaire. 

In our family, card playing was a serious business, especially Poker. Not your namby-pamby wild card games or community poker games like Texas hold-em but guts-ball games of stud, draw and high-low. Fancy-schmancy games that made it easier for a novice to win were not only  discouraged but at the family table, forbidden. 

They started us early. After Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner the big kitchen table would be carried into my grandmothers office and chairs gathered from all over the house. The file drawer opened, the top drawer mind you, business files were relegated to the lowers. The the baize  table cloth was taken out and very carefully spread across the table. The walnut carousel with it’s genuine ivory chips was placed in the very center. Each chair got a coaster to protect the fabric, there was no eating during a game. 

My grandfather Jack sat at one end and my father George at the other. My grandfather had a view of the wild horse hatrack and my dad looked over the “Burning of the midnight oil.” They were the Stud Ducks at the table. Most of the others were also rans. My uncle Jack, a big bluffer, My grandmother Annie, serious but without deceit, my mother; well we already know what kind of a player she was. My great uncles Bob and John and their wives Marion and Eva played most years too. Uncle John with his big deep voice and hearty manner was a journeyman player, so was uncle Bob. Marian was very sweet, not an advantage at a poker table. My great aunt Eva was sort of fluffy and cackled a lot. As a poker player she was no-account, sorry aunty.

All three of us kids had a place too, even when we were very young. Cayce the youngest sat next to my mother. He was pretty little then and since he has not a mean bone in his body his refusal to use the “Skip and Draw Two” cards in the Uno deck tells you everything you need to know about how he played poker. My brother Jerry sat across from Uncle Jackie and being the oldest, I had the place of honor next to my grandfather. Being at the table with the adults was a real treat for us but as youngsters we were not very good players and our elders would have to slip us chips under the table when we were doing badly.  

The best games of all were when my dad’s poker club came to the house. They were another kettle of fish entirely. Many of them were college grads. Schools like Stanford, that was Vard Loomis and Berkeley, which was my dad and Oliver Talley. As fraternity boys they had learned to play for keeps. In my dad’s case, poker helped pay for his tuition. He said his fraternity brothers and the firemen in the house where he cooked and bussed tables were not that good and with the five dollars a month his parents sent him from his home in Arroyo Grande he got along pretty well with the skills he had learned at the family table. He also had a head for numbers which didn’t hurt either.

In the afternoon we would help my father move the kitchen table and chairs, slide in the leaf and spread the tablecloth setting it all up in the living room. Those guys didn’t eat while playing, just a plate or two of mixed nuts, sometimes right out of the cans. They did drink though. When they came in the house they brought bottles of their favorite, fifths of scotch, bourbon or whiskey right off the shelves of Kirks Liquor on Branch street. They sniffed at cognac, too upper class, wrinkled their noses at gin, too British and drank their whiskey straight in a Low Ball or Old Fashioned glass, no ice if you please. There was a sort of hierarchy to it all. None of those guys put on airs, they were dirt farmers or worked in businesses which served the farm and ranch community. Putting on airs was frowned on. If you had dared to show up with beer you might well have been sent home. That marked you as less than serious, a lightweight. Wine was; well I can’t repeat what they said about that! Even Scotch was given a little fish eye, un-American to say the least.

As a youngster I had little opportunity to see these men, my fathers friends, fathers to my friends, in their natural habitat. On most social occasions kids were to be seen and not heard. They didn’t talk out of school around children. They were kind of just there you know, like trees or buildings. They inhabited a world we weren’t privy to just yet.

But the poker club offered a rare opportunity, like going to a zoo where yo could see a wild animal in the flesh. There were no bars or fences to look through but there was a keyhole. 

Our little farm house was built by Thomas Records around the turn of the 20th century. Originally just three rooms, kitchen, living room and a single bedroom, it had been modernized off and on over the years and when we were growing up had an indoor bathroom and a second bedroom for the kids. My parents bedroom was right next to the living room and in those old houses the doors had old fashioned mortise locks with beautiful glass door knobs, each one with a large keyhole under the knob.

My mother would make herself scarce on those nights, fleeing the house and no doubt meeting the wives for some socializing of their own. Us kids would be trotted out to practice our social skills, saying hello and shaking hands with Ed Taylor, Oliver, or Don Rowe and all the others, but soon we were shuffled off to bed. Or so they thought.

We used that keyhole the way a scientist uses a microscope. They were right there, just feet away. They all talked at the same time, there were jibes, cross talk and comebacks, barks of laughter, they grimaced, they frowned and muttered under their breath when they lost a hand. They joked and took a slug of whiskey. Oliver lit his cigar, Dad a cigarette, Milt Nelson chewing on his pipe as always, all of it creating a shimmering cloud moving hazily around the room. Raise you five, pass, hit me, gimme two, call, the language of poker running just beneath the surface like a lazy stream. The jokes, nothing we were ever going to hear in polite company and oh my goodness the teasing. They knew each other so well that gentle commentary about noses, bald heads, skinny legs seemed to pass almost without notice.

