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Kay Okino grew up in Hawaii before World War II. Her revered father was born in Japan before the turn of the last century, and her tribute only hints at the difficult time in his youth when he was left behind by his family and survived through the kindness of a geisha. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
My father, Aigoro Uyeno, was adopted by my grandparents Ichinouke and Kiku Uyeno who were childless. Later they had three boys of their own. When father was 18, the family immigrated to Hawaii. They left their home in Hiroshima, Japan, and sailed on a ship from Tokyo. My father developed stomach problems there and was not allowed to travel with the family. Left alone in Tokyo, he met a kind geisha (geisha is a professional who entertains wealthy patrons). She gave him a job of applying make-up to actors and putting on plays. This knowledge came in handy later in Hawaii when he helped with community plays.
Later in his 60’s, when he first returned to Japan, he searched for this lady and found her still in Tokyo and was able to express his gratitude. He had never forgotten her kindness and always talked about her.
He worked for a very short time for a sugar plantation as all immigrants did. He went to school and learned carpentry.
He married my mother, Takiyo Nakao, who was born in Hawaii. In spite of their hardship living with grandparents, they had a very happy marriage. I have never heard a harsh word between them. After my grandparents returned to Japan for good, my parents began to prosper a little. Until then grandfather controlled the finances and took all of the money with him.
My father had a fantastic life. If anyone will go to heaven, I know for sure, my parents are there. Very few people have a chance to do meritorious acts of saving a life, but Father did that twice in his lifetime. That I know.
My house was on a hill and we could see miles of railroad track. One day Father saw hoodlums chasing a man on a railroad track. He said, “Someone is in danger.”
He immediately ran down to the railroad track and followed them. He heard a faint cry of help coming from the ocean side. The hoodlums had tossed the man over the cliff to the ocean. Luckily he was stuck on the bushes. My father carried the critically injured man to a nearby home. The man eventually recovered.
Another incident happened in front of our home. We heard a loud crash and saw a car overturned on its side. We followed our dad to see the accident. In the car were a police officer and a convict struggling. The policeman had a gun and the convict a knife. The knife was a dangerous weapon. There was no way the policeman could alert father that the gun was empty. Together they apprehended the convict and everything turned out fine.
I had one great peeve against my father. When people died, he used his station wagon for a hearse. In those days there were no hearses or mortuaries. Everything was “do-it-yourself.” I begged Father not to carry dead people in our car. Of course, he never listened to me.
My father died at my home in 1992 at the age of 98 ½. We had a funeral here at Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Church, and a memorial service in Ninole, Hawaii, in a church he built.
As we spilled out of the church, I heard a man telling everyone, “Mr. Uyeno was an angel.” It made my heart rejoice to hear that. I wished his birth mother had known him. What a lovely person he was.
I did not express these sentiments to him when he was living. Regrets and gratitude surface belatedly as we write our memoir.
Published: June 5, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 08