A GOOD STEWARD
Tendrils of coastal fog lingered over the Santa Clara Valley that March morning in 1946. The risen sun bathed the fields and orchards in nourishing warmth, and, like untethered blimps, white clouds floated here and there in the purple-blue sky. It was the first spring after the war, and strawberry picking would soon begin.
Bill Mosley and his wife, Evelyn, had just finished breakfast in the kitchen of their farm home. Gazing out the window, Mosley said, “You know, Ev, it feels good to be alive. Damned good.” He frequently said such things. After all, the war years had been bountiful for the Mosleys and other valley farmers, the fruit from their orchards in demand by the canneries for the “war effort”—profit and patriotism wrapped together.
But now Mosley spoke with even more verve, for nothing made the Mosleys feel so good that morning as the exhilarating news that their Marine son, Carl, would be released in days from the San Diego hospital where he’d long been recuperating from war wounds. Their wait had almost ended. Carl was coming home.
Yet, a scrim of apprehension muffled Bill Mosley’s jubilation. There was this business looming later in the morning with Kazuo Iwamoto. Mosley knew it had to come someday. For weeks he’d read about the relocation camps closing. Rumors flitted like hummingbirds at the feeders behind the house. The closings meant the Japanese farmers, at least some of them, would be returning to the Santa Clara Valley to reclaim their places and reestablish their communities. One of those farmers was Kazuo Iwamoto. In a hurried 1942 deal on the eve of the Iwamoto family’s government-forced departure—Mosley had purchased the adjacent Iwamoto farm; and he’d pledged to tend it, with the understanding he would return it after the war. He’d done this in good faith.
Now, however, he could conjure up a hundred reasons not to have the Iwamoto family come back. Mosley didn’t feel good about it, not by a damn sight. Your word ought to count for something. But the war had made it hard to like the Japanese, or at least to show favor toward them. The war’s stream of bitterness coursed deep; it overwhelmed everything else. And there was the Mosleys’s son, Wayne, and his pregnant wife, and the neighbors… Mosley would simply have to tell Iwamoto the situation had changed. The Japanese farmer would not be able to recover his property.
Mosley hoped to avoid a confrontation. But he expected it would likely come to that.
Up from the table, Mosley stepped out onto the porch that fronted his low-roofed, stucco farm home. The house itself was beige with barn-red trim, now faded. Mosley ignored the twittering chickadees that darted through the stand of black oaks that guarded the house. He stretched and contemplated the start of another day, just as he had for thirty years. Mosley, a third generation Californian and ag school graduate, was a lean, sinewy man in his early fifties. The sun had weathered his face and left it lined and wrinkled around the eyes. Like his hair, Mosley’s neatly clipped mustache had gone to gray. His outfit was simple: jeans, a plaid shirt, and boots. That, too, had not changed in thirty years.
Mosley loved the valley and this farm. His father and before him, his grandfather, had built the place from nothing. He had learned the stories; he had become part of them and they of him. The land belonged to him and he to the land.
As Mosley gripped the porch rail and leaned forward, a cloud of dust spewed up by a car on the county road caught his attention. Mosley shielded his eyes against the sun and monitored the car’s progress. The vehicle traveled at a leisurely pace, flanked on one side by apricot orchards green with new leaves and on the other by prune orchards mantled with white blossoms. It almost seemed as if the car’s occupants were on an inspection tour.
“Car’s coming,” Mosley said to Wayne when he came onto the porch. Wayne had walked over from the former Iwamoto place, where he and his wife now lived. He had joined his father for coffee and was about to head out to oversee the Mexican families picking early season strawberries.
“Yeah, I see it,” Wayne said. “Do you suppose it’s them?”
Wayne manipulated a jam-laden piece of toast he’d carried away from his mother’s kitchen. A dark-haired twenty-four-year-old, always in need of a shave, Wayne exhibited a near-perpetual scowl. And he inclined to bristle at the merest slight—real or perceived. How he came by such a cantankerous disposition baffled everyone. Certainly it didn’t flow from his father; people who knew Bill Mosley reckoned him an even-tempered and generous man. You couldn’t want a better neighbor, they said. It was like a mantra.
“I expect it’s them,” Mosley said. “I got a call last night from that Quaker over in San Jose saying he’d bring them by today. We’ll know soon enough.”