The flick of a wrist, a red chips clicking onto the pot, “I call,” the chips raked in and then without any visible signal the game stopped. The players  sat back and dad an Ed or Oliver stood and went to the kitchen. A loaf of Webers bread in its blue and white livery, Mayonnaise and mustard from the fridge and a stack of baloney and the went to work. Sandwiches were made, though they were farmers they used no lettuce or onions, vegetables were for market not eating. For a while it was calm and quiet as they refueled but soon enough the chairs slid across the floor and the action picked up again.

We didn’t know when they quit, for we had nodded off in our parents bed. Waking in our own beds in the morning, everything in the house was back to normal. My dad stayed up very late, washing dishes and putting things away, not wanting my mother to have to do it. As we slipped into our chairs for breakfast, my dad already gone to the fields, it seemed as if perhaps it was a dream or perhaps just a sudden glimpse of what was behind the curtain of adulthood.   


the old ballgame

George Carlin said it best. “Baseball is a nineteenth century pastoral game in which the object is to take a walk in the park, go home, and be safe.”

Library of Congress photo

History likes to put each thing in it’s place, tag it, annotate it and make a profound statement. But thats not it. Nope. No one knows anything in its entirely, can’t put a finger one it, when did it start, who did it, no one really knows. Somethings just are. Like this.

The boy threw a rock at his friend. The friend tried to catch it. A game for two. A third boy joined in and then another. Soon there were too many boys. They would Gang-Up on someone and soon enough someone got hurt. Without thinking too much, they made up some rules. There we go, its done.

All games are created by kids. The best games. They all come out of little boys and girls imaginations. The very best are stolen by adults. They are refined, packaged and marketed and become a part of society and community, but the most important parts belong with kids.

When I was ten, I used to walk home from school with two friends, Charlie Silva and Kenny Talley. We were forbidden by our parents to walk on the county road so we walked through the farm fields. In the upper Arroyo Grande valley the dirt is known as adobe. It’s heavy and chunky and black and it makes the best clods in the world. Before baseball came to our valley the adobe was used to build houses. The Californios and other early settlers built everything from it. Near our little two room school was the site of the very first permanent home built in our valley by Don Francisco Branch and his wife Manuela, that was in 1835. Long melted away, its adobe walls tumbled down and returned to earth it provided us with a bountiful supply of ammunition. All of us farm kids could throw, no one “threw like a girl,” not even the girls. Melody Patchett could throw and hit a baseball a mile by the time she was 13. Hilda Antonio may have been even better.

Rural schools in the fifties were not overly blessed with playground equipment. We had a teeter-totter and a slide and a little set of monkey bars thanks to the time and generosity of our fathers, but that was it. The playing field had been gouged out of the hillside and leveled after a fashion but the ballfield was more of a rectangle than a diamond. There was a big oak tree hanging over home plate, the fence on the first base side cut off anything resembling right field and if you hit the ball over the fence it could roll down the hill, across Branch Mill Road and end up in either Kaz Ikeda’s irrigation reservoir or all the way down the hill into his broccoli fields. That would effectively end the game as we never had more than one ball and to fetch it took up the rest of recess. Center field had another old oak as a feature which was backed by a Bob wire fence and a pasture beyond. If someone flew to center, the centerfielder had to climb through the four wire fence and root around in the Foxtails and cow flops in order to dig out the ball. The hitter could just stroll around the bases for a home run and the centerfielder got a ration of foxtails in the socks, the cuffs of his jeans and hair and maybe, if lucky, some rich manure on the shoes which would excuse them from wearing shoes the rest of the day. This was not, as town kids might think any kind of tragedy, it was a bonus and taken in stride by both students and teachers. Bare feet are always better than shoes. Left field was a cutbank and any ball hit up there might actually roll back into the field of play or if the hitter was lucky, get stuck in a gopher hole or one of the foxholes boys dug in order to fend of the Nazi’s who might attack our school at any moment. Boys actually brought shovels to school and yes, it was allowed by the principal Edith Brown. That was along with “Gun Day,” or “Huck Finn day.” Those are both stories for another time though.

Library of Congress photo

Baseball is an American game. There are mentions of the game as far back as the revolutionary war. There are old photos of both Union and Confederate soldiers playing when in camp. After the war between the states the game exploded across the country. Just before the war the Brooklyn Excelsiors had toured the east which took them as far north as Canada and as far south as Baltimore. The outbreak of war had smashed any thought of new tours until 1867 when the Washington Nationals, a club that had formed prior to the war, announced that it would take a trip unlike any thus far attempted.

The famous Washington club will start upon their proposed Western trip on the 10th of July, visiting and playing friendly games with the leading clubs of Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago, reaching the latter place on the 24th. . . .The Washington Clipper newspaper.

