Sunday, April 16, 2006

Fukuzo (Frank)

The life of Hashi & Osai before 1941 was covered in the previous post. They had a very successful act that afforded them liberties and relative freedom from prejudice. All of this during the Great Depression. This changed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Suddenly everyone looked with suspicion at anyone with an Asian appearence. They changed their names to Hia Sing and Sue Ming to attempt a disguise as Chinese performers. The last performance of "Hashi and Osai" was on Christmas Eve, 1941. Although still performing under pseudonyms Hia Sing and Sue Ming they were too well known as Japanese performers and could no longer work in the industry.

They spent some time with close friends in central Illinois, but could not find a retreat from antagonisms. Locals hearing of Japanese hiding out came to break their radio and take their knives. So they returned to Chicago where they had never had any trouble. With their performance career over, Frank tried various jobs until he owned a restaurant. The cooks would not cook for him, so he learned to cook himself. He had found his second career. He worked in the kitchens of many esteemed Chicago restaurants including the Ding Ho, the Mid-America Club, the Wrigley Building, the Conrad Hilton Hotel, Marshall Field's, Maurice's Restaurant, and the French haute cuisine of Le Manoir.

While Frank's successful second career paid the rent, Osai stayed at home. They lived with other Japanese, some of them performers, but speculation is that she found this to be a very difficult time. Her career had ended abruptly and she was home with no children of her own. Osai fell ill of cirrhosis and passed away April 28, 1949 at 51 years old. Although he had pulled out from the difficulty of losing his first career, after losing Osai, Frank had hit bottom. He found comfort in his longtime performer friends from near and far. His life would change dramatically again and it would become turning point in his life.

He opened a new chapter in his life when he married a white woman, Audrey, and they had his first and only child, Francis Dean, at age 55. He was pulled out of the depression from Osai's passing by a very loving relationship with Audrey in which they shared common viewpoints and perspectives on the world. He embraced the American culture studying hard in an American History course he enrolled in. And in 1965 he became a US citizen at age 69.

When I was very young, the couple moved in downstairs from us. Frank from my perspective was quite an interesting person. I saw him in his retirement days. He was largely a quiet man who spoke only when he needed to and still spoke with an accent after all these years. He was quick on his feet for someone in their eighties. He was an avid Cubs fan listening or watching games when possible. He also like playing cards whether it was solitare after lunch or pinochle with the other senior citizens at their weekly meetings. We accompanied him to the store of Japanese goods and took him to the Ginza Holiday festival to see the taiko drummers.

One memory is still very vivid. He needed to change a light bulb hanging in the center of the room. At 85 years old, he pulled out the step ladder and climbed up to the top step to reach the bulb. Audrey screamed at him saying it was too dangerous. He looked down and just said "Baaah" as if to say 'I was an acrobat, I can at least climb a ladder and change a light bulb.'

On July 26, 1986 he passed away, just four months after his 90th birthday. He had lived quite the wonderful life. He had seen every state of the union, lived the life of a successful performer, and worked alongside many famous people. He had found the love of his life twice and happily lived into his retirement years surrounded by family. As my cousin Cathy remembers "His kindness. Never said a mean word, always had twinkle in his eye, and just treated everyone so kindly. Sweet, sweet man... He was a total gentleman... Very classy."

It has been with great pride and great pleasure that I relay the story of my grandfather's life. This is a rough summary of my sister Nancy's History Master thesis. Pretty much all the content is from her work and some copied word for word. Her thesis also compares Hashi and Osai's experiences with other Japanese immigrants who were largely young males coming to work in agriculture. She is hoping to get is published and if it is, I will forward info about it.


Anonymous said...

Frank, that's a wonderful story. Best of luck to your sister on getting her thesis published. It's a great thing that your grandfather's story is being preserved in such a way. I look back and wish I would've asked my grandparents more questions.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for quoting me from Nancy's thesis! Grandpa Frank was one of the best people I have ever known, and I miss him to this day. I loved the story you related about the light bulb because I can just hear him say "Baaah!" I'll have to go see if Nancy mentioned this story (I don't remember if I told her or not), but my parents and I took Grandma Audrey and Grandpa Frank to lunch, and Grandpa Frank was using a cane then. He sat down in the car slower than slow, then lifted his arms and said, "Geronimo!" I thought to myself that I hope I have that much style and fun when I'm his age. :o) Thanks for sharing Grandpa Frank with us!

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