Remembering the Sisters
Chuck Tasaka is a retired teacher living in Nanaimo, BC. Growing up in Greenwood during the Internment years he and many other Japanese Canadian children were educated at Sacred Heart School established by the nuns of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement in an old firehall up the hill from the post office. The school went from kindergarten to grade eight.
In excerpts from a chapter titled Sacred Heart School and Church from his recently published book Hanatare Bozu, Chuck Tasaka remembers the growing up in Greenwood and the education he received from the Sisters.
SACRED HEART SCHOOL
By the time I was in grade one, I knew I wasn’t a good student. Two things I recalled. One, I had to sing a song with my sister in a split grade one-two class. I refused to sing because I was so shy. The nun put me on her lap and I received a spanking! Two, I was sitting at the back as quietly as possible. The back door was opened and the sun shone brightly through the door. I fell asleep. I was awakened by a slap on the hand with a kindling wood. That was common discipline back in those days.
By the time I was in grade three, I was always day-dreaming about John Wayne and his western movies. In art class, all I ever did was draw ‘Indians‘ (Lakota Sioux) on the top of the hill with their feathers sticking out, and the soldiers circling the wagon. In every report card, I received a ‘C’ in Art.
I finally got the hang of school when I saw my friends drawing religious scenes. They were getting ‘A’s’. Therefore, I started drawing the chalice and the host with the altar in the background. The next report card, I received an ‘A’. Boy, was I ever thrilled with my first ‘A’ in school!
Another fun activity was nearly every Friday afternoon was movie day! Most of the younger children didn’t understand the movie, but just seeing any movies for free was a treat. The nuns were very selective about the movies shown. I came to the conclusion that a movie must have little or no kissing scenes! Secondly, the actors were preferably Catholics like Bing Crosby. Thirdly, the movie had to have a religious theme. Therefore, movies such as Songs of St. Bernadette, Lady of Fatima and Going My Way were shown, but I did remember some movies were action-filled westerns. However, being so young I didn’t really remember specific actors or movies. All I can remember was that we sat on those long, wooden benches. The screen was a pull-up type and the projector was noisy.
One afternoon in September, the World Series was on CBC radio. The nuns suddenly gave the students the afternoon off as a special treat! Then, the children realized that the nuns and even the priest were listening to the baseball game on the radio in the multi-purpose room! In the 50s, the nuns were from New York, so they were either Brooklyn Dodgers or N.Y. Yankees fans! There was something very ‘romantic’ back in those days when people huddled together to listen to the World Series.
SACRED HEART CHURCH
Friday was fish day and no meat! That was a very challenging day because fish was not always available depending on the season. In the spring and summer, the kids went fishing so fish was available, and in the fall, the commercial fishermen brought salmon home. If there was no fish available, the Catholics had to eat eggs or peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Our first step in the catholic faith was to be baptized. Most children couldn’t wait to be christened! Instead of Seiji, Kazuko, Kikuko, Yayeko, Yoko, and Hachiro, the children named themselves after any favourite saints. Yoko became Frances, Kikuko became Lurana, Kazuko became Monica, Seiji became Stephen, and Yayeko became Lucy.
As for myself, my sister Monica took the Catholic calendar and helped my friends and I to choose a name. My friends became Vincent and Anthony. I chose Charles after St. Charles. I was quite pleased with my new Christian name, but after awhile, other children started teasing me by calling me Charlie, after Charlie Chan and Charlie Chaplin. I was not amused!
Vincent came regularly to the front porch of our house, and he would holler out loudly, “Char-less, asobu-ka? That meant, “Charles, would you play with me?” At least, even the mispronunciation sounded better than Hachiro at the time. Around 1958, a TV western called The Rifleman with Chuck Conners was a big hit. From then on, I wanted to be called Chuck. Most of the Nikkei children wanted ‘Anglo’ names to feel more Canadian.
The preceding excerpts are reprinted by permission from a new book by Chuck Tasaka titled Hanatare Bozu (Runny-Nosed Brats Of Greenwood).
Writes Tasaka, “The book deals with our Nikkei experiences in a small internment town in the post-war era. Much has been written about the evacuation of Nikkei people, but what happened to children after the war in the old ghost town was quite unique and special. The book depicts life in the fiftiess, Nikkei-style. There are many humourous anecdotes, and the games we played were special—games like Katana Kiri, Bang-bang, Daily Shamble, Peggi, and Jean-tori. The Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement came to our rescue to set up school and religion. I have also written about our experience having so much difficulty speaking English and Japanese. We were kids without a language.”
The book will be available for sale at the Powell Street Festival and can also be ordered through firstname.lastname@example.org