My parents Meriel and Erich Wellington lived in a big house in Berkeley, California, with their two children Frederick Sherwood and Jennifer Jane, plus Meriel’s mother Marie Elizabeth Byrne Sherwood. Since they had an empty room upstairs and lived about a mile from the University of California campus, they provided room and board for a female student in exchange for help around the house. It was a good arrangement for my parents and for the student. My mother always preferred to have Japanese-American girls because “they were so neat and clean.” These girls were often my baby sitters.
I remember two of these girls very well. Aiko was the daughter of a turkey farmer who lived in Turlock. At Christmas and Thanksgiving her father would arrive to pick her up for the holiday with a freshly killed turkey for our family. Since this was during the depression my parents were happy to receive this gift; the drawback was that my mother had to gut or draw the turkey which she did not particularly like doing. In later years when I had to draw ducks my husband and I had shot when hunting I appreciated how she felt.
The last young woman who lived with us was Marie Kurihara who was studying nursing. After December 7, 1941 there began to be rumblings about the Japanese-American residents of California. On February 19, 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 stating that all Japanese American residents in the west would be rounded up and sent to internment camps. These poor souls had little time to prepare and often lost farmland and homes. Their plight is well chronicled in the novels Snow Falling on Cedars and Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I was only ten years old so was not very aware of what was happening.
Some of the university students were permitted to continue their studies but only at colleges and universities located inland in the United States. They were not allowed to be on the coasts. It was a horrible thing to have done to these innocent hard working citizens. It meant that we no longer had young Japanese-American women to live with us. We felt they had been part of our family.
One of the young women, probably Aiko, met a man with whom she fell in love at the internment camp. It was spring and she knew we had a big garden full of flowers. She wrote and asked my mother to send some flowers for the wedding. I remember my mother cutting large sprays of our flowering plum trees and packaging them carefully before sending them off to Aiko.
The student living with us in February 1942 was Marie Kurihara who was studying to be a registered nurse. She was a lovely person and we were so sorry to see her go. As far as I know we did not have contact with Marie after she was so brutally taken away from us.
Fast-forward to 2008 when I signed up to attend an Inclusion Day at The Sequoias San Francisco, a companion community to the Sequoias Portola Valley where I live. Upon arriving I saw on the program that one of the speakers was a Sequoias San Francisco resident named Marie Kurihara. I wondered if it was the same Marie Kurihara who had lived with us in Berkeley. I wrote her a note asking if she had lived with the Wellington Family while a student at UC Berkeley and if so telling her that I was the young girl for whom she had baby sat. She said yes. I was thrilled to see her and we hugged each other. She gave me a lovely origami crane which has now disappeared. I believe she still lives in San Francisco but I have lost contact with her.
Marie had been able to complete her nursing studies and had never married. She had returned to the Bay Area where she worked at UC Hospital in San Francisco and eventually became the Director of Nursing there. My mother, who loved things medical, would have been thrilled to know this.
Marie had retired and moved to the Sequoias shortly after my aunt Betsy Sherwood, who also lived there, had died. They just missed each other; I think Marie would have remembered Betsy who often came to visit us on weekends from San Francisco where she worked. Betsy was so incensed by the Executive Order which was announced on February 19, 1942, that she tore down one of the posters announcing the ruling which was posted on a telephone pole in San Francisco and she kept it for years. Somehow in many moves it was lost so I do not have it.
This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of that horrible Executive Order 9066 by Franklin
|Roosevelt. It was a decision that I hope will never, ever, be repeated in our country and is certainly a black mark in our history as a nation.|
Poster from Department of the Interior War Relocation Authority. Obtained on Wikipedia 18 February 2017
Note: the Library of Congress Blog Post Journalism Behind Barbed Wire explores the newsletters of the Japanese Internment Camps
Jennifer Wellington Harris is a retired secondary teacher who taught science for three years at Fleming Junior High in for the Los Angeles Unified School District, nineteen years at Ukiah High School in Ukiah, California, and one year at the International School of Lusaka in Lusaka, Zambia. In 1986 she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching for California. She retired in 1991 continuing as an Educational Consultant and a teacher and student teacher evaluator for Dominican College’s credentialing program in Ukiah. She became interested in genealogy in the 1950s and has been researching off and on ever since. In 2003 she moved to the Sequoias Portola Valley where she now lives.