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Jeff Furumura

A young Nisei woman opened the door wide and Jack instantly recognized her as the girl in many of the photos that Kaz had tacked to the exposed 2 X 4’s in his corner of the barrack back at Camp: here was the girl in the torn pin-up photo, the girl standing coyly beside her parents in an elegant lace gown, the girl sitting on a soapbox derby cart on a farm field. He decided to tell Chiz the entire story of how he found her. “Hi, I’m a friend of Kaz, Kaz Sugiyama. He gave me this address and said that if I ever make my way to Chicago, I should…”

“Kaz isn’t here right now.” She cut him off, irritated to hear Kaz’ name mentioned. “I’m just cleaning up his place for him. He got into a bit of trouble and won’t be back for a while. I can leave a note for him.”

“Trouble? What happened? Is it serious?”

“No, that jerk. He got into some monkey business at work. Something to do with him and his boss’s wife.”

“Oh.”

“Sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t. My name’s Jack. Jack Furumura.” He Americanized the pronunciation of his last name for ease of future reference, and out of habit.

“Furumura, that’s an unusual name.” She pronounced it correctly in flawless Nihongo. “Kaz mentioned that name to me before. He said you have a terrific voice, and you sang at a lot of the dances at Heart Mountain. And he said that you were interested in meeting me. Well, here I am, Jack!” She smiled and shrugged her shoulders in a self-deprecating way as if to say, This is all there is, dude.

Jack felt the blood rush to his face. “And your name is Dorothy. I know you from all of the photos that Kaz had pinned on his barrack-room wall.”

“Call me Chiz, everybody does. That Kaz – he probably had photos of a lot of girls on his barrack-room wall.”

Choosing not to confirm her suspicions, Jack said instead, “Kaz said nothing but good things about you, Chiz. If you’d let me take you to dinner, I can tell you all about them.”

Chiz looked at Jack for a long moment before she answered. He was tall for a Nisei guy, with a round face, gentle eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses set on rosy red cheeks, and a high forehead that gave him a distinguished appearance. She knew from Kaz that Jack was a UCLA graduate, a college man. He looked to be a bit older than the other Nisei guys in town. She answered, smiling. “What day?”

“Pick one and I’ll be here!” Jack was beaming.

“Next week Wednesday, then. But not here – at my place. It’s close by. I share a room with another gal.” She tore off a corner of a Life Magazine laying on the coffee table nearby and used a fountain pen to write the address in her distinctive longhand. She handed it to Jack, who handled it gingerly so as not to smudge the wet ink.

“I’ll be by around 6, then. Thanks, Chiz!” He turned quickly to begin his descent down to street level.

“Wait, didn’t you want to leave a note for Kaz? For whenever he gets back?” She tore off another corner of the magazine, held the fountain pen over it, tilted her head, and fixed her eyes on his as if ready to start a dictation session with him. She smiled, “I’m ready whenever you are!”

“Oh, yeah – tell him, ‘Kaz, thanks for introducing me to Chiz. She’s everything you told me and more. Can’t wait to get to know her better. Signed, Jack.”

“OK, got it. See you next week, Jack.” Chiz blew lightly on the slip of paper, smiled at Jack, and closed the door as he turned and made his way down to street level.

Jack showed up right on time the following Wednesday. He was dressed in a nicely tailored wool suit, with shoes polished to disguise soles worn paper-thin. He hadn’t mentioned before leaving where they would be going, but luckily Chiz decided to put on a dress that was elegant, but not too flashy. She caught their reflection as she passed by a shop window and thought they made a very handsome couple. Turned out that Jack wanted to take Chiz to a fancy Japanese restaurant nearby.

At the end of their first date, Jack walked Chiz back to her apartment after they agreed to see each other again. Yemi Tachiki, her roommate, asked Chiz how it went. Chiz laughed out loud. “It was a good thing I decided to bring along some of my own cash. When the bill came, I noticed Jack looking through his wallet as though he’d lost something. I asked him if he needed some help with the dinner bill and he apologized. Poor guy. He told me he’d spent all his wages paying for his new suit, and he didn’t have enough left to pay for the dinner. Can you beat that? What a hoot!”

Jack and Chiz were married less than six months later on October 14, 1945. After the wedding ceremony, they took a quick trip to Heart Mountain to visit Jack’s parents, Otohiko and Aki Furumura, still living in the camp barracks. The Furumuras were very impressed with Chiz and shared in Jack’s incredulity at his good fortune. Aki, who had come from a well-to-do family in Japan and recognized a “proper young lady” when she met one, was quite taken with Chiz. She confided with Jack in Nihongo that “neither of his two younger sisters could hold a candle to Chiz.”

“Hey, thanks, mom!”

Older sister, Nellie, happened to be within earshot. It was difficult to say anything, even in a whisper, without being overheard in the barracks. With so many of the incarcerated now gone, the barrack rooms seemed oddly quiet, empty shells holding only echos of their former occupants. Chiz apologized to Aki for her Osaka-ben accent to underscore that she was not worthy of Aki’s compliments.

That evening, when Jack and Chiz boarded the train for their return to Chicago, Chiz looked over her shoulder and out the window as she had done only two years earlier in Jerome. She thought of how much had changed since she left Arkansas, and how different the future looked now. She put her hand over Jack’s and laced her fingers between his. “What will your folks do once Heart Mountain closes next month, Jack? Do you think they’ll want to come live with us in Chicago?”

“I doubt it. Pop hates cold weather even more than I do. If I was a betting man, I’d lay money that they’ll try restarting their laundry business in L.A. It’ll be Parkview Cleaners resurrected. I hope they can bring back all their old customers.”

When Heart Mountain closed on November 10, 1945, Otohiko and Aki were each issued $25 in cash and a one-way ticket back to Los Angeles courtesy of the WRA. They opened the new Parkview Cleaners laundry business at the intersection of Alvarado and Hoover Streets, a prominent corner in a quiet residential neighborhood. Business was brisk, but the work took a toll on Aki: within the first year of operation, she came down with tuberculosis and became too weak to be of any help. Otohiko was on his own.

When Jack and Chiz returned to Chicago from their Heart Mountain “honeymoon,” Norima and Koima surprised them with a gift: They now were the owner-operators of the Clark Street 10-room leased property. Norima and Koima, along with Nori, had parleyed the proceeds from the rental property and purchased a much larger 45-unit apartment building on Oakenwald Avenue. They were much too busy now to maintain the 10-room property. While Chiz continued to work for Mr. Plessing, Jack assumed the day-to-day property management tasks at the Clark Street apartments.

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