Tuesday, February 21, 2006

This Old House

Today a bunch of my online friends were posting pictures of their houses to show each other where they live.

I live in an old house in Denver. It's 94 years old this year. But this isn't the house I'm going to tell you about.

My first house I bought was also built in the 1920s. It was in Seattle, with my first husband -- and it feels like a lifetime ago that we bought it, even though we bought it in 1994.

My house was at 29th Avenue NW & NW 69th Street in Seattle, Washington. It sits on a quiet, beautiful manicured street. What made it beautiful was the neighbors, and the house's history.

One time my then-husband and I went down to the archives in Seattle. During the Great Depression, part of the CCC program (a jobs program set up by President Franklin D. Rooosevelt), EVERY house in the city was photographed and logged with its history.

We went to see the history of the house, and found that a Japanese fisherman had rented it for $15 (yes, FIFTEEN) a month in the 1930s when the house was only 10 years old. Mr. Yakamura later bought the house, married and raised two children there, as we found out later. They lived there until he died in the early 1980s, and his wife continued to live there until she died several years later.

When we bought the house, we met some neighbors, a Norwegian couple (this was very common given that Northwest Seattle was an old Scandanavian fisherman's favorite), Anchor and Gaird. This couple had lived in the neighborhood since the 1950s, and knew Mr. & Mrs. Yakamura for more than 30 years.

Anchor (and I know I'm misspelling his name, but that's how it sounded) was in his 70s or 80s when I met him, and he would often come mow my lawn when we had waited too long to do it. They were a very sweet couple, and one day I took some lefse over to them to thank them for their work. Anchor, of course, was thrilled, since lefse is an old Norwegian staple for dessert. Anchor & Gaird worked in the Norwegian resistance against the Nazis in the 1940s, and moved to the U.S. shortly thereafter.

That day I took the lefse over, I learned that Mr. & Mrs. Yakamura had been taken from their home in Seattle to be detained in the camps that the U.S. government set up for Japanese people during World War II. They said that the story in the neighborhood was that the neighbors LOVED the Yakamuras SO much that they PAID THEIR MORTGAGE for the 2 YEARS they were at the camp in Wyoming.

They paid their mortgage for them and kept the house up, so they wouldn't lose it to the government.


As I cleaned out my attic one day as we prepared to re-roof the house, I ran across a few items. One was a woman's shoe in what looked to be a size 4. It was a pump, but was so small it would have otherwise looked like a child-size shoe. The other items I found were a Japanese painting, and lastly, a "calling card" inviting people to hear Mrs. Yakamura play piano at the Sunset Hill Community Club in 1939. That would have been shortly before the war started.

It amazes me to this day to think of the history of that one house. To know that I got to own it and be part of who lived there. To realize the chilling details of history were played out there as this couple faced what amounted to a U.S.-led concentration camp.

Yeah, I like my funky house here in Denver. I've always enjoyed owning older homes with a history. But that house in Seattle will always have a special place in my heart because of the Yakamuras.

It often makes me wonder -- if I was taken from my house, would my neighbors notice?

I'd like to think so. I've gotten to know my neighbors better in Denver than any of my neighbors after 15 years in Seattle...but wow. To think of what those people did to help the Yakamuras during the war.

May we all aspire to be better to our neighbors like that. To know when they're in need, and to step up.

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