Story Wonders: How to (Not) Find a Grave

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When I read about local history for my books, I sometimes find surprising information about people who once lived here and the places I now see everyday.

Not long ago, I was reading Furusato by Ronald E. Magden, a book lent to me by my friend and pastor Karen Yokota Love. Magden writes engaging accounts of the Japanese immigrants, and I became intrigued with the story of one second generation man who lived in this area.

James Yamamoto had always wanted to become a doctor but had to drop out of school to take care of the family when his father died.

He worked hard at farming in Firwood, running a gas station, and even selling sewing machines. Later he joined local community organizers to improve the lives of his family and those around him.

Then one night, he stopped on the Sumner highway to change a tire. In an instant, he was struck by another motorist and died shortly afterwards at the age of 28.

When I read of Yamamoto, I felt an instant connection. My mother lives on that road. I walk it frequently, and the traffic swishes by on the narrow road with no sidewalks and plenty of mud. I could see that dark night in October of 1931 and imagine the fog that made it so easy for the trucker to miss seeing him until it was too late.

And then I read he was buried in the cemetery on that same road.

That’s when I started trying to look him up and found his marker through Find a Grave.

I decided to find Yamamoto’s resting place myself on one of my many visits to my mother’s. The first time I took my son and the Barli the Dachshund only to find the cemetery staff were out for the Christmas holiday. The second time, the note on the office door said the staff was attending a graveside service.

I have also braved the cold to search the older part of the cemetery alone with no luck.

And today is the day I promised myself I would post this small tale, so here I will put in a photo (by permission) from Find a Grave and perhaps later I will update it for you when I find Mr. Yamamoto on a walk.

I think about him still. I wonder what more that energetic man would have done with the Japanese American Citizens League and how he would have faced the internment had he lived a longer life. 

And I sure do look out for trucks on that busy Sumner highway.

Wishing you safe walks and unexpected connections-

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Story Wonders: Japanese Thread Balls

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For this new year, I will be sharing the wonders I find when writing my stories. Even when my own words fall short, I find joy in my discoveries about the world around me. 

I am still shopping around for a new blog look, but, in the meantime, I wanted to get started with a colorful weaving I found.

Temari

Centuries ago, mothers in China and Japan began constructing balls for their children out of left over clothing. From strips of kimonos these balls evolved into today’s intricate Japanese thread patterns called Temari.

Check these out!

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Photograph by NanaAkua
Website | Facebook | Flickr

Often, the weaver places an object inside the ball to give it special meaning for the child. It might be a coin or some other small token that represents something special to the person.

I made my own simple ball a while back out of material I had in my crafting cupboard. Videos are all around and, once again, it’s amazing what you can do with YouTube. I am always impressed by people like Barbara Suess who take what they love and use the Internet to connect that love to others.

 

And here are more photos of those Temari. I found the photos below on Flickr taken by NanaAkua as well as an excellent article by Twisted Sifter on the the photographer’s amazing artist grandma. (These are only about a thousand times better than my first attempt.)

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Wishing you a joyful new year with your own story wonders,

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Wednesday Wonders:Mr. G the Gingerbread Man Goes to Japan Part 2

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When we last saw Mr. G on his trip, he discovered that people drive on the left in the island nation just before he enjoyed an apple–or rather he watched while the human ate the apple.

Today, I report on the rest of his adventures as told by tour guide Marci Kobayashi-Smith. These adventures took several days for our intrepid Mr. G.

Day 1

We went out for breakfast with the Gingerbread Man.

(They went to Denny’s in Japan!)

He looked over every page of the breakfast menu carefully.

Then we had fun taking pictures while we waited for the food to arrive.

He looked at both options first and then decided to share with Akira. You can see Akira is trying to teach him how to use chopsticks.

(Akira Kobayahi is tour guide Marci’s husband.)

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After breakfast Akira paid the bill and let the Gingerbread Man keep the change. He said he’s going to bring it back with him so Q can see how Japanese coins look.

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We took walk after breakfast and met someone very interesting but I’ll save that for later. Right now we’re driving to the nursing home to see Akira’s mom. Akira is helping the Gingerbread Man drive.