“Do you think it’s the whole family?”
“More likely just Iwamoto. Maybe one of his sons. Probably needs somebody to help with the English.”
“I heard the older son was in the army,” Wayne said. “Hard to believe the government trusted them to serve. I know you think I’m wrong, Pa, but I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them, if I was you.” Prone to occasional asthma attacks, Wayne had been classified 4-F and had not served in the military. He’d married young and passed the war years helping his father.
As the ’36 Ford drew closer, the men confirmed it to be the rattletrap belonging to Phil Magnuson. He had visited the Mosleys before. Ruddy faced, paunchy, and fairly oozing goodness, Magnuson represented the American Friends Service Committee. He worked to help resettle former residents like Iwamoto who sought to pick up the pieces of their damaged and disrupted lives. Local newspapers and many local townsmen and farmers hadn’t reconciled themselves to that prospect. For a goodly number, the news of the returns arrived like an unwelcome Santa Ana wind. Their deep-rooted racism came into play. So did their concern that property scooped up at 1942 fire sale prices from people under duress might now be in hazard.
So far as many farmers and ranchers were concerned; Magnuson was as unwelcome as the returning Japanese. He pushed too hard. Nobody had taken a shot at him, as they had at the Yoshidas when they reclaimed their place three weeks before. But more than one malicious caller denounced him as a “Jap Lover.” The sometimes virulent anti-Japanese sentiment embedded in the tapestry of California life, exacerbated by the attack on Pearl Harbor and the merciless war that followed, had not dissipated. The war might be over, but hand-lettered signs warned Japanese to stay away. No Jap Rats! You’re Not Wanted Here!
Mosley didn’t subscribe to such virulence, but a diet of wartime propaganda and the near-death of his son in battle had colored his thinking, made him more “understanding” of such notions.
“Well, it’s them alright. What are you going to say?” Wayne said.
Mosley shook his head. “I guess I’ll just have to explain the situation. It won’t be easy. I always liked Kaz. But don’t worry; I’ll tell him straight out.”
The car turned into the rutted road that led into the yard, scattered a flock of indignant chickens, and rolled to a stop in front of the house. Mutt and Jeff, the farm’s old collies, trotted out to greet the car’s occupants, waved their tails, and then retreated when no one paid attention to them. Although his father stepped down and approached the car, Wayne stood fast on the porch, hands on his hips.
In the driver’s seat, Magnuson had the window down.
“Figured it must be you, kicking up all that dust,” Mosley said, lifting a foot to the running board. “Sort of early in the morning for a town fellow like you.” They both laughed. Then, Kazuo Iwamoto stepped out from the passenger side, and Mosley said, “It’s been a long time, Kaz.” He hesitated and then extended his hand.
Iwamoto shook hands and said, “Yes, Mr. Mosley, four years is very long time.” Kazuo Iwamoto was an issei, a person born in Japan who’d settled in America. Five feet and not much, dark-skinned, thickset, and a bit jug-eared, Iwamoto had always struck Mosley as a hard worker, a man driven to succeed by dint of sheer effort. Clad in Levis and a denim work shirt, he had a rock-solid dignity about him, and he’d never been one to back down from a challenge.
Now, at sixty and noticeably grayer, Mosley’s former neighbor seemed somehow subdued—perhaps camp life had dispirited him, taken the edge off. Mosley wondered how Iwamoto would take the news he intended to deliver. Mosley would be polite; he inclined toward politeness. But politeness wasn’t the same thing as generosity; and in this case, generosity was out of the question.
“Hi, Mr. Mosley. You remember me, don’t you?” Iwamoto’s second son, Richard, walked around the car. Wearing slacks, a pullover sweater, and beat-up saddle shoes, the slim Japanese-American eighteen-year-old looked more like the denizen of the local malt shop than someone headed for farm labor. Richard was a nisei, American born and a citizen by birth.
“Of course, Richard. You and Carl used to be pals. Pretty good ball players when you were kids. Let’s sit on the porch. We can talk there.”
Wayne Mosley did not deign to greet them, and by the time the men settled onto wooden porch chairs, he’d made a face of distaste and tromped back into the house, letting the screen door slam behind him. “Don’t give in, Pa,” was all he’d said.
