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The Strength of Red String

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

If my dad represents the heart of Red String, my mom would be it's strength. As of this post, my mom, Gladys, is 85. Mom is a 3rd generation Japanese American (Sansei), and because our Generations page only covered the family's first (Issei) and second (Nisei) generations' experience, I will provide a short background on my mom.

My mom was born in 1935 and grew up in French Camp, a small farming area outside of Stockton, CA. She is the fourth of six children born to Harry and Florence Itaya. When she was 7, her family was relocated and incarcerated at an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas as a result of Executive Order 9066 which authorized the internment of Japanese Americans from "military areas". After a year of incarceration, the Government started allowing some Japanese internees to relocate to inland areas to help fill the severe domestic labor shortage caused by the war effort. The family moved to Michigan to work at the Tabor Farm Resort in Sodus Township.  In 1945, after the war ended, the family returned to French Camp, first relocating to the French Camp Japanese Hall which served as a hostel for many of the returning Japanese internees, then moving back to their French Camp homestead (during the incarceration, their farm was left in care of tenants). Gladys, then 10 years old, attended French Camp Elementary school, then went to Edison High School in Stockton. Because her family always emphasized the importance of an education, Gladys continued her education at the University of California, Berkeley majoring in Public Heath. While attending college, she worked as a housekeeper for the Ferguson family on Russell Street in Berkeley. In 1955, she was introduced to my dad, Sam, through her older sister, Mollie, who was dating my dad's best friend, Ted (Ted "Uncle Mug" would later marry my Aunt Mollie). In 1957, Gladys graduated from college along with her older brother, Raymond. Four days after their graduation ceremony, their dad, Harry, was hospitalized. He unexpectedly passed away 14 days later due to post surgery complications. In November of that year, mom married dad. Two years later, my older brother, Jeff was born, and then three years after, I was born. After college, Gladys got a job as a laboratory technician, and when Jeff was born, she became a stay-at-home mom. She went back to work as a part-time lab technician and ultimately, full-time as my brother and I got older. Our family was not wealthy and there were many times when money was short, but my mom always found a way to put food on the table and set aside savings to ensure my brother and I could go to college. My parents were also very involved with their church. Mom taught Sunday school, volunteered at church events, and eventually started, with several friends, the Courtyard Kitchen where they served free meals to the church congregation every Sunday for over 35 years. She ran the chow mein, rice ball, somen salad, and ribs booth at the church's bazaar for 30 plus years. She helped at her sister's Japanese food store, Oto's Food Market, every Saturday and during New Years making bento lunches (Japanese take out lunch boxes) and maki and age sushi until a couple of years ago.

Mom is, and always has been, a smart and strong woman. She had to be. Living in a household with 3 boys could not have been easy (the toilet seat was always up). She was the strength of our family; the reason why my brother and I went to college and pursued the careers that we did; the primary family caregiver in the later years of her mom's, Florence, life; and gave support to her two brothers (Richard and Ray) when they were diagnosed with cancer. The one thing that I remember most about my mom was that she was never idle. Whether she was at work, cooking, baking, doing chores around the house, helping dad in the garden, or delving into one of her many projects, mom never sat still. I don't think she sat down and watched an entire TV show, ever. Cooking and baking was one of mom's hobbies and she was a phenomenal cook. In the 1980's, she created and published two Itaya Family Cookbooks that documented many of the Itaya family's best recipes, as well as the early family history. If it wasn't for this, much of our family history (and recipes) would probably have been lost.

Even as mom has aged and her mind not as sharp as it once was, she still has a real enduring spirit, inner strength, and caring nature. It is what I most admire about her, and what I hope Red String can continue to carry forward.

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