Please Pardon the Ear Worm

Anyone who has ever taken little kids to Disneyland is bound to have been infected with one of the most contagious ear worms on the planet—It’s a Small, Small World. See there? I’ll bet your humming it in your head right this minute. But if you continue reading, you’ll understand why I had to pass that one along to you today.

Long time readers of my books, blogs, and newsletters have heard the story about my being denied admittance to the Creative Writing program at the University of Arizona. Believe me, I wasn’t the only “girl” from the Sixties who was steered away from her preferred course of study and dissuaded from following her hopes and dreams. But first a word about the dorm I lived in—Pima Hall. I may have mentioned that before as well, but that’s just the way I am.

Pima was a co-op dorm started during the Great Depression by a Dean of Girls named Evelyn Kirmse. She did so in an effort to keep girls with financial difficulties from dropping out of school, and at the time I attended the U of A, she was still teaching in the English Department.

The word co-op as it applies to Pima Hall meant that the residents did all their own cooking and cleaning. Two upperclassmen served as either House Manager or Food Manager. The house manager made the duty assignments and the food manager designed the menus and purchased the food. Each girl had one duty a day—cooking, cleaning, or serving. My favorite duties were either PP&V (cleaning Porch, Patio, and Vestibule) or being a 5:30. One 5:30 was assigned to each of the seven tables in the dining room. They brought food and beverages from the kitchen to their designated table and cleared it after the evening meal was served. It was while working as a 5:30 that I learned the magic of not stacking dirty dishes—that way they’re only dirty on one side. To this day my grandkids all know that at MY house there is NO STACKING when it comes time to clear the table.

Pima, with only thirty-three girls, was the smallest dorm on the University of Arizona campus. It also came with the lowest rent. As far as food was concerned, we each paid a dollar a day into the grocery budget. For that dollar, we received three meals a day six days a week and two on Sunday, with Sunday evening reserved for raiding the fridge. Talk about being cost effective!

Pima wasn’t officially an honors dorm, but it could just as well have been. You had to have a teacher’s recommendation or a referral from a previous Pima Hall Girl to even apply there. The vast majority of us came from small towns and families with limited financial resources—in other words, we were poor but smart, and we generally walked away with the university’s grade point average award every year. And that small community of close-knit girls gave us all a jumping off place from which to learn to navigate a campus with far more students than most of our home towns.

This past weekend, one of the girls, Virginia Reyes Kramer, who grew up in Superior, put together a Zoom Reunion. A dozen of us or so did a three-hour marathon, talking about old times and exchanging memories back and forth. We talked about the girls who were there and also the ones who were missing. In fact it was the recent death of one of our number, Marsha Malone Varney, that had put all of us back in touch and prompted the Zoom get together.

One of the ones who was absent as Dawn Masunaga Mitchell. We weren’t close at the time we were in school together. I knew only that she was of Japanese descent and that her family raised flowers at a farm on Baseline Road in Tempe. I resented the fact that although she was very short, she had reeled in a handsome boyfriend who was well over six feet tall. (Short girls packing off the tall guys was always an issue for me.) At the time I knew her, Dawn was Home Economics/ Nutrition major. Naturally, during her senior year, she became Pima Hall’s food manager. At some time during the course of that school year, when food costs were outstripping the grocery budget, Dawn stood up in a dorm meeting and urged us all to “fill up on bread.”

That quote stuck with me long after I left Pima Hall, and once I met Bill, I repeated the story to him on more than one occasion.

Growing up in Bisbee in the fifties and early sixties, we learned nothing about the Japanese War Relocation centers even though any number of them were based in Arizona. It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle in the early eighties that I began to learn more about them and also began to wonder if perhaps Dawn’s family might have been among those internees.

After Sins of the Fathers was published, one of my readers in the Bay Area wrote to tell me about his family’s experience at one of the Arizona camps, In the course of our correspondence, I told him about Dawn, and he was able to locate her family’s history—where they came from and where they ended up. Dawn was listed as one of three children and was actually born in one of the camps. Suddenly I realized that when she told us to “fill up on bread,” it was more than just a budgetary issue. Hers were the words born of harsh experience. Her family knew all too well what it meant to not have enough to eat.