The visitors’ expressions reflected puzzlement and discomfort. “Wasn’t that Wayne?” Richard Iwamoto said.
“Yes. You ought to know he’s kind of upset,” Mosley said. “Carl was wounded. Pretty bad. Thank God, he pulled through. He’s been in a hospital in San Diego. And he’s only finally getting home next week.”
“But, how does that—?” Magnuson started.
“It was in Okinawa, Phil. These people are Japanese, and…well, it’s hard for us not to feel something. Wayne especially. He and Carl have been close since they were little tads.”
“I am sorry your son was injured. I hope he has made good recovery,” Iwamoto said. “I am sure you will be happy to have him with you again.”
“Mr. Mosley, we didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor,” the younger Iwamoto interjected. “Carl was my friend; I hope he still is. But whatever happened over there shouldn’t…shouldn’t have anything to do with why we’re here today. You were always fair-minded—not like some folks here in the valley. My dad’s never doubted you’d keep your promise.”
“I know, but you have to understand; Carl saw some pretty bad things, and the people who hurt him were, well, Japanese. It’s hard for us to ignore….” Mosley felt ill-at-ease. But he was determined; the post-war world was a new world.
“We’ve been waiting a long time to come home,” Richard Iwamoto said. “We appreciate how you took care of the place. It looks great. And we don’t begrudge you any profit you took. But we want to be back in our own house. My mom and my sister have been living in a barracks—for four years. And my dad hasn’t done anything but think about those trees. Worried if they had enough water. Worried if they were pruned right.”
They all looked off toward the orchards.
“I suppose your son, Frank, is back, too,” Mosley said to the senior Iwamoto. “I remember he wanted to go to Cal.”
Iwamoto shook his head. “No, he will not be—”
“Mr. Mosley,” Richard said, “my brother won’t be going to Cal. He was killed in Italy with the 442nd, a place called Castellina.”
“I’m sorry. I hadn’t heard. I didn’t know him like you, Richard. I know you must be proud of him.” Caught unawares, Mosley searched for words.
“Many people lost children in war,” the elder Iwamoto said. “Frank was good boy. Very smart. I think he was good soldier. His officer wrote nice letter.”
Mosley studied his work boots. Wayne had counseled him to show these people plenty of backbone, to tell them straightaway things had changed and he would not be able to sign the deed back over to them. News of Frank Iwamoto’s death slashed into Mosley’s resolution and for a moment he wavered. Although he’d rehearsed what he would say, now he stumbled, like the time he forgot his lines in the school play.
“Look, Kaz. It’s not easy for any of us. But the war’s changed everything.” Mosley twisted his calloused hands in front of him. “Things are different now. You know I wanted to help out when you came here in ’42. I really did. But, well, now it just wouldn’t be safe for you to come back.” Again he groped for words. “Feelings are running pretty strong around here.”
“Mr. Mosley, that’s a chance we’ll just have to take,” Richard said.
Iwamoto looked at his son, trepidation shadowing his face. “Is Mr. Mosley saying he will not sign paper?”
“My dad trusted you, Mr. Mosley. Even when you didn’t write to us in the camp, like you said you would, he believed you’d keep your word.” There was an edge in his voice. “You told him you’d be a good steward. Quoted some Bible verse. He wants his place back.”
Mosley addressed Richard’s father. “Kaz, things are unsettled right now. It’s not only the anger people still feel around here. There’s that, too. But Wayne’s worked hard on your old place, especially on the irrigation, and he’s done a nice job with the tomatoes and spinach. He and his wife are living in your old house now and she’s expecting. He had to do a lot of fixing up. Vandals really worked the place over after you left. It wouldn’t be easy for him to move. Wayne’s put a lot of time and money in that place.” Somehow the arguments seemed less convincing than when he’d hashed them over the evening before. But Mosley intended to stick to his guns.
“So did my dad, Mr. Mosley. For twenty-five years,” Richard said. “He poured everything he had into that place. He used to get so tired he could hardly move. It hurt to move. But even when he was worn out, he found the energy to go back into the orchard. It’s his, Mr. Mosley, and you know it. ”
“Take it easy, Richard. Carl’s coming home in a couple of days, and I want to hear what he has to say. But I’m certain he will agree with me.”