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Day 2

We have a lot to report today! First, I want to share some pics from yesterday. The Gingerbread Man (we’ve nicknamed him Mr. G) found some interesting things.

First, he found a big building just for karaoke. Inside there are many small rooms and people of all ages go in and rent the rooms and have fun singing. We told him it’s not so unusual. There are karaoke buildings like this all over Japan.

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Mr. G. also noticed there are a lot of poles and wires. You can see them here in this picture.

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In Japan, most of the telephone and electric wires are above ground. Mr. G said that in Puyallup most of the wires are underground. Is that true??

Even though there are many wires, there are still some beautiful streets. This street is lined with Gingko trees.

It was so pretty so we decided to take a walk. And we weren’t the only ones. Many people were out walking…

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We also found a flower shop, a grocery store with many bicycles parked out front and a Pizza Hut!!

Mr. G said he thinks there might be a Pizza Hut in Puyallup but he doesn’t eat pizza so he’s not sure. Have you seen delivery scooters like this in Puyallup?
Mr. G was really into the yellow leaves. He asked us to take many pictures…

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He saved a few leaves. You’ve probably seen Gingko trees before but just in case he’s going to bring back a couple of leaves to show you. Here is one.

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So you are probably getting tired of the yellow leaves, right? Well, on the way back home, we met someone really interesting. And, I’m not talking about the snowman. Take a look at this next picture. Can you guess what it is?

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Well how about this next picture? Look carefully and I bet you can figure it out!

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Did you figure it out? He is a police officer! The little corner office where he works is called a “koban” and in English everyone calls it a police box. It’s like a mini police station. Every neighborhood in Japan has one.

Usually there is only one or maybe two officers working at the Police Box. Sometimes you can see them out patrolling on their bicycles.
And one last view from our walk yesterday…

Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about the laundromat we visited. And, guess what? Mr. G. went out for sushi!

Day 3

Today Mr. G stayed home but I still haven’t shared some of the pics from yesterday…We went out for sushi. Instead of taking sushi that came around on the conveyor belt we ordered from the digital menu. A few minutes later it arrived on another conveyor belt right to our table. Then, Mr. G got really excited when we put the plates down the shoot. Every 5 plates we get a chance to win a prize and this time WE WON!!!

 

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But, after all that raw fish Mr. G wanted something different so we ordered grilled eel, tenpura and french fries! Yum!

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The french fries and plate prizes were a fantastic selling points for Quinton, too! He says he’d rather go on Mr.G’s trip than to Disneyland!

And that concludes the tour. Mr. G is somewhere on his way across the Pacific back to the Puyallup elementary school and Quinton’s class.

Wishing you peace and french fries for this holiday season,

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Wednesday Wonders: Mr. G the Gingerbread Man Goes to Japan Part 1

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Do you remember Flat Stanley? The cut out that kids sent to their friends and family around the world?

My son’s kindergarten teacher gave his class a gingerbread man to send instead of Stanley. Quinton’s cut out is making his way around Tokyo with my friend from high school who came to visit us this past summer.

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Summer fun in Sumner, WA

(Quinton loved Marci Kobayashi-Smith so much that he decided to go there as soon as possible. On a boat. I should drop him off and come back for him the next day.)

So today, I present to you the adventures of Mr. G as told by Marci with pictures and text. Enjoy!

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Mr. G leaves the U.S. from my kitchen table. 

For this first night, we are enjoying a quiet night at home watching TV. There is a show about a neighborhood police officer on TV right now. I’m sure you can see him in the background.

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First we took a walk along the bike path next to the river and saw some egrets. Sometimes we can see blue herons there, too but not today.

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The Gingerbread Man discovered that stop signs look different here in Japan. They are triangles!

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Then we came up to a very busy street and he noticed something else–people drive on the left side of the road!

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Now we are back home and having a snack. Even though many things are different, somethings are the same. For example, we are enjoying a big red apple for a snack.

