The cold rain on the Oregon Coast reflected not only Jane’s mood but seemingly everyone’s mood in the community. Jane noticed it right away when she returned to Tillamook High School in the new year. As she walked past the Tillamook Cheesemaker’s logo at the entrance to the school, there were no groups of students huddled together talking and laughing, excited to be together again after the long Christmas holiday.
Instead, students and teachers alike walked down the halls, shoulders slumped, eyes downcast. Noticeable was the large number of junior and senior boys who were missing. Those already eighteen, and the ones who could get away with saying they were eighteen even if they weren’t, had enlisted as Luke had. By the end of 1942, 3.9 million Americans would enlist in the armed services, and by the end of 1943 that number would swell to 9.1 million. For now, the absence of the young men was becoming obvious even at little Tillamook High School. There were far more girls moving through the halls than boys.
Jane walked to her locker without speaking to anyone, and no one spoke to her. She spun the dial on her locker— 2, 12, 22—and lifted the latch. Her stack of books was still there, just as she had left them two weeks before. Jane hung her coat on the hook. She pulled her U.S. History book from the bottom of the stack and plunked it on top of her notebook. Slamming the door shut with a metallic bang, she turned and joined the other students as they sifted into the classrooms that lined both sides of the hall. Jane walked into the yellow room with the new, green chalkboard across the front. She sat at her desk and looked around, counting the empty seats, symbols of the changed and damaged lives all around her.
Jane caught the eye of her riding buddy, Jeannie. She forced a smile, and her friend offered a strained smile back. Both Jeannie’s brothers had joined the war effort over the vacation. Her younger brother was just a junior in high school but had lied about his age to get in the Army. Jane could see her own sadness and worry reflected on her friend’s face.
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Their history teacher, Mr. Johnson, walked into the room, stopped in front of the chalkboard, and turned to face the class. “Welcome back from Christmas vacation. I trust that, even with the new rules and restrictions we are all experiencing, you had a wonderful time with your families.”
No one responded.
“Yes, well, I know this is hard on all of us,” he said, adjusting his glasses on his nose. “Before we begin our lesson, I wanted to make an announcement. As you know, for the last year we have been in a competition with Forest Grove High School to assist in our country’s preparations in case we were drawn into this war, which, as you know, we now have been. It has been our job to collect scrap metal, and Tillamook High School Cheesemakers have done a remarkable job answering this challenge. We have accumulated an enormous pile of old appliances, rolls of barbed wire, metal gates, and every spare scrap of aluminum foil we could find. When we left for Christmas vacation, we were far ahead of Forest Grove. However, I am sad to announce that, over the school break, some Forest Grove residents found an old lumber train locomotive on a section of abandoned track in the woods. This put them far ahead of us, as you can imagine.”
A collective groan washed over the classroom. Jane kept her disappointment in check as she twirled her pencil between her fingers. She had donated several old pieces of farm equipment she found scattered around her property, remnants of the time when her grandfather had grown vegetables on the land she and Luke now owned.
“Yes. Yes. I understand your disappointment at not winning the competition. But let us expand our vision and realize what a great boon this is to our war effort. That was the ultimate purpose, after all.”
Life all around her was changing faster than she ever would have imagined just one month earlier when she heard President Roosevelt speak. And it was not just the absence of Luke. Several essential items were now being rationed to provide for the war effort. Tires and gasoline were some of the first necessities the people of Tillamook were having to use less of. By April 1942, all households were limited to just a half pound of sugar— the first food item to be rationed. That was half of what the normal family would use, but more than Jane needed. So, she frequently shared her sugar coupons with the Katos on the corner, and the Olsons who lived across from her.
“The Sand Pounder”
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Jane’s tires swerved on the mud as she turned into the dirt drive that led to her house. Star nickered from the pasture as she rode up. Jane smiled. A warm feeling coursed through her body. Some things hadn’t changed . . . thankfully.
Jane leaned her bike against the side of the house and plucked the carrots from the front basket. “Mrs. Kato sent you a present, girl,” Jane said as she walked to the fence. Star’s beautiful chestnut head with the white star right in the middle of her forehead, hung over the top rail in anticipation. The mare knew the routine as well as Jane did. First, Jane rubbed the carrot through the long, wet grass to clean it. Then she broke it into chunks. One at a time, she offered the carrot pieces to Star in her flattened hand, thumb tucked to the side. Star reached over the fence and, with gentle, searching lips, took the carrot from her palm. This was repeated until the carrot was gone and Stars eyes smiled with contentment. Once she fed all the carrots to Star, Jane returned to the house to put on her riding breeches, boots, and a warm jacket.
Jane walked to the barn with Star following along on the other side of the fence. She pushed the center barn door open and stepped into her favorite spot. She breathed deeply of the scent of hay and leather, the floating dust particles causing her to sneeze. Star came into her stall. “Let’s go for a ride, girl. What do ya say?”
Jane clipped on the halter and led her horse out of the stall. She put her in the cross ties that spanned the width of the barn aisle by attaching a clip to each side of the mare’s halter. Reaching into her grooming box, she pulled out a curry comb and a brush. “Here we go, girl. Let’s get you all clean and beautiful,” she said as she began currying and brushing Star’s chestnut red coat. Her final grooming job was to pick the sticky, Oregon mud from the mare’s hooves.
