Opening the envelope

I could tell you that it smelled yellow. Not in a diseased, Charlotte-Perkins-Gilman way. Not in an inscrutable, exotic, “Oriental” way.  It smelled like Northern California summer sunlight coming through shoji screen paper.

I could tell you that it smelled, predictably, like aging paper. But that might only tell you so much. If you haunt used bookstores like I do, you’d probably recognize the smell. You’d also know it if you’ve done a lot of research in the archives, or shelving in the library stacks. This week we took a family walk down the spiral stacks at the Seattle Central Public Library, and as we rounded a corner, something like that smell greeted me.

The envelope smelled, as my husband Josh pointed out to me, like my childhood house. When I was growing up, we had touches of Japanese décor around the house: a few kokeshi dolls, a noren that fluttered in the main entrance to the hallway, even a tokonoma with a bright red painting. But for me it’s the shoji screens over our windows and glass doors that quietly say home. That’s the smell: the yellow, the paper, the light.

Since I love paper with a cocooning fervor that would make a silkworm blush (another post, another time), you’d think that the feel of the paper would be my first sensory hit. I’ve had this envelope for years now, and it’s been at my mom’s house for a couple of decades before that, probably unopened.

But at first, I was too tentative to rub the paper between my fingers. I even did some writing before I opened the envelope; I wrote down the questions that I wanted to ask. During internment, how did you and our family deal with loss? How did you deal with the loss of your possessions, of your house, of your family papers and baby pictures? And the difficult, near-impossible questions: How have I dealt, or not dealt, with your loss? How do we endure?

It took me a week to think about those questions. I haven’t read the manuscript since I was eight or nine years buy ventolin without prescription old: almost twenty-five years ago. Then a week later, I wrote down why I was so afraid of opening the envelope. I’m scared that it’s going to make me cry and realize his loss all over again. I hate crying. I hate having lost him.

On my computer desktop, I opened up and looked at an old photo of my father. I wanted to say something like a prayer, but I didn’t know what to ask for. I don’t really pray, if we’re being very honest here.

I couldn’t think, didn’t say, probably felt: please.

Then I opened the envelope. Lately I’ve been worried that the manuscript inside the envelope has been deteriorating. But I noticed that though the first and last pages are a bit tattered, the bond paper’s doing its very best to stand up to the manual typewriter. In an age of slick laser printouts, there’s something engraved, almost letterpressed, about these typewritten pages.

And at the bottom of the very first page, he left me an unexpected gift.

Taku Frank Nimura

December, 1973

Out of the two-hundred plus manuscript pages, it’s this one that I just might cherish the most. He wrote this book—or at least this page—during the month and year that I was born. He died eleven years later.

In the wake of a recent loss, private for now, I am beginning to write my own book. It’s a book that speaks to my father, that will interweave his voice with the voice and artwork of my sister. I don’t know where this project will take us, but I know it’s about memory, family, technology, loss, and home. And it’s about the precariously shifting aftermath of history, or what I’ve come to think of as the wake.

The wake? Stand near the back of a ferry boat, and watch the waters below. As the boat engine starts, the waters will seem to hum. All that unseen energy will churn itself into a thick, gorgeous procession of rippling upheaval. We know the procession will eventually disappear. And so we treasure the wake because we are always leaving it behind.

7 Comments

  1. I am proud of you for taking that first step 25 years later. It’s a big step, and a hard but necessary one. Hugs to you.

  2. I have found you and your sister at last. Found the T. F. Nimura manuscript at Stanford, Hoover Institute Library repository (donated by your mother). Your father worked for my father as a teenager at the U.S. Dept of Agriculture office in Newcastle. I met Taku Frank when I came to CA as a young child. I have many many stories and memories of your father that I would love to share with you and your sister. He was a wonderful friend of our little family and our extended family. We met you and your sister when you were babies. He would be unbelievably proud of you and your work. If you are interested, and are in the SF Bay Area, let me know and we can talk. Taku has been on my mind for the last year or so. Maybe I have been getting the feeling that you are taking the plunge of examining his manuscript again, and his life and his death. Sue J.
    P.S. I think I have a picture of your parents soon after they were married. They were at my brother’s wedding in the early 70s.

    • Hi Sue! Just sent you an e-mail message. I am blown away that you knew my dad, and that you found me. Looking forward to hearing, reading, talking more.

  3. I met your father at the University of CA in Sacramento in 1957. While going to school there I was working in the library where he took me under his wing. He and I became good friends, and he astonished me by filling in a big gap in my education when he told me of the internments. Taku also invited me and my best friend to his parent’s home for a traditional Japanese dinner. But to the point, I was going through my hope chest when I came across some writings he had given me so many years ago. I was so delighted to see them again that I decided to see if I could find him. Sadly, I was too late. However, I decided to see if he had family and found you. I would be most happy to share these lovely writings with you.

    • Hello Lynn! Oh, my goodness, thank you for finding me. I would love to have a copy of whatever you have. My e-mail address is tfnimura at gmail.com, if that would be more convenient for you to contact me. I am especially hoping to find out more about his life during that time so I’m very grateful to hear more.

  4. I will be scanning in his poems – some hand written, some typed – to e-mail to you. Hopefully will have something to you later today.

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