The Washington club was not yet famous, but wished to become so. They had played only five match games in 1865, when they had welcomed clubs from Philadelphia and Brooklyn to play on the lot behind President Andrew Johnson’s White House. The President had the first box seats. During the three weeks of their Western tour the Nationals made a show of maintaining their amateur status by refusing payments of any kind, even declining reimbursement for travel expenses; these, of course, were covered by their employers, who had graciously permitted them to abandon the desks at which they had seldom been anyway. The aim of the National Club directors in going out on tour was not monetary gain but social distinction and pride. Western teams of hayseeds had been getting a bit chesty about their brand of baseball and, it was thought back in the East that they needed a dose of reality at the hands of a real experienced ball club.

A trip to the far reaches of the country in 1867 would have been quite an adventure. They traveled by rickety railroads and horse drawn coaches. They took a steamboat down the Ohio and when they reached Saint Louis they were on the edge of civilization. It was a long, long trip west to California. A wagon train or stagecoach was the only way across. California boys were playing ball but it was going to be a long time before they would play on Eastern teams. The baseball world ended at St. Louis.

The Nationals prepared for their trip by posting lopsided wins over some local cupcakes until it was time to head west to Cincinnati to play the Red Stockings in a battle of two unbeaten nines. The Cincinnati Base Ball Club, already called “The Red Stockings” for the new style of pulling up the cuffs of their trousers the better to display their manly calves sheathed in form fitting carmine hose while all other teams still wore long trousers, had already given a drubbing to four local clubs.

The Reds were humiliated by a score of 53–10. The Nationals showed their sportsmanship by treating the humbled Red Stocking to a champagne dinner after the game. This would be the Red’s only loss of the year and it came against their only opponent from outside Ohio. A lesson was there to be drawn. At the end of the season the Red Stocking directors instructed the manager to follow the Nationals’ model and begin recruiting professionals from all over the place. The brazenly professional Red Stockings of 1869, undefeated against all comers from coast to coast became the first all professional baseball team and no longer a club.

Harry Wright, Red Stocking pitcher, 1867

Boys followed the exploits of their favorite teams and players just as they do today. In the days before radio, newspapers like the Arroyo Grande Herald Recorder carried box scores of not only the national teams in the east but local clubs, high schools and even grade schools. Every town of a few hundred or more had teams. Just before the turn of the twentieth century local clubs were traveling the state to find games.

The San Luis Obispo nine, The Invincibles are about to travel to the southland to take on a team from Los Angeles. Their splendid hurler, Colin Dana of Nipomo intends to spin the spheroid and baffle the opponents hitters. The team will take the steamer from Port Harford on Friday and arrive in San Pedro Saturday morning. After the inevitable defeat of the local Los Angeles club the Invincibles will return on the Sunday night boat.—-San Luis Obispo Tribune, 1898

Johnny Donovan of the Nipomo district had just donated new uniforms for the entire team and they were quick to praise him as a fine fellow to all present. Bragging right were taken seriously, very seriously.

As time has passed, the professional game has been tamed. Players are such valuable commodities that the rules have been changed to protect the owners investments. That hasn’t always been the case. In the old days especially before WWII men and boys played hard. Most were not white collar workers especially here in the west. They were blacksmiths, vaqueros, field hands, fishermen, men who worked with their hands. It might have been called the industrial age but the term applied to how industrious a man was, he was still doing most things with a strong back and hands that were hard with calluses. They played just a hard for free as they might have for money. Mickey Mantle worked in the Zinc Mines of Oklahoma, Warren Spahn was a cowboy in Texas, Eddie Matthews who played his high school ball at Santa Barbara High worked in construction. (The ballfield there is named for him.) In 1947 the average baseball player earned $5,000 a year—the average salary for the everyday American worker at that time was $3,500. That’s why players often had to work ordinary jobs in the offseason to feed there families. They didn’t live high on the hog either, Willie Mays lived in an apartment house in Harlem and used to play stickball with kids in the street.

San Luis Obispo Tribune,1898

That was my grandfather, a man who never did anything by half. He worked when he worked, he plowed when it was time and he played some hardball. The year after the above he came sliding into home and snapped the leg of his closest friend Asa “Ace” Porter. They dragged Ace off the field and the game went on. Revenge was had though, Ace defeated my grandfather in the the 1930 election for district four county supervisor, by 47 votes. Probably Huasna Valley baseball team “Cranks” who objected to Jack’s style of play.

John William “Jack” Shannon, leg breaker, ballplayer. Shannon Family photo

By the turn of the century the game had evolved into the form we see today. Bases were 90 feet apart, home was a plate, gloves were in pretty universal use and the baseball was no longer the “lemon peel” which had been both lighter and smaller. The baseball is now made to an exacting standard which has not changed in over one hundred years. In 1893 the old “pitchers Box” was replaced by a mound to cut down the advantage pitchers had and increase scoring. Fans, or “cranks” as they were called liked offense. As Oakland A’s slugger Mark McGwire once said, “Chicks love the long ball.” The sense of it is that a pitcher throwing from level ground, particularly sidearm pitchers who deliver the ball at an up and sideways angle which is more difficult to see than a pitcher throwing from a 15″ high hill which gives a much better view for a batters eyes to pick up the flight of the ball. The boys of old were no slouches, they could throw a ball in the 90’s just as pitchers do today

