BOOK: “THE TRAIN TO CRYSTAL CITY”


Here is a quote from the jacket of the book, The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell.

“From 1942 to 1945, secret government trains regularly delivered civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas.  The trains carried Japanese, German and Italian immigrants and their American-born children.  The vast majority were deeply loyal to the United States, were never charged with any crime, and did not understand why they had been forced to leave their homes.

The only family internment camp during World War II, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program.  During the war, hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City, including their children, were exchanged for other ostensibly more important Americans – diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians and missionaries – behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.”

Growing up in South Texas about one hundred miles from Crystal City, I had visited this small town with my parents but never knew that it had been home to an internment camp that some called a concentration camp. 

Those internment camps for the Japanese got more attention in the history books.  These immigrants had committed no crime but were still detained and held behind a 10-foot high fence as if they were prisoners.  In time it came to resemble a small town with stores, churches, schools, libraries, a hospital and a swimming pool.  Families lived in small one-family cottages.  While the detainees were treated well, they were still the equivalent of prisoners.

 Russell interviewed more than fifty survivors and gained access to private journals, diaries, FBI files, camp administration records and more.   Through her research she follows the camp from opening to closing and provides detailed descriptions of daily life in the camp.   One focus was on two American-born teenagers, one Japanese and one German, and how they were affected by the camp, their repatriation to Japan and Germany and finally the choice they made to return to the United States.   

During the war some were released, paroled or repatriated; others were kept for the duration of the war.   The camp was finally closed in 1946.  

The author  has also written a  biography,  Lady Bird:  A Biography of Mrs. Johnson.

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After I learned of this little known part of the history of WWII and the part this remote Texas town played in the drama, I wanted to visit Crystal City again after all these years.   Husband and I drove to Crystal City one cold November day and on our way passed through the small Texas town of Freer where I grew up.  The first stop was in Crystal City at the Popeye statue; more people probably know that the city claims to be the Spinach  Capital of the World than that there was once a camp for alien enemies outside of town. 

Since the former camp is not exactly a tourist attraction, we stopped at the local library to ask directions.   A young woman gave us directions and informed us that there was not much to see but there there some markers.  We followed the directions toward the edge of town and passed several public school campuses.  The pavement ended and we were on a dirt road.

The area was marked by these simple wooden information signs describing the site; I had expected something more than these humble, almost reluctant, reminders of history.  Although we did not find it that day (it was cold!), there is a stone marker that reads, “World War II Concentration Camp 1943-1946” installed in 1985.  In 2014 the site was listed on the National Register  of Historic Places.  Wikipedia has a photo of the stone memorial and more information.

A marker with a “you are here” on a map of the former camp.  Note that it was described as “American Enemy Alien Internment” while photos appear to  more like people at  a summer camp enjoying swimming, diving and other activities.

Description of the reservoir that was converted into a swimming pool.

This seemed to be a tank used to mark a reunion of survivors of the camp and the site of the swimming pool.

The area is quiet today with nothing but a few foundations to remind us of what had been outside this small Texas town south of San Antonio.   It is rough flat country with heat and sun and dust, just miles from the border of Mexico.  What must have those families have thought when they arrived?  How did they face the unknown with no control over their fate?  How did they feel about the  government of the United States?

There are lessons to be learned from this period even today as the loyalty and patriotism of some immigrants is sometimes questioned.  We saw the reaction when we were attacked on 9/11.  Some of that fear still lingers.

Related books:
The Crystal City Story:  One Family’s Experience with the World War II Japanese Internment Camps by Tomo Izumi (non-fiction written by a survivor of the camp)

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner (historical fiction)

 

BLUEBONNETS AND TAXES


 

  About a week ago Husband and I drove to Freer to visit my brother-in-law on a cold, wet and dreary day.  Winter seemed to be winning over spring in the seasonal tug-of-war that often plays out in South Texas this time of year.  Cardinals were grateful for the treats provided in a bird feeder in the his back yard as we watched from the warmth of the house.  As we left we stopped to enjoy the Texas Bluebonnets that appeared to have been scattered carelessly by the side of the dirt road and clustered together as if to defy the 39 degree temperature.  Perhaps it was a sign of an early spring and a good year for wildflowers.

Yes, it is tax time!  I am volunteering again with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) four mornings a week at the United Way office in Corpus Christi.  The site opened in the middle of January when the government, including the IRS, was partially shut down.  The IRS website used for processing tax returns was up and running, but we could not communicate with our IRS contact as he had been furloughed.  Eventually some employees were called back to handle tax returns.  Getting refunds out was deemed essential!  Even when the government was opened  back up, people who came in were still apprehensive about another shutdown and were anxious to get their tax returns done.  Gratefully, that has been avoided with the compromise passed by both houses of Congress and signed reluctantly by President Trump.  There were some surprises in refunds/taxes due from last year due to changes in the tax laws but that is another story.

                                                               CHEERS!

COLD HUMMER


Last week a slight cool front came in for us – in the low sixties.  I still had a couple of hummingbird feeders up for stragglers that might be hanging around.  I saw one perched on a feeder for quite some time and mentioned it to Husband.  He went out to check it out and took some photos with the hummer still perched and fluffed out.

He was able to get  very close but the visitor never moved.  Usually, they don’t stay put for very long as anyone has tried to photograph them would agree.

He finally went up and picked it up.  It put up no resistance so he brought it into the house and warmed it between his hands.

 

It was a ruby-throated hummingbird and you can see a hint of red.  When they flash it in flight, it is a beautiful iridescent red displayed on their throat area.

It has opened its eyes but still made no movement – unusual for a hummer.   Yet we were afraid it might suddenly take off flying in the house.