“Not the Carl I know,” Richard said. “I don’t believe it. Not for a minute.”
“Mr. Mosley,” Magnuson said, “we surely hope to avoid going to court. But, given the circumstances at the time and the nominal price you paid, there are some pretty serious questions about the legality of the sale. It was $500 as I understand it.”
Mosley knew the mention of a legal action was not an idle one. Two or three cases were already in progress.
“That was for everything,” Richard said. “The land, the orchards, the house, the sheds, the car, the tractor—all of it. It was supposed to be a token payment. Five hundred bucks. Mr. Mosley said he’d look after the place for us until the war ended.”
Mosley laced his hands together in front of his chest. “You can have the car back whenever you want it,” Mosley said. “I’m sure you know gas and tires were rationed. It was up on blocks in a shed for the whole time.”
Kazuo Iwamoto gave him a sharp look. “Not just car, Mr. Mosley. My land. My trees. I made them grow. By my hand, by my sweat.” His jaw tightened and his body tensed with determination. He intended to have his farm back just as much as Mosley had intended he would not.
Mosley realized he’d encountered the same old Kaz Iwamoto, after all.
“I’ll be in touch soon,” Magnuson said. “The Iwamotos are staying at a hostel we’ve set up in San Jose. But, as Richard says, they’re eager to be home.”
The car doors slammed, and the visitors left. A rock flew out from a wheel and, almost like a sign of defiance, clanged against the mailbox as they pulled out of the drive.
Wayne rejoined his father to watch the Ford kick up more dust as it disappeared through the orchards. “You told ’em, flat out? No way are they coming back here. Right?”
“Yes. But they didn’t accept it,” Mosley said. It hadn’t been as easy as Wayne thought it would be.
It had been a reunion touched with sadness and the baleful impact of time and its changes.
Wayne brought Marie over, and they were all eating breakfast around the kitchen table. Evelyn Mosley smiled, watching her son, Carl, clean up his eggs and toast. “It’s just so good to have you home again, Carl,” she said. Carl’s long absence and his injuries had tugged hard at his parents’ hearts.
A large woman, Evelyn possessed heavy eyes, a prominent nose, and a round chin. She wore a print dress and sensible shoes. And, when she had to, she could pick fruit with the best of them. She looked like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. Yet Evelyn could bubble over with tenderness, especially when it came to her sons. And the prospect of her first grandchild thrilled her.
“It’s good to be home, Ma. It’s really good,” Carl said. He’d been back almost a week. Once a husky lad, he remained thin and drawn after his long convalescence. They all agreed privately his face looked better than they expected, considering the effects of the shrapnel. And he assured them he’d be rid of the cane within three or four months. “I was lucky,” Carl said. “And now I’m home, right here in our own kitchen. Just like always.”
“I expect you hate them,” Wayne said. “It must have been terrible over there.”
The parents exchanged apprehensive looks. They knew what Wayne had in mind. Despite two or three calls from Magnuson, they hadn’t yet told Carl about the Iwamoto family’s desire to come back. And they knew bad dreams about the war still troubled him.
“It’s hard to say what I feel, Wayne. I had a lot of time to think about it in the hospital. Maybe later, okay? I expect most of the men hated them—or thought they did. I did my job, but I wasn’t one of them—one of the ones who hated.”
Evelyn fussed with some wildflowers she’d installed as a centerpiece. And Mosley said, “I don’t think Carl wants to talk about all that just now.”
Undeterred, Wayne said, “Did Pa tell you the Iwamotos showed up last week?”
“No. Do they want to come back? It’s hard to imagine, after all that happened to them here.”
“I wanted to talk to you about how to handle it, Carl. Someday this place will be yours—and Wayne’s,” Mosley said. “I just wanted to see how you were doing, wanted to let you get settled in first.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Wayne said. “Pa paid for their place. It was the going price. They were lucky to get anything, if you ask me. They don’t belong here, anyway. It’s that simple.”
“It’s twenty acres or so, isn’t it, Pa?” Carl refreshed his memory. “A few hundred dollars if I remember right.”
Wayne responded before his father could speak. “Iwamoto signed over the deed, and Pa has the bill of sale. It was one hundred percent legal. The War Relocation Authority said so. If we hadn’t bought it, the government probably would have seized the farm and auctioned it off.”
