Summer Dreams

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal September 13, 2011

After three summers in Wyoming, we FINALLY made it to the downtown farmers’ market. What fun! A lovely evening, good music, friendly people and great booths - a perfect example of the American entrepreneurial spirit. Oh, did I mention? We went to the market as a vendor ...
After our successful family garden last summer, we had the bright idea to expand, and planted part of our land in corn (a long shot for former Las Vegans!). We planted, weeded and watered it all by hand. It was an experiment and, except for the seed and the deer fence, cost us nothing but time. When only 1/3 of the plants grew, we were a bit discouraged, but still watered and weeded throughout the summer.
Two weeks ago, my son came running in to tell us our corn was ready. We could hardly believe it! Like magic, the stalks were full of rich, ripe ears. After a few nights of corn on the cob (which is yummy, but redundant), we hit the farmers’ market with a van full of corn and a home-painted sign.
Within an hour, we had sold out. The kids were elated. Was the corn extra yummy? I hope so. Were the kids extra cute? I think so. But more than the profit, we were thrilled with the fact that our “corn dream” had worked!
Our corn experiment also brought out the entrepreneurial spirit in our children. One afternoon they put their heads together and made a list of jobs: lawnmowing, tree cutting, weed pulling, and even “barn painting” (not sure how that one got on there). With a hand-written flyer naming their price (between $5 and $10 per job), they bravely approached several homes in our neighborhood. It was a hot afternoon, and when they returned an hour later, they were a bit discouraged.
“We gave everyone a flyer, but no one said they wanted us to work.” I said nothing, knowing the seeds of their experiment had at least been planted.
Two days later, a neighbor called, asking for help to weed her garden. More than thrilled, the kids went out the door and returned with cash in their pockets. A week later, they were called on to watch a dog while the owners were gone. Another day, they washed windows. They were in heaven! Trying not to interfere, I let them work out the details of each job, noting that the neighbors were generally more generous than the initial price my children had listed. (No barn-painting jobs, though.)
Watching his older siblings come home with money in their pockets, my 4-year-old asked one day if he could sell eggs. Slightly embarrassed about a small child and an egg stand in our driveway, I tried to hold him off. However, his eager spirit finally convinced me to let him try. He set up a table with a hand-printed sign near the road: Eggs .25 each. I put six of our chicken eggs in a bowl and watched him go out and sit in the sun, certain he would be disappointed. However, glancing out the window a few minutes later, I was surprised to see our neighbor carefully put four eggs into his pockets and hand my son a dollar bill. My little boy pounded on the door. “I sold some eggs!” Within 10 more minutes, his other two eggs were sold as well, and I made him clean up the stand. (I needed the rest of the eggs in the house for dinner.)
Thankful that he had been successful, I was also grateful to our considerate neighbors who gave him and my other children a chance. The corn, the eggs and the odd jobs not only provided my children with a great experience, but helped them each purchase most of their school supplies.
The money is beside the point, however, and the real victory is the opportunity to set a goal and reach it. Some day they’ll be beyond homemade egg stands and handwritten flyers, but for now, thanks to the farmers’ market and some very friendly neighbors, they’ve experienced the American dream.

Kokoro Kara: From the Heart

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal September 5, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve been the “minority” in a crowd. But I certainly was this past weekend at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center dedication in Cody. I’ve studied World War II, I’ve been to Japan, but the weekend’s events gave me a greater appreciation for the Japanese-Americans who were interned during the war. Ten thousand people lived in one square mile of barren land between Cody and Powell below the jagged image of Heart Mountain. They were some of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were relocated during World War II.
Dedication activities of the new ILC lasted three days. The tent at the opening banquet was crowded with people, most were Japanese-Americans — nisei (second generation), sansei (third generation) and even yonsei (fourth generation). The nisei were nearly all in their 70s and 80s. They walked into the tent, supported by their children and grandchildren. I loved their faces, so Japanese, so calm, so traditional. It made me homesick for the quiet ways of Japan. During the presentation, they watched the screen as pictures of Heart Mountain, then and now, were shown ... the old hospital boiler, the swimming hole where Boy Scouts passed their swim checks (only the diving board remains), the irrigation pipe, the water reservoir (now a dustbowl). Although some of the pictures were sobering, the mood in the tent was light, even jovial, as stories and memories were shared.
While we stood in line for dinner, I visited with Judy Murakami. Judy was an infant during the internment. Her mother never spoke of the experience during Judy’s growing up years, after the family relocated to Minnesota. However, Judy kept the wooden doll bed her father made for her in the camp. The bed is now on display in the ILC.
After we finished our peach pie, Tom Brokaw spoke, calling the center a “fitting place for renewal and reflection. A symbol of failure now becomes a symbol of triumph.”
Norm Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush, and Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton, also spoke, recalling experiences at Heart Mountain. Mineta was a 9-year-old boy when his family was relocated from southern California to Heart Mountain. He wore his Cub Scout uniform. Later, he joined one of the seven active Boy Scout troops at the camp and became fast friends with a young Boy Scout from Cody named Al Simpson.
Serving under President George W. Bush, Mineta was the official who downed all flights on 9/11. In a cabinet meeting two days later, there was some discussion about a possible roundup of Muslim-Americans. Thankfully, the president insisted that history wouldn’t repeat the same thing that “happened to Norm.”
Throughout the weekend, downtown Cody bustled with hundreds of dedication visitors. Signs on nearly every store door welcomed the Japanese-Americans.
“I remember signs during the ‘40s that read, ‘Japs not allowed,’” recalled Al Simpson. “The situation was so confusing to me, because as a Boy Scout, I would go with my Scoutmaster out to Heart Mountain and we were friends with those people.”
Well, those times are over, and a time for celebration is here. The dedication, although somewhat sobering, was a joyful event. Eighty-year-old former Boy Scouts Bill Shishima and Donald Yamamoto, proudly wearing Scout uniforms, raised the flag over the new ILC, while cameras everywhere snapped photos. Once boys, maintaining a semblance of their American heritage, they’re now heroes, returned to claim what’s rightfully theirs. The crowd was gracious and spellbound throughout the presentation. At the adjournment, souvenirs sold out and Japanese bentos (lunches) were eaten and enjoyed. The day was warm and dusty and the trails of Heart Mountain were filled with walkers, remembering another time and grateful for the understanding we have now.
I enjoyed the ceremonies. I learned as we toured the grounds. But my most priceless souvenir of the weekend is a greater appreciation of the Japanese people: simple, beautiful, and for the most part, without bitterness. The theme of the weekend reverberated everywhere: “Kokoro Kara: From the heart” ... a time to let hearts heal and stand up together again as Americans.