So on Sunday at the reunion, when Dawn’s name was mentioned, I repeated that well remembered quote. Someone in the group who had known Dawn better than I back in the day told us that Dawn had always wanted to be an engineer, but her family had steered her in the direction of Home Economics and Nutrition instead. After leaving Pima, she married the tall guy and spent time with him in Mexico where he was investigating vampire bats. When they returned to the States, however, Dawn went back to school and became an engineer.

Sunday evening, as I was giving Bill a debriefing of the Zoomathon, I told him about Dawn’s having become an engineer. “What kind?” he wanted to know.

Since I now had Dawn’s contact information, I immediately fired off an email and asked that very question, and on Monday morning I received a reply. It turns out she had become a mechanical engineer and had patented a device, something called a patient lift, that allows caregivers to help bedridden patients get in and out of bed, on and off commodes, and in and out of vehicles. When I handed Bill my phone, so he could read what Dawn had written for himself, he almost burst into tears. “That’s the one,” he said. “That’s what we used.”

Bill’s first wife, Lynn, battled breast cancer for seven years and was bedridden for the better part of three of those years. “I couldn’t have gotten through that time without that lift,” he said. “I just couldn’t have done it.”

There were only thirty-three girls in Pima Hall at the time I was there, and it’s pretty amazing that two of us, both girls who were discouraged from following our chosen paths, could have had such a profound impact on the life of a guy who grew up in Chicago and never set foot on the University of Arizona campus until the late eighties.

So you see, Walt Disney was right after all.

It really is a small, small world.

Thank you, Dawn. You made a huge difference in our family.

41 thoughts on “Please Pardon the Ear Worm

  1. It’s a shame that those who visit Phoenix today have no Japanese flower farms to visit. We always enjoyed a visit to see all those flowers. I would sometimes drive along Baseline Rd. going to and from work. Too bad that is now 30 years or so in the past.

    • What an enjoyable post to read after finishing Missing & Endangered last night. Another great book, Judy Jance!

  2. Once again I am struck by the lack of information I encountered in elementary and high school regarding actual history! I too was shocked to learn about the internment camps in the US. When I read things such as this, it makes me feel I need to do my own research to learn our actual history. I am glad Dawn found her
    way and followed her dream.

    P.S. My sister-in-law also has a rule in her house “don’t stack the plates!” How fun to read about someone else who does this.

  3. This is your best post, because all the elements blended in to make a beautiful story. I am outraged when people deny the problems, because their Soul is half asleep, and they don’t want to see, feel, believe, and be aware of reality. Life at times finds the full circle of love, hope, truth and kindness and we need that uplift to face the next chapter.

  4. You’re right–I was humming “It’s a Small World” before I’d finished reading the first sentence. And I wonder if that lift Dawn invented was the same kind we used in the convent where I spent several years in the 80’s. One of the Sisters had MS, and couldn’t do anything but talk, chew and swallow (all of those with difficulty), so to get her from the wheelchair into the bathtub we used a lift. I don’t know what we would have done without it, so, thanks, Dawn, if that was your invention!

    • It makes you wonder if Dawn had a need and designed the lift to fill it. I think that is the reason behind a lot of inventions. I worked in a nursing home and used a lift every shift. I spent more time looking for it than actually using it!

  5. As always your blogs are so fun to read. Thanks for sharing your life with us. Please know you are deeply loved and appreciated. A few years ago my sister (who got me started on reading your books) and I went to Bisbee for one of your book signings. What a pleasure it was to meet you. Thanks for all the enjoyment from reading your books. ??????

  6. How fortunate that Dawn went back to school and followed her dream, and what a help her invention has been to so many. I am 69, became a Star Trek fan in 1981, and because of that, some time later, I learned that George Takei (Sulu on the original series) and his family were also interned at one of these camps. I had never heard anything about that sad chapter of our U.S. history until then.