“It’s been a nice addition to our place; we’ve invested quite a bit, and there’s no question it’s legally ours,” Mosley said.
“But, Pa, didn’t you tell him he could buy it back?” Carl looked at his father, somewhat puzzled. “I thought the agreement was you’d look after the place, and then you’d—”
Until that moment quiet as her centerpiece, Evelyn offered an opinion. “We did just fine on what we had before. Maybe we could let them back on their old place and they could pay us a share from the crop. After all, we improved that farm quite a bit.”
“It’s the way things were then; it could have been worse for them,” Wayne said, irritation rippling through his voice. “What’s done is done. You expect me and Marie and the baby to move back in with you? Maybe you want us to leave here altogether. So a pack of Japs can move in. They’re gone. Tell them, Carl. Tell them what vermin they are.”
“Don’t ask me that,” Carl said.
“Come on, Carl. You’re home now.”
Carl remained silent, as if collecting his thoughts. Then he spoke haltingly, with his eyes closed. “One day we dragged a Japanese soldier out of a cave. Nothing on but a loincloth. He looked just like Frank Iwamoto. I’d swear, just like Frank.” Carl battled his emotions, locked into a memory.
The others sat transfixed. “Stop, Carl. You don’t have to say any more,” Mosley said.
“I have to finish. I looked that boy straight in the face. All I could see was Frank. Remembered him on the debate team—God knows why. You know what? While I was staring at him, the gunny who was with me didn’t say a word. Just went over and cut that boy’s throat with a KA-BAR. I felt just like we killed Frank. Stupid isn’t it?”
Silence crowded the kitchen.
“You want to hear more?” Carl’s voice rose, rife with accusation, condemnation, anger. “You want to hear all about it?”
Mosley reached over and laid a calming hand on his son’s shoulder. “That’s enough, Carl. There’s no need to—”
Finally Wayne spoke in a subdued voice. “You were in a war, Carl. They all look alike. It was just your imagination. That wasn’t Frank and—”
“I think I need some sleep,” Carl said. “That’s it. I need some sleep.” His lower lip trembled and his eyes moistened with tears. He stood up unsteadily, retrieved his cane, and hobbled off in the direction of his old room.
“You goaded him into it, Wayne. You goaded him into it. No wonder your brother has nightmares,” Evelyn said.
“I’m sorry, Ma. But, that doesn’t change anything. That’s our place now. And we have to tell them. Carl will agree with me when his mind settles down. He’s all confused right now.”
Evelyn poured Mosley a second cup of coffee. “You want some more, too?” she asked Wayne. He waved her off and fixed his eyes straight ahead.
Still shaken by Carl’s outburst and the mention of Frank, Mosley’s mind traveled full circuit back to the Iwamoto family. “I wonder what it was like, in those camps. It must have been hard on them—out there in the desert. What was the daughter’s name? She must have only been eleven or twelve when they went over there.”
“Diane. Her name was Diane,” Evelyn said. “I think they were someplace in Arizona.”
“Hell, Pa, there was a war on. Remember?” Wayne said. “Besides, I heard those camps weren’t bad at all. Like little towns. Just think what the American boys had to go through over there in the Philippines; think of those POWs. These people had it easy. You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”
Mosley ignored his son and, thinking aloud, said, “I just wonder how we would have handled it. I mean, if we had to be in one of those camps.” He looked at Evelyn. “I just wonder.”
“I’ve got to go to work.” Wayne pushed back his chair and stalked out, letting the screen door shut hard behind him. His very pregnant wife sat in confused silence.
Two nights later, a jangling phone startled Mosley out of deep sleep. “Who is this?” he said, half-awake.
“No deals, Mosley,” the anonymous male caller said. “You’re one of us. Don’t do anything that wouldn’t be good for you and your family. You know what I mean?”
“Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?” Mosley exclaimed and slammed down the phone.
Still in bed, Evelyn raised her head. “What was that all about? It’s three in the morning.”
“One of our good neighbors, I guess. Whoever it was, I’d sure like to get my hands on him. I don’t like people trying to tell me what to do.”
