Writing the Next Book: Researching and Wondering

Have you ever gone through a learning sprint when you thought your brain was going to explode? Or you have a gallon of information trying to fit into a pint jar?

That’s how I have been feeling the last four days. And I can’t believe it has only been three days!!

For the past year I have been working on my next book, the working title: Tom & Emmy, American Japanese. Some of the book requires knowing how they ended back up here in Montana when they were living in California, evacuated during WW2 to Gila River Japanese Internment Camp south of Phoenix with 10,000 other Japanese Americans.

Here’s the short version of my four days here doing research:

My hometown is Hardin, Montana, situated in the southeast quadrant of Montana. We can see the Big Horn Mountains to the south, and the town is located at the confluence of the Little Big Horn and Big Horn Rivers. My dad grew up in the Little Big Horn Valley, most famous for the Custer Massacre. He lived on the Crow Reservation and graduated from Hardin High School. Much of my research has been at the wonderful Big Horn County Museum where they have all the newspapers that were published in the valley and high school annuals, in addition to a myriad of other collections of information.

Center Avenue is the main street in Hardin and I happen to own a building on Center Avenue that’s for sale. I had to meet with the realtor. Want to live in Montana?? The building is zoned residential and commercial. It has lots of potential. Make me an offer…

My research for Tom & Emmy deals with how they got out of the Japanese Internment Camp during WW2 and returned to Montana through the Farm Labor programs during the war. It so happens that the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) is working on pulling curricula together for teachers, the focus of the grant is Farm Labor and the temporary Farm Labor programs—which is exactly what my folks leveraged to get out of Camp. While I was doing my research, I also put together a slideshow of what I had gathered to date for NJAHS.  That and the presentation took at least eight hours. There were 8 to ten presentations all together, and I learned SO MUCH!

And then my brother and I just drove around to find old labor shacks where the sugar beet migrant workers had lived. There are some “nicer” stucco ones out in St. Xavier that I had wanted to see and there are still a few on farmsteads around the county. Most of these labor shacks are falling down in disrepair. They may have had a cookstove, but few had running water or indoor plumbing.  Living conditions, let me tell you, were spartan.

All this activity was compounded by the fact that I had put the trip off for months due to Covid. I usually travel back to Montana at least twice a year. I hadn’t been back home in over 15 months. I wanted to see family! And as it turned out, all my siblings had gotten vaccinated and we were able to be together and DINE OUT at a restaurant!! It was fabulous. One contingency of the family was gone, supporting their grandson whose baby needs medical care, so I will see them next time, and I wish them well.

Always, when I come West in the winter, I try to incorporate a ski trip, and that will be the next leg of the trip. I’ll be going to Grand Targhee for a few days on the mountain. But my reprieve will be short lived, as I will be circling back through northern Wyoming for a stop at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center where one of the Japanese American Internment camps was located.

Then it’s the long drive back to Minnesota, where winter is probably still threatening but warmer days and maple syrup taps will be flowing with vigor. I’ll reunite with my little dog who has been cared for by my mother-in-law.

And I will be anxious to begin pulling all these disparate strands of history, mystery and ancestry together.

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