A broken leg deferred college for Grace Eto Shibata. It also led to a visit from the baishakunin, or, marriage broker.
In 1912, Chinese pioneer merchant Ah Louis sent intermediaries to Berkeley to bring about a marriage between 15-year-old Stella Chan-du-lar and his 18-year old eldest son, Young Louis. Married 76 years, Young and Stella made countless contributions to our community.
In the autumn of 1946, however, 19-year-old Grace wasn’t expecting a visit from the baishakunin. The previous five years had been turbulent for the Eto family, beginning with the arrest of her father, Tameji, by the FBI on Dec. 7, 1941.
Grace’s family had moved from their tranquil Los Osos Valley farm to Ducor in Tulare County and then to the infamous Manzanar War Relocation Center.
The Eto family was permitted to leave Manzanar and join Grace’s older sister, Alice, and her husband, who were farming sugar beets in eastern Oregon. From there, Grace and her sister Nancy went to work in Boise, Idaho, and then to Chicago. The family’s return to their farm in 1945 brought with it the hope of renewing a happy life.
In Grace’s memoir, “Bend with the Wind,” her daughter Naomi Shibata Denny writes: “Grace hobbled around on crutches, annoyed for the hundredth time by her clumsiness and the trip and fall that broke her leg. She could not see navigating the University of California, Santa Barbara campus and attending classes in her present state. So she elected to miss the start of the 1946 fall term....
“On the morning of July 4, 1947, Grace helped Mother prepare for the family’s annual 4th of July barbecue on the Eto farm. Mother glanced at Grace’s well-worn shirt and jeans and asked Grace to change into a dress. Grace asked why since she would only get dirty and look out of place. Her parents’ barbecues were come-as-you-are events, and this annual holiday gathering was no exception. Mother’s expression was the only answer Grace needed, and in obedient confusion Grace went upstairs to change.
“Moving clouds of dust along the dirt road leading up to the farm announced the arrival and departure of cars. Nobuta Akahoshi and his driver, Yoshimi Shibata, were among those who made their way up to the farm that day. Yoshimi believed he was driving a family friend to Los Angeles and that this detour to Los Osos was but an afterthought so Nobuta could say hello to an old friend.
“Thinking the stop would be brief and eager to be on his way again, Yoshimi declined the lunch invitation that was extended by a polite young woman wearing a dress. He waited in the car and read his Time magazine.”
Grace should have suspected that something was up. Nobuta had served as the baishakunin for Susy and Leo Kukuchi in 1941. Leo Kukuchi had been killed while serving in Italy with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
It was only when Grace’s mother made a second offer that Yoshimi realized that he was hungry. Yoshimi was introduced to Grace’s brother, Masaji, and Masaji’s brothers-in-law, George, Mark and Henry, and the five men were soon discussing one of their favorite topics, business.
“Nobuta later informed Yoshimi that he and Father had matters to discuss and the drive to Los Angeles would have to be delayed. A pleasant afternoon passed, and Nobuta and Yoshimi were invited to stay overnight.”
To be continued …
If you go
Naomi Shibata Denny will sign copies of “Bend with the Wind” from 1 to 3 p.m. today, at Coalesce Bookstore, 845 Main St. in Morro Bay. Denny will speak at 2 p.m. For information, call 772-2880.
Sharon Lovejoy, featured last week in Times Past, will celebrate the release of her Underground Railway novel, “Running out of Night,” from 2 to 4 p.m. today at Steynberg Gallery, 1531 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. For information, call 547-0278.