In the following week, the phone rang three more times. Each time the caller said the same thing: No Japs. We don’t want them back here. The last call turned out to be the most ominous. You heard about the Coopers didn’t you? You don’t want to be next. The San Jose News had carried the report. The Cooper family had cared for a farm just north of Sunnyvale for the Japanese-Americans who’d leased it. Two days after they returned the property, someone lobbed a stick of dynamite into one of the Coopers’s processing sheds.
The morning after this latest threat, Mosley drove Carl out to one of the orchards, partly to get him out of the house and partly to let him get a feel for the farm again. With allowance for Carl’s bad leg, they walked slowly, surveying the ripening fruit that hung like edible ornaments from the trees. Mosley tested an apricot with his hand.
“These ’cots aren’t quite ready, but soon, Carl, soon.” He remembered saying something like that to Carl when he was still a toddler. If time could only be snatched back, if only things could be the way they were before. Mosley knew it was an idealized notion, but he still wished for it.
When his father told him about the most recent call, Carl said, “I thought the war was over, Pa. Probably most of these heroes weren’t even in the service. Like I said before, it’s true; lots of my buddies hated the Japanese. But not all of them. And not me. I never forgot about playing ball with Richard and Frank when we were kids, and I knew they were regular guys. They were my friends. And we had a couple of nisei boys who were interpreters; took their chances like everybody else. And… And, God, why can’t everybody just shut up and try to get along?” He ran his hands across his forehead in frustrated exasperation.
“Are you talking about your brother, too?” Mosley said, a look of pain in his eyes.
“Yeah. I guess him, too. I know how he feels. But he didn’t used to talk that way. He’s worried about his wife and the kid. I know he doesn’t want to give up the place. But can’t we work something out? We’ve got over a hundred acres. Iwamoto’s old property is only twenty. Do we really need that extra twenty?”
Despite reservations—they’d always been there—Mosley had held the line; told the Iwamotos the place was his now and couldn’t be returned. Many of the Japanese weren’t coming back, maybe most of them. Why couldn’t Iwamoto accept the trend of the times? Why did he continue to push?
But, even while he still sought to justify his own posture, Carl’s words burrowed into his being and Mosley’s rationale crumbled like the farm’s old abandoned barn. He knew full well that on that spring day in 1942 he’d made the deal with Iwamoto from a good heart; he should have a good heart now.
“I have a conscience, you know,” Mosley said.
Two hands on his cane, Carl sent him a confirming look. “I never doubted it, Pa. My vote is for giving the place back. Or selling it back; I guess that’s more accurate. Work something out for Wayne; Marie said her dad needs help. And let the Iwamotos have their farm back.”
Mosley placed his hand on Carl’s shoulder. “You know, Carl, I think that’s how your mother feels, too. She sounded a lot like Wayne before. She was pretty bitter about what happened to you. I guess I was too. And I think she’s still worried about what the neighbors will think—or do. But now that you’re home and she’s heard what you have to say, she’s more or less swung around.”
“I knew she would. She and Mrs. Iwamoto were pretty good friends before the war.”
“I have to say, though, your mom is worried about these phone calls. I’m troubled by them, too.”
“Anybody else getting those calls?”
“I guess there have been a couple of threats, but not many of the old owners are back yet. Callers don’t give their name. Like the ones calling us. Sheriff Feeney told me he had some leads. Didn’t tell me anything more.”
There had been scattered harassment incidents up and down the coast, directed toward both returning Japanese farmers and those non-Japanese who seemed willing to cooperate with them. The perpetrators faded like melting shadows, and few were ever caught. True to his word, however, the sheriff, indeed, had leads, and he tracked down the local culprits, a pair of seventeen year olds who’d made the threatening calls. He said, however, that they hadn’t thrown the dynamite. According to the sheriff, they were simply boys who “had too much time on their hands.” Mosley declared the sheriff to be damn generous in his assessment. But he felt somewhat vindicated because he had warned Iwamoto about the hostile mood, even though the argument had been somewhat contrived.
Mosley made up his mind. He knew he had been wrong. Perhaps he’d known it all along. Carl had confirmed it for him. The time had arrived to be true to his promise; to do the right thing. It might take time, but he felt local folks would adjust to the restoration of the property to its real owners. Convincing Wayne would involve the greatest challenge. Thank God, Marie’s aging father, a widower, seemed eager to have the young couple move into his place; he promised them a good living. After acrimonious shouting matches (with Wayne doing the shouting), Wayne agreed to vacate the old Iwamoto property. Blaming Carl for influencing his parents to change their minds, he continued to exude unhappiness.
