A buttonlike scar marked one side of Uncle Katsuhisa's nose. The story was that when he was a boy in Japan, he was attacked by giant crows, one of which tried to steal his nose. He, my father, and my mother were Kibei, which meant they were born in the United States but were sent to Japan for their education. The crows of Japan are famous for being mean. Anyway, that was the story Lynn told me.
It was a sweltering day when Uncle Katsuhisa arrived in Iowa to help us move to Georgia. We all ran outside when we heard his truck on our lonely road. His truck jerked and sputtered and was generally as noisy as he was. My mother said, "Will that truck make it all the way to Georgia?"
My father hit his chest with his fist. That's what he did whenever he wanted to say, Definitely! He added, "He's my brother." Our father was solid and tall, six feet, and our mother was delicate and tiny, four feet ten. As tiny as she was, she scared us when she got mad. Her soft face turned hard and glasslike, as if it could break into pieces if something hit it.
As my parents watched Uncle's truck my father reached both of his arms around my mother, enveloping her. He stood with her like that a lot, as if protecting her.
"But his being your brother has nothing to do with whether the truck will make it all the way to Georgia," my mother said.
My father said, "If my brother says it will make it, then it will make it." He didn't seem to have a doubt in the world. His brother was four years older than he was. Maybe he trusted Uncle Katsuhisa the way I trusted Lynn. Lynn whispered to me, "Frankly, I wonder whether the truck will make it all the way up the road to our house, let alone to Georgia." "Frankly" was her favorite word that week.
Our mother looked at us suspiciously. She didn't like it when we whispered. She thought that meant we were gossiping, and she was against gossiping. She focused on me. She was trying to read my mind. Lynn said whenever our mother did that, I should try to think nonsense words in my head. I thought to myself, Elephant, cow, moo, koo, doo. Elephant...My mother turned back around, to watch the truck.
When the truck finally rumbled up, Uncle Katsuhisa jumped out and immediately ran toward Lynn and me. I stepped back, but he swooped me up in his arms and shouted, "My little palomino pony! That's what you are!" He twirled me around until I felt dizzy. Then he set me down and picked up Lynn and twirled her around and said, "My little wolfie girl!"
He set Lynn down and hugged my father hard. He hugged my mother delicately. While Uncle hugged my mother, she turned her face away a bit, as if his loudness made her feel faint.
It was hard to see how my father and Uncle Katsuhisa could be related. My father was mild, like the sea on a windless day, with an unruffled surface and little variation. He was as hard as the wall in our bedroom. Just to prove how strong he was, he used to let us hit him in the stomach as hard as we could. Some days we would sneak up on him and punch him in the stomach, and he never even noticed. We would sneak away while he kept listening to the radio as if nothing had happened.
My father liked to think. Sometimes Lynn and I would peek at him as he sat at the kitchen table, thinking. His hands would be folded on the table, and he would be frowning at nothing. Sometimes he would nod, but only slightly. I knew I would never be a thinker like my father, because I couldn't sit that still. Lynn said he thought so much that sometimes weeks or even months passed before he made a decision. Once he decided something, though, he never changed his mind. He'd thought many weeks before deciding to move us to Georgia. By the time he decided, there was only six hundred dollars in cash left in the envelope under the refrigerator.
The night Uncle Katsuhisa arrived in Iowa, he left the dinner table early so he could go out and take a walk and maybe talk to himself. After the front door closed, my mother said that Uncle Katsuhisa was the opposite of my father in that he didn't look before he leapt, didn't think at all before he made decisions. She lowered her voice and said, "That's why he married that woman," meaning his first wife. Strictly speaking, Mom was gossiping, but who was going to tell her? We all sat silently.
Copyright 2004 by Cynthia Kadohata. All rights reserved; no part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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