Story Wonders: How to (Not) Find a Grave

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When I read about local history for my books, I sometimes find surprising information about people who once lived here and the places I now see everyday.

Not long ago, I was reading Furusato by Ronald E. Magden, a book lent to me by my friend and pastor Karen Yokota Love. Magden writes engaging accounts of the Japanese immigrants, and I became intrigued with the story of one second generation man who lived in this area.

James Yamamoto had always wanted to become a doctor but had to drop out of school to take care of the family when his father died.

He worked hard at farming in Firwood, running a gas station, and even selling sewing machines. Later he joined local community organizers to improve the lives of his family and those around him.

Then one night, he stopped on the Sumner highway to change a tire. In an instant, he was struck by another motorist and died shortly afterwards at the age of 28.

When I read of Yamamoto, I felt an instant connection. My mother lives on that road. I walk it frequently, and the traffic swishes by on the narrow road with no sidewalks and plenty of mud. I could see that dark night in October of 1931 and imagine the fog that made it so easy for the trucker to miss seeing him until it was too late.

And then I read he was buried in the cemetery on that same road.

That’s when I started trying to look him up and found his marker through Find a Grave.

I decided to find Yamamoto’s resting place myself on one of my many visits to my mother’s. The first time I took my son and the Barli the Dachshund only to find the cemetery staff were out for the Christmas holiday. The second time, the note on the office door said the staff was attending a graveside service.

I have also braved the cold to search the older part of the cemetery alone with no luck.

And today is the day I promised myself I would post this small tale, so here I will put in a photo (by permission) from Find a Grave and perhaps later I will update it for you when I find Mr. Yamamoto on a walk.

I think about him still. I wonder what more that energetic man would have done with the Japanese American Citizens League and how he would have faced the internment had he lived a longer life. 

And I sure do look out for trucks on that busy Sumner highway.

Wishing you safe walks and unexpected connections-

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