Carl tried to reason with him, tried to win him over.
“You might be some kind of war hero, Carl, but you don’t know your ass from third base when it comes to how people feel in this valley and to what you’re doing to our family. “But in the end, Wayne gave in. He wanted to harvest the apricots in May, he said; then he’d be gone. Gone for good, he declared.
For the Mosleys, the alienation of their son was a terrible price to pay. But Carl was right, and perhaps time would place a healing patina on the rift.
At first, Mosley thought he might ask Iwamoto to give back his $500. He also toyed with the notion of claiming compensation for repairs and improvements, but Carl reminded him he’d derived good profits from the place for four years, going on five.
“You do that, Pa, and you’ll look plain cheap. Matter of fact, they’ll more likely want to be paid for some of what you made off their land. Probably they feel you owe them money. Probably right, too.”
“I’m willing to take the $500 and call it square. I hope Iwamoto will agree to that. You never know what kind of notions Magnuson might be putting in his ear.”
“Pa, like I said, you don’t need his money. You made plenty off the place. Why don’t you just call it square?”
A sheepish look on his face, Mosley nodded. “You’re right.”
Mosley and Evelyn drove over to Sunnyvale in their old ’35 Chevrolet flatbed. Mosley told Evelyn the meeting with Iwamoto and Magnuson should only last a few minutes. After they handled the title transfer in the lawyer’s office, maybe they could take in a matinee. He’d read in the paper that the Mountain View Theater had a new show with John Garfield and Lana Turner. If she’d like, afterward they could even stop at the drug store for a phosphate. It would be a nice break for Evelyn.
Edgar Baxter, attorney at law, had his office in a private house. Surrounded by a low wall, the place featured Spanish architecture. Mosley parked on the street, and they went in through the gate. The air smelled of flowers, and off to one side of the garden a fountain with a little statue gurgled and splashed.
“Mighty fancy,” Mosley said. “Looks like real estate lawyering is pretty good business now the war’s over.”
A dark-haired man wearing gray slacks and a navy blazer greeted them when they rang the bell.
“Afternoon,” Mosley said. “I’m Bill Mosley. Here to settle up on the land transfer with Kaz Iwamoto. This is my wife Evelyn.”
“Come on in,” Baxter said. “Phil Magnuson said you’d be here this afternoon. I expect him and his clients along any time now.”
Baxter ushered the Mosleys into his office and seated them on a leather sofa. “Sounded like Mr. Iwamoto is pretty happy to be getting back on his farm.”
“Sure seems that way,” Mosley said. “His boy, Richard, came by the other night and had a good talk with our son, Carl. Said his dad dreamed about that little place all the time they stayed in that camp. The boy was pretty upset. I expect he’s happy now.”
“I guess you’ve handled a lot of these cases lately,” Evelyn said.
“Not as many as you might think, Mrs. Mosley. Quite a few of the former occupants apparently decided, for whatever reason, not to come back. And, to tell the truth, not many folks have been as cooperative as you. As a matter of fact, damn few. Pardon my French. I might be wrong, but I expect we’re going to have some dragged-out legal battles. Not sure how many of the former occupants are up to the hassle—and the expense.”
“Well, we weren’t real eager, but, after we thought about it, we knew it was the right thing to do,” Mosley said. “Our son, Carl, felt the same way, and he was in the war and fought over there. Wounded, too. And if he felt that way, it was good enough for us.”
Evelyn nodded and said, “We always got along with the Iwamotos.” Neither parent mentioned the alienation of their second son. The conflict with Wayne, and especially the hard feelings between Wayne and Carl, made them heartsick.
“Folks, if you want my honest opinion, I think most of the Japanese won’t be coming back. Those old communities are gone for good. The Santa Clara Valley is changing. Right in front of our eyes. Kind of sad. The Japanese don’t get enough credit, if you ask me. In a lot of respects they made the valley what it is.”
The phone rang on Baxter’s desk. “I see. I see,” he said. “Yes, I’ll tell them. Let me know what you decide.”