The nicknames of early twentieth century hurlers demonstrate what hitters thought of them. “Smoky” Joe Wood’s reign as one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history left an indelible impression on those who witnessed it first-hand. “Without a doubt,Joe Wood was one of the best pitchers I ever faced in my entire career,” said Ty Cobb. In 1911 and 1912, Joe Wood won 57 games for the Boston Red Sox, including a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns on July 29, 1911, and an American League record-tying 16 straight wins in the second half of the 1912 campaign. He wasn’t large or overpowering, standing 5’11 3/4″ and weighing in at about 180 pounds, but concealed in his lanky frame was one of the most overpowering fastballs of the Deadball Era. “I have seen a lot of speedy pitchers in my time,” Red Sox catcher “Tubby” Spencer quipped in the spring of 1909, “but Joe Wood can make sparks fly better than anyone else I ever saw throw a ball.” Three years later, Walter Johnson, nicknamed the “Big Train” for the sound of his hissing fastball could only agree. “Can I throw harder than Joe Wood?” he told a waiting reporter. “Listen, mister, no man alive can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood.”

Howard Ellsworth “Smoky” Joe Wood, Red Sox photo, 1910

Here in our county we had the Paso Robles Sycamores, San Luis Obispo’s Invincibles, The Cambria Nine, a Nipomo team almost completely made up of sons and cousins of the pioneer Dana family. They played on sandlots and behind high schools. They played on fields that would be unrecognizable by today’s standards. A little leaguer plays on a finer ball field than their own great-grandfathers did. Dirt infields used to be so rough that a shortstop or second baseman was likely to have a chipped or broken tooth or two. They had to catch a bouncing ball with both hands because their little unpadded gloves had no leather strings between fingers or a net between the thumb and index finger. My mothers father had broken his hand several times during his baseball playing days.

Nipomo Baseball, 1910
Depression Era Baseball. Library of Congress photo

Baseball was so popular that the box scores from grammar school games were published in the local paper. Large crowds turned out to see fifth, sixth and seventh grade boys play on a Saturday afternoon. Both my father, George and my uncle Jack played in this game. I still have uncle Jack’s glove which he gave me when I was about the same age. Obsolete by then but I have it still. It shares out sweat.

Brother vs Brother, Arroyo Grande Herald, June 1923
Jackie and George Shannon, 1923, seventh and fifth grade. Shannon Family photo

Consider that professional sports other than Boxing, Horse racing and baseball were practically nonexistent before television. Football was almost entirely a college sport. You could listen to a radio broadcast but if you wanted a major league game it had to be Saint Louis which was then the team farthest west. Out here it was the Pacific Coast League with teams like the San Francisco Seals, The Los Angeles Angels, The Sacramento Solons, the Oakland Oaks, the Salt Lake Bee’s, the Portland Beavers and the Albuquerque Dukes. Formed in 1903 it was the first serious west coast league. The level of play was so high and as the old story goes when Joe DiMaggio signed with the Yankees in 1936 he took a pay cut to go east. The east coast teams figured out pretty quickly what a goldmine the west coast was and Joe was quickly followed by his little brother Dominic, “Dom,” to the Red Sox, San Diego’s Ted Williams, and Bobby Doerr, all Red Sox. All Hall of Famers.

My dad always remembered a guy named Thornton Lee who was from down in the Ocean district. His family lived on a little farm next to the Hodges. He was a big, Lanky left-hander who went on to play a couple years at Arroyo Grande High School with my uncle Jack. He also played at the little agricultural Cal Poly college in San Luis Obispo where he starred in every sport he played. After graduation he was signed and played in the minor leagues for a number of years with the Salt Lake Bee’s, the Globe Arizona Bears, the Tampa Florida Smokers, Tampa was the cigar manufacturing center of the US at the time, hence the name. He bounced around some more, playing for the New Orleans Pelicans, Toledo Mud Hens, Wilkes-Barre Barons and finally made it to Cleveland Indians where he launched what was to be a 16 year career. He pitched until he was 40, quite a feat in the days when pitchers threw complete nine inning

The Margarita nine has Lately added some flash players and sent the humbugs packing. They are going up to play the Atascaderans on Saturday. The contest will only last five innings so the Margaritas can catch the last train down.”—-San Luis Obispo Tribune, April 26th, 1893.

We played in plowed fields with a broken bean pole and rocks. We threw balls over the roof of the barn to someone on the other side, we played catch with dad whenever we could corner him. He did it whenever asked, though he had likely put in a full day working in his fields and was bone tired. He taught us to take a step back first on a fly ball to make sure we could see it. He showed us how to hold a bat and which side the label should be on. How to move on a ground ball and best of all how to hold a baseball. Across all four seams for a fastball, he showed us the grip for a sinker and the curve ball. He explained how the spitter worked and where to cut the ball to make it move. How the hand and wrist could make a ball hop, twist and fade away. To think if you are a pitcher, anticipate if you are a fielder and don’t ever think if you’re a hitter. No time for that. He said, “If a pitcher can make you think, you’re a dead duck.” He would say, “It’s a game of physics, geometry and speed.” He emphasized that size and strength meant less than agility. In this he was right.