  7. Even after reading this, my ear worm today is “Mrs Robinson”. was playing in the store I stopped in this morning.

  8. I grew up in North Long Beach in CA. There were Japanese communities in many places. We had neighbors who farmed the fields, until relocation. They returned, several continued at the high school. . Later another friend told me because they had relatives in the Chicago area, they were allowed to go there. When the book and movie, Farewell to Manzanar was released, my co-worker/friend brought his brother’s Manzanar yearbook in. That said, a gal from Miississippi, who was raised more well to do than I, looked at the book and had a fit. Housing was barracks, linoleum floors, huge central heating units etc, I reminded her that many had linoleum floors including my farmer in-laws. I also told her while the whole idea was repugnant to me, my sister, a Navy wife lived in Fed housing in the 50s. Kerosene stoves, ice boxes. Linoleum floors. The yearbook also showed the schools. Many had been teachers and one non-Japanese had volunteered. He became an actor and played that role in Farewell. Filling up on bread was something I heard in the midwest! I had heard stories, but not about shortage of food. So many memories come flooding back. Good and bad.

  9. Once again, thank you for such a meaningful post. Truly enjoy them. Many years ago I visited a recreation of a relocation camp house. I believe it was at a museum in Denver. Certainly depicted the reality of life for the occupants. BTW, I survived the last week of every month at university on “beans and weenies”. Thank you for sharing.

  10. It makes you wonder if Dawn had a need and designed the lift to fill it. I think that is the reason behind a lot of inventions. I worked in a nursing home and used a lift every shift. I spent more time looking for it than actually using it!

  11. We live in an amazing “small” world. What an emotionally sensitive story especially as our country has focus dialogue now on Asian lives “matter”. I am a Seattle native and did not learn of Japanese interment until college in the ‘60’s. A friend’s grandparents lost their grocery store in Tacoma without ever recovering their business and having to work for others the rest of their lives. . Their granddaughter was bitter that our generation knew nothing of WWII events in our own backyard.

  12. It seems amazing that your group has had such an impact on our world!
    Thank you for sharing and reminding it’s never to late to follow our hearts and dreams! Blessings

  13. My family moved to Phoenix in 1958 and discovered the floral fields along Baseline. Whole fields of stocks and other blossoms. Driving there became an annual tradition. I can still “see” them in my memory.

  14. Wow, what a story. I went to college at Adams State in southern Colorado in the San Luis Valley at 8,000 feet. This is back in 1969.
    One of my friends with whom I’m still in contact is ethnic Japanese from Hawaii. We had lots of Hawaiians because they wanted to see real snow! Anyway, Janice introduced me to Japanese living in the valley whose families were interned and stayed in Colorado to raise garden crops. That’s how I first heard about the internment camps. Janice’s father served in the army in the famous Go for Broke outfit and later became postmaster of Hilo, Hawaii. Today she lives in Spokane.

  15. Your blogs are always interesting/uplifting/informative/encouraging etc. etc. However,, this has to be one of the on “top of the list”. All can say is BRAVO! And yes, it is a small small world.

  16. When I moved to Bainbridge Island, in the mid 60s, I learned about the camps. During the was the local newspaper publisher, Walt Woodward, was highly critical of Roosevelt’s move to move the Japanese, which were USA citizens to the camps. He published articles about those citizens to keep everyone on the Island informed. A couple of books have been written about this. After the war, some cherry trees were given to the HS and one has been moved to one of the other schools and is big and beautiful.

  17. I just read today’s comments and thought that this could be a good story line for one of your books. I am always amazed at the various ideas you have and can put them into words.

  18. I so love reading your blogs and I can especially relate to ear worms as I have many. I’m retired and look forward to Fridays just for your blog. No matter what mood I’m in, you’re always able to lift my spirits. And yes, it truly is a small world.