Jane hummed as she placed her English pad and saddle on Star’s back. Her friend Jeannie used a heavy, western saddle on her sturdy quarter horse, but Jane preferred the lighter, smaller English saddle. She felt a closer connection to her horse in that saddle.
After buckling the girth and pulling the stirrups down the leathers, she reached for her snaffle bridle. She placed the reins over her horse’s neck as Star lowered her head. Jane released the halter and slipped the gentle bit into Star’s mouth and the headstall over her ears.
“Wait here while I gather some eggs for the Katos,” she said, patting the mare on the neck. Grabbing a canvas bag, she gathered a half dozen eggs from the stall that doubled as a chicken coop.
The ride down the road to the Katos’ house was made pleasant by the fact that the misty rain subsided, and the clouds parted just enough to let the sun peek through. Jane kept Star at a walk so as not to jostle the eggs. Reaching the Katos’ front gate, she dismounted and led the horse up to the front door, the reins in one hand and the canvas bag in the other. As she stepped up on the porch, the front door flew open and two of the Kato children greeted her with bright smiles and sparkling eyes. “We have some senbei for you,” said Patti, the oldest girl in the family, as she took the eggs. “Wait right here.”
Patti soon returned with the rice crackers, a favorite Japanese snack, tucked in Jane’s canvas bag and another carrot for Star.
“Make her bow,” Paul, Patti’s little brother said, clapping his hands as Thomas joined his two younger siblings at the door.
Jane tapped Star’s left front leg and Star obediently lowered herself until her knee rested on the ground. Jane tucked her left foot in the stirrup, swung her right leg over Star’s lowered back, and settled into the saddle as Star stood up. “See you again soon. Thanks for the senbei,” Jane said as she waved and turned Star around.
She rode out the gate and back down the road. When Jane arrived at her house, she reached down from the saddle and hooked the canvas bag holding the senbei on the mailbox. Her hands now free, she headed for the beach along Tillamook Bay at a brisk trot. She posted, up and down in rhythm with her horse’s two-beat trot. Once they reached the firm, wet sand, she asked Star for a canter. She sat in the saddle, letting her hips move with the swinging motion of the horse’s long strides. Her shoulder length hair flowed back away from her face and the salty air filled her lungs. For a time, her worries evaporated and were replaced with pure joy.
When Jane returned to her home, her neighbors from across the street were waiting for her. Their faces seemed unusually stern and Jane, unsure how to read their expressions, felt her heart pounding and her body tense. She dismounted quickly. “Mr. and Mrs. Olson,” she said. “Is something wrong?”
Mrs. Olson looked down and twisted the corner of her sweater. Mr. Olson cleared his throat then began to speak. “We felt we needed to talk to you about something of grave importance,” he began.
Jane bit her lip and rubbed her palms down the legs of her riding pants. She looked back and forth between these two neighbors she had known for several years. She had no idea where this was going, but she didn’t like the sound of it.
“What is it?” she said, her voice little more than a whisper.
Setting his jaw, Mr. Olson hesitated. Mrs. Olson reached over and touched his arm, her eyes pleading. “I think it best if I just get right to the point,” Mr. Olson began. “We have noticed how much time you spend with the Katos.”
Jane scrunched her face in confusion. “The Katos? They’re our neighbors. I always visit with them. Thomas and I are friends. Why?”
“Well . . . with the war and all . . .” Mrs. Olson began.
“The war? What does that have to do with the Katos?”
“They’re Japanese, after all,” said Mr. Olson, gruffly.
“They’re Americans,” responded Jane, crossing her arms over her chest, her eyes darting back and forth between the two.
“You can’t be too sure where people’s loyalties lie,” Mr. Olson said.
“Well, I can. The Katos were born here. They have lived here all their lives. They love America. Haven’t you noticed the flag they always fly?” Jane felt perspiration rising on her forehead and she swiftly brushed it away. Frustrated and shocked, she added, “You know the Katos as well as I do. Why are you saying this?”
“There’s been talk,” said Mrs. Olson.
“The government may have to do something,” added Mr. Olson.
“Like what?” asked Jane, her head cocked to one side, her eyebrows knotted.
“We don’t know. But we need to protect our country. . . ourselves,” said Mr. Olson, placing his fisted hands on his hips.
Mrs. Olson reached over and took Jane’s hand. “We just wanted to warn you to be careful.”
Jane jerked her hand away. “I don’t need you to warn me about the Katos. They’re just fine,” Jane said, adding, “Please excuse me. I need to take care of Star.” She turned on the heels of her riding boots and stomped to the barn, her horse following behind her. She felt bad that she had been so abrupt with her neighbors, but she felt confused and upset by their comments. How could they be suspicious of the Katos? They knew the Katos as well as she did. Oh, relax, she told herself. This will all blow over soon.
But it didn’t blow over. In fact, it wasn’t long before things became much worse.
M.J. Evans is the author of 22 books, most of which are centered on horses or horse-fantasy creatures. As a life-long equestrian, she loves combining her love of horses with her passion for writing. Born and raised in Oregon and a graduate of Oregon State University, she is a former junior high and high school teacher. She now lives in Colorado with her husband, a standard poodle, and two horses. Visit her at www.dancinghorsepress.com.