Today was the anniversary of the A-bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, and I went to the Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship Sunday service to hear a talk by a Japanese-American woman with a rare point of view. Her father, born in Hawaii, had been drafted into the US Army just before World War II; her mother, born on the mainland, was sent to a relocation camp; and her great-grandfather and great-aunt, who had been visiting Japan just before the war started, got stuck there, and were killed in Hiroshima.
Her father didn’t want to shoot anybody, so he volunteered to be the radioman. The field radios in those days were so heavy that the radiomen were not required to carry a gun. So he was able to uphold the family honor and show he was patriotic without directly killing anyone. She talked about the Japanese-American soldiers realizing they were cannon fodder but fighting for their buddies more than anything else. So in the discussion after the offering I was able to contribute what I knew about how that camaraderie was built, from what I had read in Just Americans a few weeks before.
Now I am reading Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City, by Anthony Flint. I remember reading Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities and loving it, and now that I have spent a month in Greenwich Village, her home and her main example of how a city works without being planned, I can really appreciate her first battle—to save Washington Square from being riven in two by an expressway. The photograph of a young Ed Koch playing guitar in the Square is worth picking up the book for, but it’s also well written. And who knew that Bob Dylan, before he became famous, wrote a song against the planned Lower Manhattan Expressway that would have wiped out the business district along Broome Street and displaced thousands of residents. My favorite line comes after Jacobs and her friends and neighbors save Washington Square, and Moses addresses the Board of Estimate: “There is nobody against this,” he said. “Nobody, nobody, nobody but a bunch of, a bunch of mothers.”
Ellen Stekert interviewed Irving Fromer in 1984 for my mom’s biography. He had been in charge of the illustrations and layout for her first songbook, Song in My Pocket (California Labor School, 1954, o.p.) and he and his wife Katherine were friends of my parents’. I was listening to the tape on Thursday and heard Irving tell a story I’d heard before.
“Katherine was teaching second grade at Presidio Hill School, a cooperative school in San Francisco. She was very much a musician and used music in her teaching. She first brought in Malvina’s songs and later Malvina [herself].
“Katherine kept a guitar handy on the wall. There was an occasion, this must have been maybe ‘54 and we already had a number of her songs. There was a new kid came in, the kids just left him standing. Katherine picked up the guitar and started singing ‘Move over and make room for Marty’ The kids quickly got the idea, of course, and Katherine mentioned that that was written by this woman who had also written some other songs she had sung to them. This one kid gave her a very sharp look and said, ‘Does that lady know us?’ Katherine says, ‘Well, you haven’t met her, but she knows you, yes!’”
©2009 by Nancy Schimmel
3 Comments Manage Comments for this Entry
carole leita
serendipitously, i've just taken "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" out of the library!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - 07:44 AM
Margaret Jackson
Happy to see that you did read Robert Asahina's "Just Americans".  It filled in a lot of gaps for me especially since I lived in Honolulu and California before, during and after the war.
Friday, August 21, 2009 - 01:50 PM
I was looking at some notes for the Malvina bio and saw that my mom had a card in her file for Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009 - 10:12 AM
I’m two-thirds of the way through this book and ready to recommend it to one and all, especially to every elected official in the City of Berkeley, the members of the Planning Commission, and everyone in the Planning Department.
Sunday, August 9, 2009