“Two weeks since the Pearl Harbor attack. Hard to feel much holiday cheer.” Mother keeps stirring the fudge as she turns down “White Christmas” on the Zenith. “No one’s caused any trouble at the Cove, have they, Walter?”
“There’s talk of questioning a few community leaders.”
“Betcha they’re all Jap spies,” comments my 17-year-old brother Tommy. “They’ve set up an anti-aircraft battery in Long Beach. Maybe we’ll get one here.”
“The Crystal Cove farmers are my patients and our friends, son,” my father says sternly.
Mother hands Pop a tin of fudge and his doctor’s satchel.
“You coming, Lulu?”
I tug my Red Sox cap over my braids and grab my glove before I run to our rusty Model A. The paper packet sits safely in my cardigan pocket.
Like most Saturdays, Pop and I head north on Coast Highway. Strings of lights swing over Forest Avenue, unlit due to the blackout. My stomach lurches. I haven’t seen Yoshi since before the attack. Now, we’re at war. Is he my friend or enemy?
I scan the water. Each white cap looks like a periscope, each shadow a torpedo shooting towards the Laguna coast.
We pass Tyron’s Camp and wind down to Crystal Cove. The blue and green cottages sit empty. Will anyone return next summer? Will Tommy have enlisted by then?
The Laguna Beach Language School, normally bustling, is quiet. A rope of red tinsel frames the community center’s entrance where a couple of families await my father.
“Merry Christmas, Doc.” Mr. Nakamura, who serves as translator, shakes my father’s hand. Lines of worry frame his kind face.
“I wish it were merrier, Katsuo.”
“Did you hear? Imperial forces invaded Hong Kong…”
The grownups’ conversation fades away as Mr. Nakamura’s son Yoshi walks out wearing a Yankees cap and an uncharacteristic frown. My heart sinks.
“Wanna have a catch, Lou?” He smiles his lopsided grin.
Relief floods over me. He’s still the same old Yoshi.
“If you can take the heat.”
We race to the beach.
“You think Joltin’ Joe will beat last season’s hitting streak?”
“More than 56 games? No way.” I toss the ball.
“I hear Ted Williams is going to enlist.”
“But he’s batting over 400!”
“We all gotta do our part! I’d sign up if I could.”
I stop mid-throw.
“Doesn’t it make you mad?”
“People are turning on their Japanese neighbors, saying they’re spies.”
“I’m a Japanese-American. Key word, American.”
“What if that happens here?”
“You worry too much, Louise.”
I fire off a curve ball. He knows calling me by my proper name gets my goat. I’m chewing on what to say next when a man with a German shepherd emerges from the tide pools. He’s wearing a Coast Guard uniform, a gun at his waistband. He scowls when he sees Yoshi’s tanned skin and almond eyes.
“Your parents know you’re down here?”
The dog growls.
“Good thing it’s a clear day.” He touches his pistol. “Hard to see when there’s fog—not sure what might happen if I come across anything suspicious.”
The dog lunges at Yoshi, who stumbles and drops the ball.
“See? He can sniff the enemy out a mile away.” He smiles coldly. “Enjoy the beach, kids. Pretty soon, it’ll be Uncle Sam’s.”
Yoshi picks up the baseball and weighs it in his palm, as if he might launch it at the patrolman’s head.
“Don’t listen to him, Yosh.”
“I’m so mad. I’m an American! Can’t people see that?” His face burns red underneath his blue cap.
I feel an unfamiliar ache inside, like I’ve lost something never to be found. How do I say how much he means to me? I pull the packet out of my pocket.
“Here, this is for you.”
He tears off the red tissue paper to reveal Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 Playball card.
“Lou, this is—wow!” His voice catches.
He looks like he wants to say something, but instead he crushes me in a hug.
“Arigatō—thank you,” he whispers.
On the sunset ride home, my heart races.
“We have some hard times ahead, Lulu. Especially the Nakamuras.” Pop’s serious tone dispels my warm thoughts. I picture the patrolman and Yoshi’s clenched fist.
“We’ll go back next week, right?” I ask, a lump in my throat.
“Of course.” Pop’s smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “The game must go on.”
I clutch my glove and wonder what the future holds. Something sparkles above the horizon. Is it the first star or a plane? Am I too old for Christmas wishes? We need any help we can get, so I close my eyes and wish. If Pop and Yoshi and the rest of our small beach town can be brave, so can I.
Author’s Note: In 1942, Executive Order 0096 required the Japanese Americans living in Crystal Cove to be sent to the internment camp in Poston, Ariz. These families lost their farms and homes and few returned to the Laguna area.
Source: Crystal Cove State Park website
Amy Francis-Dechary writes historical fiction and for Coast Kids magazine. She spends her weekends exploring the Crystal Cove tide pools and watching her son play for Laguna Beach Little League.