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Actually, he let me eat most of it. 🙂

And that’s all for part one! Stay tuned to see what Mr. G gets up to next week. Meanwhile, you can find more about his tour guide Marci by going to her blog and website.

May you find great adventures of your own this week and maybe even eat an apple-

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Postscript: After I posted this, I remembered today is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. 

A part of me questions the wisdom of whimsy on such a day. 

The best part of me thinks a kindergarten gingerbread man free to travel to Japan somehow fits. I pray for more whimsy and far fewer moments of tragedy in all our lives. 

Wednesday Wonders: Mutt and Jeff

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“Look at Mutt and Jeff!” I showed my teenager a picture of our cat and his brother.

“Who?” He gave me a look that immediately reminded me that I speak an older version of English.

I knew tucked in the back of my brain that my parents and grandparents used to say ‘Mutt and Jeff’ and that the phrase had to do with a cartoon from long ago.

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(By http://www.ioffer.com, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25851730)

A quick Internet search pulled up the cartoon by Bud Fisher, first published in 1907.  It apparently ran until 1983, so no wonder Mutt and Jeff made it into our language.

When I used it for my cat and kid, I meant two goofballs, but it can also mean two people of wildly different sizes or ‘tinhorns’–people who pretend to have money in order to look important like gamblers shaking their dice in a tin cup.

Comics strips like Peanuts and Baby Blues still make me laugh and one of my colleagues even pastes new ones to our copy machine. But todays strips may not have the power they once did to influence our language in the early part of the 20th century.

At least now my son knows about Mutt and Jeff, so he can use it the next time he sees a goofy pair.

From the look on his face, I bet he won’t.

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Wednesday Wonders: Finding Story in Dory

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Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen Finding Dory and still want to be surprised, don’t read this. 

I recently told my English class that I have two sons. One is 17 and the other is 6. This means, I told them, that I have been watching kid movies since 1999.

Many of the films numbed my senses. All the the Buddies flicks, for example, and most of the sweet Little Foot movies delighted my sons.

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While I see their value in cuteness and love to see my kids smile, the story lines make me want to bang my head against a sharp object, especially after the boys have seen them 20 or 30 times.

Sequels, I find, cause more trouble than most when it comes to head banging.

So the other night, when I was at my mother’s and we rented Finding Dory I expected to sit it out until about 7:00 pm and then tell my son we really needed to go.

An hour later, I still sat on the big blue couch, not wanting to move. The story had me completely hooked. I liked it even better than the original Finding Nemo. (I suppose I never got over the death of the poor mother at the beginning, and Marlin irritated me with his fussiness.)

We’ve since bought the Finding Dory DVD (because we have an outdated system), and I noticed a few things about the story as a writer.

I adored the main character.

I connected with Degeneres as Dory in the first movie, but this version opened with Dory as an adorable baby fish wandering the ocean looking for her parents. Her ‘short term memory loss’ kept her from even remembering Jenny and Charlie.

My sympathy for those great big eyes stabbed me clear through and made me root for that fish from the opening scenes.

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The story ties into the original movie

It felt as if the story writers had PLANNED a sequel. Maybe they did. Although the hero’s journey of Dory held up all on it’s own, learning why Dory could speak whale and why she sang ‘just keep swimming’ added bonus layers of complexity.

The old characters shifted position in importance

The movie successfully shifted from a story about Marlin and Nemo to the story of Dory with the clown fish as supporting characters.

The new characters made the movie fabulous

Hank the Septopus, Dory’s parents, Becky the loon, the two recuperating whales, and the rock possessive sea lions pulled me into the action even more.

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Finally, I noticed a technique that works with any good story. All the details moved the story forward. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t give much thought to the adorable otters. The second time through  I saw that they came on scene just before Kid Zone and Poker’s Cove. This set them up to later stop traffic for Dory when she rescued Marlin and Nemo from the transport truck.

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The writer Andrew Stanton, also known as the voice of Crush the turtle, engaged a mom with over 17 years worth of kid movie experience. I liked it so much I even saw his name in the credits after Sia sings a gorgeous rendition of ‘Unforgettable.’

Not bad, Mr. Stanton and crew. Not bad at all.