We have an old high school photograph taken of the Santa Maria High School baseball team of 1904. The diminutive short stop in the military type bib shirt with red piping and Santa Maria emblazoned across the front in old style Gothic letters is my great uncle Robert “Bob” Gray, my grandmothers older brother. He is twenty in the photo which is a comment on the school imperative in those days at the turn of the century. Taking time off to bring in a crop or work the fields was a common thing for young men. He seemed to have plenty of time to play ball though.

Mu mothers parents were married in 1915. They were both nineteen and fresh off the farm. Sometime in 1916 they were living with his parents, Samuel and Vancey Hall in a little house in Deer Canyon in what was then known as the Verde District. Arroyo Grande was just a short three miles away. My great-grandfather Sam made his living managing ranches. Bruce, my mothers father loved to play ball. He and his brothers played at every opportunity. Town teams roamed the county, riding the trains to games as far north as San Miguel and as far south as Santa Maria and Guadalupe. There was no real season in those days, games were played whenever two teams could arrange a contest.

Eileen Hall abandoned wife. Shannon Family Photo

My grandmother Eileen had been raised by an indulgent mother who was focused more on herself than her only daughter so grandma was a little short of the basic wifely skills such as cooking and cleaning. She soon found out that she and her mother-in-law were to cook for the field hands that grandpa Sam managed. Grandma would have been satisfied with toast and a cup of coffee but she soon learned the the men working the haying crews burned huge amounts of calories in the days when it was still mostly hand work and they needed to be fed twice a day. Breakfast was fried pork chops, fried potatoes, eggs, bacon and gallons of coffee. Vancey knew her duty and she taught my grandmother how to navigate the kitchen. She was just nineteen and already six months pregnant with my aunt Mariel. Being young, it was an unexpected burden and she got to feeling the blues. One Sunday grandpa Sam walked around the corner of the barn and found her sitting against the side with her head down on her arms crying. When Bruce rolled in after the game his father took him aside and lit into him. He said, “You’re a married man now Bruce and you have to act like one. Eileen needs your help and attention because she’s having a hard time. You have a good wife to think about now and you’d better do it.” He did too, they stayed together and raised four great children including my mother Barbara. He still played ball though. The old photo below was taken in the oilfields around Orcutt California where he was working as a driller for Associated Oil Company. The two little girls are my mother and my aunt Mariel. It’s 1919 and though he looks much older in the old wool uniform he is just 24

Bruce Hall and his girls, Orcutt, California 1919. Shannon Family Photo

The Old Ballgame Part Two

Sometimes in little towns threads cross each other and create a human fabric woven from disparate and yet similar experience.

Coming soon………




Fourth of July.


What they did was to build a brand new society where none had existed. Vacuumed up by the military authorities were literally every profession from fisherman, farmers, business owners, college professors, housewives and even Eagle Scouts. If you made a list of the people who were imprisoned you would be hard put to find a gap in lifestyle, profession, age or education.

Photo, National Archives

Somehow the powers that be had not considered education and the first prisoners to arrive at Manzanar found no school facilities available for the nearly two thousand school aged children that arrived in the early summer of 1942. The camp administrators were ill prepared to offer any kind of organizational help to the inmates beyond very basic shelter. The first buildings only had doors in the ends so that families had to walk through their neighbors to get in and out. A building in every block was finally designated for a school but there was no insulation, no carpet or linoleum on the floor. There were no textbooks, pencils or paper and not even a chair to sit on. Whatever they needed would have to be provided by the prisoners themselves.

Outdoor School 1942, National Archive photo

“The teenagers had nothing to do and the little children ran around like wild animals. On very hot days they would play underneath the barracks to stay out of the sun. The older boys kept getting in trouble so we decided we had to have schools to keep them busy.”——Momo Nagano

Each block elected a committee and a block manager which petitioned the camp administration to be able to form schools. Once permission was obtained Japanese American teachers were found inside the camp and informal schools put together. School supples were not initially available from the WRA so people donated paper, pencils and what money they could spare so school supplies could be bought at nearby Independence and Lone Pine. Books to form a small library were requested from the Los Angeles Public Library. The National Library Association also came through. None of this was easy. Getting a government agency to move is a very difficult thing but by October of 1942 Formal schools had been approved, block buildings selected and on the 19th all the school age kids went to school for the first time since early spring. 