I found a small cardboard box, took it outside in the back yard and placed a fluffy towel inside.  Husband brought the tiny bird out and placed it in the box while it glared back at him as if to say, “Were am I?”  Husband now took the camera again and took a photo of it in the box.  With that final flash of the camera, our friend regained his senses and quickly flew out of the box and high into a neighbor’s dense tree.

The next day I saw a ruby-throated come to the one feeder I had left out.  (The other one was becoming cloudy and that is not good for them.)   In the several days since we have only seen one lone hummer visit the feeder.  Was it our cold hummer?  Maybe, maybe not, but I hope we have helped it on his way south and were good hosts to all of them.

The quote below was enclosed in a birthday card to me from Son a couple of weeks ago.  It was timely in many ways.

“Legends say that hummingbird float free of time, carrying our hope for love, joy and celebration.  The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.”

REMEMBERING MY SISTER


Some of you may remember my post that mentioned my sister and her husband losing their home in a fire outside of Freer  the day before Hurricane Harvey hit.  They were able to rebuild and move into their new home in time to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in December.  Sadly,  the effects of Alzheimer’s had already reduced the quality of her life.  Last week she died peacefully at home at the age of 87.

With my son standing beside me I was able to deliver these words of remembrance at her service.

SISTERS: MARIE, BARBARA AND ME

I hate losing one of my big sisters, Marie.  She was thirteen years older so she was like a second mother to me.  My other sister, Barbara, is nine years older.  I wanted to grow up to be just like my big sisters.  They both helped with me when I was little.  When Marie and Clifton got married, I would often stay with them as my mother had some health problems.  She always seemed to be in the kitchen cooking something.  If unexpected guests arrived, she would waltz into the kitchen and whip out a meal from scratch.

As our age gap narrowed, we became adult friends.  She shared her recipes – buttermilk pie, Christmas cookies and casseroles.  And she taught me how to cook deer meat a dozen different ways.  Yet could never teach me how to crochet – my fingers could just not handle a crochet needle and thread.  But she could crochet anything!

For the past several years the three of us could not always get together very often, but when we did, before we left we would join hands and make a circle.  We laughed like kids again.  I am not sure who started this, but I think it was Barbara.  If only two of us were together, we would still join hands and enlist anyone standing nearby – a niece, a nephew, a husband – to join and complete the circle.

Last Sunday Barbara and I went to Freer to see Marie.  As we left we took her frail hands and made our circle.  She opened her eyes.  We wanted to think she understood, but it didn’t matter…we were making our last circle.

I will miss my big sister, Big Daughter, as our father called her.  She had a full life.  She loved Freer, she loved living on the ranch that our grandparents started, she loved her family and most of all she loved Clifton for almost 71 years.

Rest in peace, my sister.

Her a link to her obituary is below.

https://www.holmgreenmortuaryinc.com/services.asp?page=odetail&id=3293&fbclid=IwAR2Pt64cMmojGOApGeUTqWk7lF4bqfrusQyy2iLuSb1oisILbPVdcW7h_K8

 

GEORGE ORWELL’S WORDS


Through wordsmith.org I subscribe to A Word a Day for daily emails with a new word each day with a theme.  Examples are words  that are eponyms or words that sound dirty but aren’t.  A few weeks ago it was words from George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four(published in 1949),  that have become part of our language.   I recall reading  his dark novel in high school and thinking how very far into the future the year 1984 was, why, I’d be an old woman of 40 years.  Today we are 34 years beyond that doomed year,  and I have become a crone.  Below is a photo of my worn copy of the book; I think Daughter used it when it was required reading for a class.

Here are five of Orwell’s words featured and defined for that week:

NEWSPEAK:  Deliberately ambiguous or euphemistic language used for propaganda.

UNPERSON:  A person regarded as nonexistent.

BIG BROTHER:  An authoritarian person, organization, government, etc., that monitors or controls people.

DOUBLETHINK:   An acceptance of two contradictory ideas at the same time.

OLDSPEAK:   Normal English usage, as opposed to propagandist, euphemistic, or obfuscatory language.

My old paperback copy has this afterword by Erich Fromm and begins with this paragraph.

“George Orwell’s 1984 is the expression of a mood, and it is a warning.  the mood it expresses is that of near despair about the future of man, and the warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose the most human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and will not even  be aware of it.”

Fortunately, the soulless world of Winston Smith (main character from the novel) has not become reality.  There have been dark days and some parallels can be drawn from that world and some events even leading up to 2018, but the course of history has surely changed.   Here are some of my humble observations.

Let’s start with the most commonly quoted word from 1984, Big Brother.  Some would think that we already have a Big Brother in the form of federal government imposing rules, regulations and laws and tracking us and  strongly distrust the government.  Internet and social media could be considered as Big Brother the way our smart phones track us as well as Facebook, Twitter, etc. that track our locations, likes, friends and shopping habits.  And what of television?  Can we escape that glowing eye from home or almost anyplace we go?  And security cameras seem to be everywhere.

Newspeak is often used by those who want to put a certain spin on a statement or situation.  Those in power appear to be the most skilled at newspeak.

The unperson could be those without a political voice whether by poverty, circumstances, gender, place of birth or sexual orientation.  The Black Lives Matter movement quickly comes to my mind.

Our current President of the United States of America appears to be skilled in doublethink as he often says one thing and then acts in a completely different way to support, oppose or propose a policy.  There ought to be an Orwellian word for the way he tweets.

Oldspeak was the language of truth and honesty.  Lies were not treated as the norm and truth was not labeled as fake news.

Where did the inspiration for this post come from?  Perhaps I just wanted to write one last 500-word essay on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and convince myself that a negative Utopia did not become a reality in 2018.  Or has it?