  19. This is a really heartwarming story, especially given the anti-Asian violence going on today (my wife is from Taiwan). Both you and Dawn defeated the odds and added so much to humanity, in your own chosen paths. I always told my kids that if you pick your own path in life, you will be more fulfilled.

  20. Reading your books (Joanna Bradley series, JP Beaumont series, Ali Reynolds series – yes, all three at once!) has been a mainstay of maintaining my sanity during the pandemic. I was actually looking for the Sugarloaf sweet roll recipe (hoping there really was one, or I was going to have to email you!) when I came across this site, and your wonderful blog entry of today. What a fascinating story (well-crafted, of course). It’s funny how life works. You and Dawn persevered in the face of many obstacles and active discouragement to honor your drive toward accomplishing the work you were meant to do. To live the lives you were meant to live. And to touch the lives of so many others. Thank you for being true to yourself, and recognizing others for doing so, too. Very uplifting.

  21. A+ on this story. Before the pandemic my husband (and sometimes me) would go the local pool for exercise and I always noticed a hydraulic lift in the corner by the pool. What a benefit to those in need.

  22. Judy,
    All of your blogs are interesting. Always something that I can relate to and then I get to read the comments from your many fans. Great way to begin a day!

  23. What a great story. I am glad you were able to reconnect. I just finished China Dolls by Lisa See, and it tells of one of the girls who was Japanese and we sent to an interment camp. Sad times. I am glad you both “Overcame” the things you could not do.

  24. Wow. Your blog hit very close to home. My sister, very bright with magna cumulates and phi beta kappas, etc, was verbally praised from UC while refusing her PhD admission as she was a “girl” Year: 1971.. Years later she got her doctorate and besides being a college chair, ran around lecturing at conferences. I saw the 1970’s wall which stopped her and I worked to hide those barriers so I could be admitted to the medical school which had the physical therapy program. I succeeded. That brings me to the second part. Thank You Dawn! As a PT, I’ve used and taught staff how to use the patient lifts she patented. They are a godsend to both patients and caregivers. At a time when an immeasurable level of helplessness is being faced, this lift opened ways to do things otherwise not possible.

  25. We use a Hoyrr lift for our resident in Retama Manor in Jourdanton Texas south of San Antonio. Love your books though it is getting hard to read as I am 81 and have macular degeneration and I’m a RN. Thanks for your great stories. Carol Martin

  26. I’m very glad that you blog in addition to writing all your wonderful books. It’s always a highlight in my day when I see your newest blog in my email. A few years ago I read “Garden of Stones” by Sophie Littlefield, which was about a mother and her young daughter who were placed in a Japanese American internment camp during the war. Reading your story about your college friend Dawn brought back memories of that read. Until reading that book I had no knowledge of those camps. It was very enlightening and also very sad. Your blog today being about Dawn and her success, made me glad that she succeeded even though her early years must have been terribly hard. Thanks again for another wonderful blog.

  27. I grew up in the same time period and I knew nothing of those camps until much later in life. As I get older I find that there are so many things we were never exposed to and only learned about later in life.

    Just finished the latest Joanna Brady book and it really touched me. Thank you for writing such great books.

  28. I was 9 when WWII broke out, and we in the US were all well aware of the Japanese internment camps. They were perhaps both terrible and yet necessary. It’s important to remember that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened while the Japanese were pretending to negotiate for peace in Washington DC. It was clear that some Japanese could not be trusted. But it’s also clear that in the US no Germans or Italians, our other enemies during that war, were incarcerated!
    (Presumably because they looked pretty much like the rest of us!) I believe Australia (that’s where I’ve retired to) actually did incarcerate Germans.

    Time has passed, and my beloved son has married a Japanese-American woman whose parents and family were actually incarcerated. A lovely woman, my favourite daughter-in -law!

    Bob Glass

  29. As always…another great story! You are indeed a gem… I might better say you have a gem of a talent for creating and telling stories! We have been blessed to come to know of you many years ago, and now my wife gets your blog…and passes some along to me.
    Receive the joy intended for you this day… and be thankful.

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