“In the first months at the Owens Valley camp there were no schools. Instead, college-educated evacuees taught makeshift classes in bare rooms or on shady patches of ground outside. There were few texts, so teachers read to their classes from a single book or led discussions on topics such as the U.S. Constitution.” Some Irony there. ——“Chickie” Hiraoka

It’s back to school days for Manzanar children today as hundreds of youngsters returned to their elementary school classes. Still handicapped by lack of insulation, floor covering and furniture the school doors were re-opened nevertheless, on a recommendation by the Manzanar Educational Council. Headed by Marshall Miler, principal, the faculty of the elementary school consists of the following teachers; Genevieve Baird, Eve Beekman, Janice Dales, Miriam Emus, Lois Ferguson, Libby Gratch, Florine Harding, Lois Hosford, Eleanor Jones, Martha Job, Lucille Lewis, Ellen McFarland, Bernice Miller and Marcia Price. ——Manzanar Free Press

Japanese-American  teachers were now to be used only as classroom aides not withstanding their sometimes superior education and experience. It was thought the white teachers would be better at teaching an “American” curriculum. When Ellen McFarland was asked years later why she would go out to the desert to teach “Japs,” she said. “I didn’t think it was right, what they did. Some of my UCLA classmates were in the camp.” She laughed and also said, “The pay was double what I could make in Los Angeles and that didn’t hurt. The children were wonderful though and I never regretted it.” 

Ellen McFarland, UCLA 1941

Very quickly organizing committees formed and an atttempt was made to corral the kids that were wandering everywhere around camp. Teenagers would leave the barracks for breakfast and not return until dark, a practice that was mystifying to their more conservative parents. In a way the camps provided a level of personal freedom they had not had at home. Organizing schools and sports for them was seen as a way to re-establish a little control. Elementary school was the first with junior high and high school to follow. 

Organizers had little money to spend as no jobs program had been instituted in camp for the internees. That was still to come. Block committees began to scrounge for what they could find in the way of things as simple as pencil and paper. School books were simply not available. A former high school student said one of his teachers in chemistry class actually said, “Pretend this is a Bunsen burner,” which made them all laugh, but that was the state of things at the beginning.

Furniture was hacked together from whatever scrap wood was lying about the camp. There are photos showing small piles of lumber shoved under barracks for future use by the families that lived there. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) provided almost nothing for schools. All furniture had to be made or purchased by the prisoners. In a stark contrast, the administrative staff, known as the, ‘White staff’, lived on site in staff housing that was painted, air conditioned, and had indoor plumbing, refrigerators and whose buildings were fully furnished. Their children were initially bussed into nearby Independence for school but after the camp schools were opened they attended school with the children of the prisoners.

Scrounging became the order of the day, nothing was wasted and if an opportunity to add to the stockpile of usable material  appeared it was taken advantage of. This was not without some peril though, a soldier shot Hiyoki Takeuchi in the chest for stealing wood from a scrap pile. He said, “He was warned to put it down and then ran, so I shot him.” The boy who survived his chest wound said he asked and received permission before he was summarily shot. The soldier was later reported to have said “I got my Jap.” Admin ruled the shooting justified and no punishment was ever applied to the soldier.

Many of the communities from which the Japanese Americans came sent inquiries to the camp administration about sending school books, materials and other supplies for the kids that had been in their schools. In this way the various grade levels began to acquire curriculum materials. Public libraries through out the western states also sent books to staff libraries. By the fall of 1942 schools had been organized for every level of student, white teachers hired and imported and most all of the functions of normal school life existed. Their were music programs, dances for the older kids, and a complete set of athletic programs. At its peak, Manzanar could field a hundred baseball teams from grade school to adult leagues. There were cheerleaders, majorettes with their own handmade uniforms topped off with high crowned hats with feathers made of paper. All of this from almost nothing. 

School organization was a major endeavor led by the adult leaders at Manzanar and by 1943 all grade levels were functioning smoothly and a new Junior College was opened that fall. Transfer students to Eastern universities was allowed by government and many students began to take advantage of it and it was deemed necessary to initiate a JC to facilitate transfer.

Throughout the time in camp, parents and kids worked hard to foster a sense of normalcy, albeit it behind barbed wire and guarded by soldiers with guns loaded. By the end of camp, schools were fully functional and were sending graduates to prestigious schools for further high level education such as Yale, or Harvard. Japanese-American kids were allowed to go to east coast schools but not the west. Some very famous schools refused admittance such as the all girls school Smith College, though they denied it after the war. Attending an eastern university was a way to escape from camp and many older students took full advantage of it. The number of prestigious school attended by children of the internees is astounding considering the number of college age kids eligable who left for higher education over the roughly three year period the concentration camps existed.

You see, children of any so-called racial group are really the same. The contents of the suitcase they each carried is fascinating. They carried books like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Secret Garden. They packed their clarinets and trumpets, some took their high school baseball uniforms. They took as much of their normal life as they could. For comfort and security are important to children.

Fortunately adults took things like the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs. Since they couldn’t leave the camps the catalogs became a way buy things that weren’t available inside. People had very little money so the sent away for things they considered necessities. Whatever limited money we had we spent it on purchasing things to make the camp life a little more comfortable. And one of the most popular things that people purchased, and the stores kept running out of, were chamber pots. Maybe you don’t know what a chamber pot is. They’re little ceramic pots, with a lid and that’s what you used to defecate and to urinate in. Because our toilets and bathrooms were way far away and in the middle of the night, people didn’t want to go in the freezing cold to go to the bathrooms. And so they’d use those. All modesty was gone they hid behind a curtain, hoping nobody could hear all this tinkle, tinkle and whatever. It was a new way of life.