“I’m afraid we just got some bad news,” Baxter said. “That was Magnuson. Mr. Iwamoto was getting into the car to come over here, and all of a sudden he just toppled over. Landed flat on his back. They thought he stumbled but, well, he didn’t make it, and…”
“Didn’t make it?” Mosley said. “I don’t…”
Baxter shook his head. “Cerebral hemorrhage. His son was with him. All I know right now.”
“Kaz Iwamoto is dead?” Mosley said. He and his wife exchanged bewildered glances. Consternation crossed their faces like a dark cloud. It was too much to absorb all at once.
Several days after the funeral, Mosley, Carl, and Richard rocked solemnly on porch chairs. The apricot harvest had begun; the prunes would come next. Beyond the orchards, spurts of wind ruffled tawny fields of wild oats. A solitary red-tailed hawk floated effortlessly against the late afternoon sky, searching for a tasty morsel on the ground below. From time to time the bird’s keening voice reached them from on high.
“I appreciate your offer, Mr. Mosley. But, I have to tell you, I didn’t want to come back to be a farmer, Richard said. “I was just doing it for my dad. My dad wanted that place back. He had his heart set on it. You waited too long, Mr. Mosley.” Richard struggled to restrain his anger.
Nonplussed, Mosley said, “I sure mean it, Richard. If you change your mind, I’m not clear about the law, but we’re ready to turn the property over to you or your mother. I figure Baxter can help us. He seems to be a good man.”
Richard shook his head. “My mom says the air here is poisoned. When those kids threw eggs at our car outside the church that was it, as far as she was concerned. I tried to convince her things will get better. But I had a hard time believing it myself. There’s too much hatred. Anyway, she’s taking Diane and going to her sister’s place in Chicago.”
“How about you, Richard?” Carl asked.
“Me? I’m not sure. My uncle over in Monterey says he can probably get me on at a cannery. Maybe I can save some money and when things get less crazy, I’d like to go to college. I’m not as smart as Frank was, but…”
“Look, Richard, even if you folks don’t want the title back right now, Carl and I talked it over, and we’d like to set aside an annual share of the profit from those twenty acres for your family. As best we can calculate it. That should help.”
Richard delivered a sardonic smile. “No thanks, Mr. Mosley. I wish you could have talked like this when my dad was still alive.”
“Well, at least for the time being, you’ve got that old Hudson Terraplane. Carl got it running in no time,” Mosley said.
“The offer still stands,” Carl said. “And if you want us to sell the farm, we can do that too. Baxter says some people are looking to build housing and some kind of factories here in the valley. Might be worth your while. Ours, too.”
“I hope you’ll come by, once you have things squared away.”
Richard did not reply.
“It’s too bad your dad never got to set foot on his own place again,” Mosley said. “I really hoped…”
“Yeah. He was pretty excited when he found everything was on track,” Richard said, his voice tinged with sadness. “When it got chilly in the camp, he’d look in this direction and wonder if you had the smudge pots lighted. I think he worried more about those trees than he did about the family.”
For a moment, the bitterness faded. They all chuckled, but it was sad laughter, marking Iwamoto’s unrealized dream. For that they felt regret. And, Mosley’s regret intensified because he’d waited too long, for himself and for Kazuo Iwamoto, to do the right thing. There was enough regret for all of them.
Evelyn appeared on the porch with a paper bag in her hands. “Here’s some fresh apricot jam to take with you, Richard.”
“No thanks, Mrs. Mosley.”
Richard Iwamoto did not look back as he drove out of the yard, again scattering the chickens. Mosley and Carl traced the dust trail until it melded into the dusk that settled over the valley. They doubted he would ever be back.
As a career Foreign Service officer, Lawrence F. Farrar has lived in Japan, Norway, Germany, and Washington, D.C., and traveled to more than thirty countries. A resident of Minnesota, he has taken degrees from Dartmouth (international relations) and Stanford (Japanese history). His stories have appeared in more than twenty literary magazines, including New Plains Review, Red Wheelbarrow, G.W. Review, Red Cedar Review, The MacGuffin, Colere, The Worcester Review, and others. Farrar collaborated with the author of a Hiroshima memoir that was published in New Madrid, and has contributed to the Loft Literary Center’s, “A View from the Loft.”