Blink

Goosevia Daily Prompt: Blink

I was sitting with my mother this past summer during an early evening in June.  My husband was discussing some of the finer points of the agenda for the 75-year Commemoration of the bombing of Dutch Harbor and the evacuation of the Unangan people.  Events were to include a memorial ceremony, historical presentations, personal stories, many luncheons and dinners, and flyovers by historical aircraft.  The commemoration of a little-recognized part of history is significant and educational not only for those connected to World War II in the Aleutians, but for a much broader international public.  My mother, who was 87 1/2 in June, had been 12 years old when the events of WWII enveloped the islands that she called home and changed her life forever.

On the morning of June 3, 1942 and continuing June 4, Japanese planes rained bombs on her home town of Unalaska and the Navy and Army infrastructure that had been constructed for the protection of Alaska and the lower 48 states.  Within a month, her family was split apart as older siblings joined the military or, in the case of her two older sisters who had married servicemen, were evacuated to their husbands’ families in the lower 48.  She, three of her siblings and her mother were forcibly evacuated to an abandoned fish cannery in Southeast Alaska.  Her father, not being native, was not allowed to accompany them.  They were not allowed to return to their home until late in 1945.  Although the war ended, and things were supposed to return to normal, nothing was ever normal again.  Families were smaller, having suffered the loss of 10 percent of their population in the detention camp.  Economies were changed as industries that had been in place prior to the war had disappeared.  Many Unangan homes had been ransacked by the military personnel and were unfit for habitation.  The trust that they had in their government was badly damaged.  My mother’s family was never, ever all together again after July of 1942.

So, a 75th year commemoration was a pretty important event in the life of my mother.  It would mark a time when she knew that it most likely would be the last time she would see any of her friends who might come back for the commemoration.  Only a handful of original evacuees remain living in Unalaska, so she was looking forward to seeing her now distant friends.

As she sat in the living room of the home in which she grew up, a drone of engines, starting out faintly, grew louder and louder, soon passing directly over the house.  She turned toward us and in a surprised voice said, “The Japanese.”  In the blink of an eye, with the sound of the plane engines, she was transported back to what was, most certainly, a hellish part of her life.

 

Women’s March 2017

mom-plus-3We are privileged to live in an extremely diverse town.  If you can think of a nationality, we most likely are fortunate to have one or two or a small community living here.  We just all live and work together.  Our community is a blue town living in a red state.  We believe in equality and justice for all.

In our disbelief, the results of the recent election finally crept up on us.  I kept thinking that something would happen between November and January to save us all from the fact that life as we have known it was going to go through some dark and drastic changes.  So I was ready to support my fellow women who were marching on Washington in peaceful protest.

We all marched for many different reasons. Because we can. My 87 year old mother marched to remind US citizens not to step on people’s civil liberties like happened to the Unangan/Unangas people during World War II.  She was 12 years old when her civil liberties were taken from her by the US government.

Ours was not as formal as some of the larger city marches. We didn’t have speakers. We did have signs. Great signs. One said Ataqan Akun.  We are one.  One of them said March 4 love. One said March against Hate. Another said equality and justice. One said feminist AF, carried by a man. One said Tuman tanax^ agliisaax*txin. Take care of the land. Another said Tuman alag^ux^ agliisaax^txin. Take care of the sea/ocean. And one said Ig^ayuux^txin, ang^im atxag^ingin agachan madada. Do the things you know are right.

And this is not right. Unfortunately, things are being taken away from us all, but some are suffering sooner than the rest of us. We, the marchers, just knew it would happen before others realized the impact.   We all need to practice the values handed down by the indigenous people of this great land   Our people. Our values….the right way to live as human beings.

The Meaning of Family.

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My family ties got a little broader and tighter this past week.  I got a chance to meet my mother’s sister’s son’s grandchildren.  Our family has relatives far-flung all over these United States.  It was not a conscious decision for my mother’s family to disperse in all directions from the Aleutian Islands.  It was, instead, due to a forced evacuation of all Native peoples from the islands during World War II.  My mother’s older sister Myrtle ended up being sent to her military husband’s family in the deep south.  After the war, they eventually ended up settling in Nevada and raising 3 children.  The kids had several chances to visit as they were growing up and these visits stuck like glue in the mind of the oldest son.  He made several trips as an adult, once with one of his children.  Several other times with his wife.  The time before this trip, to spread some of his mother’s ashes in the family plot, to be reunited with her mother, father, and brothers and sisters who had preceded her in passing.

On one of these trips, he was in Unalaska during the time that our Traditional Knowledge summer camp was taking place.  From that experience sprang the seeds of an idea to have his grandchildren experience their roots and learn about their indigenous culture.

Dennis and his two granddaughters arrived the day before camp began on a day with the fog hanging halfway down the mountains and after having spent two hours in Cold Bay, Alaska waiting for fuel.  They were unfortunate to land in Cold Bay after 2 Japanese military planes had emptied the fuel trucks of all fuel.  Two of his children were to arrive three days later.  His daughter, the mother of the girls, and his son, both of whom had never been here before.  They had the true Aleutian experience of flying to the point of being directly overhead, and turning around to return to Anchorage because they couldn’t find the airport in the fog.  Well….not a true Aleutian experience because they actually made it onto a flight the next day and landed.

Oh the girls had an experience like no other.  The fish – baked, smoked, made into lox.  The octopus.  The fish pie.  The sea lion.  Learning to weave.  Making masks.  Learning some Unangam tunuu, the Aleut language.  Songs and dance.  And the son and daughter?  Hiking some of the trails made by their ancestors some 8,000 years before.  Climbing above the clouds and watching the landscape and village magically appear as the clouds dissolved.

But the real magic was in the sharing of family and history.  Seeing the bonds forged between a great, great aunt and great, great nieces; between great aunts and great niece and great nephew; between cousins and second cousins, and beyond.  The magic of feeling a kinship with virtual strangers.  The real magic was in the wistful expressions on the day of departure.  The strange pulling at the heart strings that the islands give to people who come here with their hearts wide open.  Yes.  And the promise of returning again someday.