My mother packed one entire suitcase with Kotex.—-Grace Nishi.

I took my Guadalupe YMBA baseball uniform.—-Tetsuo “Tom” Fukunaga.

My father took the Pasadena telephone book.—-“Mits” Kaminaka.

Mother packed only summer clothes, we lived in Glendale and didn’t know winter.—-Nami Dohi.

“My little brother “Teddy” packed his little suitcase with comic books. My mother was upset but it made him very popular with other kids.“—-Yoshi Akinaka

The administration allowed Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange to come in and document life at Manzanar though they imposed restrictions on what they could portray and then censored all of their work. The intent was to whitewash as best they could the life there. The prints from the National Archives used here all have censors comments on the reverse as to whether they could be released for publication. A subtext of the camp story was that many in government were opposed to relocation and the powers that be were careful not to give them any ammunition that could be used by any critics of official policies. 

The prisoners themselves had little subversive groups among them, particularly amongst younger adults who were absolutely and completely Americanized. The educated knew the constitution and their rights as American citizens and worked to document the real life in camp not the homogenized version released to Life Magazine where the “Volunteer” internees were happy and smiling in their new life. The camps “Were just a MINOR CONVENIENCE and the Japs were happy with their little farms and gardens, safe and protected by the United States Government.”

Toyo Miyatake was one. A professional photographer from the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, he was removed to Manzanar with his wife and children in 1942. As radios, firearms and cameras were forbidden Japanese-Americans, Toyo took geat pains to very carefully smuggle two camera lenses into camp with his luggage. He found a woodworker friend who made him a little wooden lunchbox which was really a secret camera and he then went about photographing true camp life. The photograph of the three small boys at the barbed wire fence is his, a photo that would not have been permitted under any circumstances but which trumps anything taken by Adams or Lange.

Toya Miyataki’s box camera, Manzanar museum

Toyo worked with a man he had befriended years before in Los Angeles who made a business call at Manzanar once a month and smuggled in photo supplies. If the items were small he would leave them in his jacket pocket, tell Toyo, “The jacket is hanging on the coat tree in the Admin office” and Toyo would get a camp policemen to go and retrieve it. If the items were too large for the pocket he would leave the trunk to his car slightly open and again a policeman would fetch them.

There was a surreal twist to this method of retrieval because the uniformed camp police officers, excepting the chief were prisoners themselves. In a strange twist of fate the government had made those who were prisoners the guarantors of their own imprisonment.

Manzanae Police Force, Toyo Miyataki photo.

Miyatake took wedding photographs and family photographs, He took graduation photos and did engagements. He did sports too. He also continued to document camp life with all its warts and then smuggling the film out of camp to be printed by a white friend in Los Angeles. His courage and superb eye for detail has left us a true image of camp life the government went to great pains to conceal. Eventually he was able to strike a deal with the camp administrator to become the “Official” camp photographer because he argued that people in camp wanted photographs to commemorate their time there. On the surface this seems strange but there were so many requests that he had to set up a rigorous schedule, allowing only two photos per family in order to keep up. If he had been caught with his clandestine photos he would have been immediately transported to the punishment camp at Tule Lake California.

On April 11, 1942, the first issue of the camp’s Manzanar Free Press was published. The first newspaper to be published in a U.S. internment camp, this independent record of the internees’ lives at Manzanar was distributed in the camp until shortly before Manzanar closed on November 21, 1945.

The entire staff were internees and worked without pay. 

The hypocrisy of the papers name didn’t go un-noticed by administration, but in the interest of harmony it was allowed to stand. Still each issue was submitted for review by officials before publication was allowed.

Aside from the enjoyment of the work and the relatively liberal minded staff, “The human element did not appear in the printed pages. There were no personal views from any writer. We could and did not write about what was happening to us, the poor food, the poor medical care, the lack of privacy, having to take showers together, overflowing toilets, being behind barbed wire, never free. We knew if we wrote about a certain thing, it wouldn’t get in the paper. The complaints of the internees was not ever voiced in the Free Press.” ——Sue Embrey, Editor

There was also some degree of irony because General DeWitt dropped by for a little visit and to look over his handiwork. A small article on page one of the newspaper was addressed to DeWitt, complimenting him on his understanding and humane operation of the mechanics of the evacuation. According to John D. Stevens, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Michigan who researched assembly and relocation center newspapers, these were the “first and only kind words which ever appeared in an evacuee publication about the man most” evacuees “blamed for their removal.” A week later DeWitt, perhaps influenced by the article in the Manzanar Free Press, gave official blessings to issuance of newspapers in all centers. Few are immune to flattery, even a Major General.

Interestingly, the Manzanar Free Press combined a national outlook with a newsletter feel. One can find articles on such topics as mess hall rules, school graduations, and results of games in the camp’s eight-team adult baseball league, alongside articles touting the contributions of Japanese-Americans citizens and soldiers to the national war effort. Like all American newspapers of the time it even ran an “Our boys in the Service” column.

Camp newspapers kept residents informed, relaying administrative announcements, orders, events, vital statistics, news from other camps, and other tidbits concerning daily camp life. They published not only straight news, but also editorials, opinions, human-interest stories, and entertainment pieces such as sports news, literary works, and comic strips. They recorded the daily activities of residents for whom, even in detention, life continued.

Camp cartoonist Iwao Takamoto went on to work for Disney Studios after Manzanar and then Hanna Barbera and was one of their chief designers responsible for, among others, Scooby-Doo and the Jetson’s dog Astro. Another cartoonist, Chris Ishii who was snatched out of the Disney studio wrote Lil Neebo. A “Little Nisei” boy who had all kinds of camp adventures.

Editorially, the Manzanar Free Press was devoted to the expression of American patriotism and mindful of the synthetic distinction of ethnicity made to limit Japanese-American participation in the war.  In a January 1, 1944 editorial addressed to the “People of America,” the paper eloquently captured the resolve of these loyal, yet nonetheless demonized people:  

In three months, we will have spent two years in these centers. We have had time to rationalize our own predicament. The tragic experience of evacuation, the untold volume of business losses of the evacuees, the unwarranted hatreds engendered toward us by some people because of our hereditary kinships with the Asiatic foe—these we write off our ledger.

Alan Miyatake, grandson of “Manzanar Relocation Center” photographer Toyo Miyatake, shows photographs depicting the Japanese internment during WWII at the Toyo Miyatake Studio in San Gabriel, Calif. Feb. 17 2017. Alan tracked down the three boys shown in his grandfather’s well-known photograph and was able to again picture the trio at Manzanar’s barbed wire enclosure near Lone Pine, Calif. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)
Roy, Honey and Akira Toda, Manzanar, Calisphere collection.

She looks exactly like any teenage girl. This photo, taken by her friend Wilda Johnson who drove up from Glendale to visit her in the camp shows a trendy young girl right on the edge of womanhood. White tennis shoes and socks, gray skirt and a blouse with a Peter Pan collar fastened at the neck by a small brooch. She has her hair up in Victory Rolls, the fashion of the time and is flashing a bright and genuine smile. Her brothers Roy and Akira have the shy, reserved look of teenage boys, not quite sure what they are expected to do. No such thing for Honey though. Wouldn’t you like to know her?

We know about her today because her letters from camp were saved. She wrote in a beautiful copperplate hand with long graceful serifs. The letters are genuine. She tells of Christmas parties where everyone from her block attended, “Little tiny babies and the Grandpapas.” Santa Claus in his beard and red suit chuckled as he handed out presents to the little ones. She is captivated by the first snow on the Sierras, something she had never seen in Glendale. She talks about the freezing weather, both inside and out. She talks about the constantly swirling and dusty dirty wind and the affects of war rationing. “Only tiny babies get milk,” she says. In a bit of wonder, she never really complains about anything. She mentions the requirement that all visitors must apply for permits. Honey also mentions the prospect of being in Manzanar for a long, long time. She also says that camp life will not stop them from having fun, such as a picnics and teen dances with live music. She mentions “weiner bakes” along with hot, dusty conditions. She also notes that her free friends work on swing shifts and urges them not to let the work get them down, but rather to “do your part for the U.S.A. – ‘Keep them flying!'”

The sense of wonder and everlasting optimism of teenagers is hard to kill.

Song in Exile

Printed in the Manzanar Free Press, August 17, 1942

Song in exile
The other night we sat enchanted in the deepening dusk
before a drab recreation hall listening to the ageless strains
of a Brahms symphony.
Around us was the oppressive monotony of black bar
racks and dusty roads beyond, the jagged outlines of the
towering peaks softened now to a blue shadow. As we sat
there night slowly cast its black sorcery over the land and
as the violin quivered on a tremolo note the first evening star
appeared miraculously in the sky, shining in the gathering
darkness like a symbol of the beauty that still flickers in a
darkened world.
We let the mystical exoticism of Debussy fill the night
as each star came out to take its exact place in the wheeling
universe, until the night was misty with a million stars.
Man’s universal love of art and beauty is inextinguish
able. “Wherever beats the human heart, in the lush jungles of
Bataan, along the muddy banks of the Yangtze, in bomb
scarred Sevastopol, and even in Manzanar, man yearns for
The democratic universality of art does not distinguish
between nationality or race. Brahms was a German Debussy
French. Tschaikowsky was a Russian.
As we listen to the music of these great men let us
breathe a prayer for the men who are today giving their
lives that men may not only live again in peace and security
but that art may again be unfettered and freed from the
fascist censorship that would stifle it.

Manzanar Five

Closing the Circle….

On Wednesday afternoon July 28th, 1944, the boy found Mrs Takeyoshi Arikawa sitting on the steps of her barracks Block 31, Building 3, Apartment 4, in the Manzanar California concentration camp. He walked slowly up to her, removed his cap, bowed and handed her the envelope. He knew what was inside. She did too…..

Coming August 17th.