‘Beyond Heart Mountain’ book about Japanese in Downtown Cheyenne available Feb 19th

bhm 1-1What happened to the Japanese residents and businesses on West 17th Street in downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming?

It’s not just about the demise of the once vibrant Japanese community in a small town in Wyoming that thrived from the 1920s through the 1960s, but about how downtown areas can be revived by adding new life to them with people.

The story is a historical memoir told through the eyes of the author, a Sansei generation Baby Boomer Cheyenne native, Alan O’Hashi.

The story arose from a Cheyenne Historic Preservation Board decision to allow the demolition of 509 W. 17th St. with the condition a cultural and historical survey be done about the Japanese community that flourished in the 400 and 500 blocks of W. 17th St.

John and Jim Dinneen are constructing 12 townhouses in the Downtown Cheyenne neighborhood.

Check out a preview of the 50 page picture book by opening the YouTube link.

The release date is the “Day of Remembrance” on February 19th, which commemorates 77 years since President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that required internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

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Swish and spit

I got a call from my cousin, Leslie.

These days, whenever relatives call, there’s generally some sort of family emergency. This time, Leslie told me our Auntie Elsie died. She was 89 and after a fall breaking her ankle she was moved out of her house and into a rehab center in north Cheyenne.

I stopped in to visit her when I was in town before and noticed she had a banged up face. Cheyenne is a smallish town. Elsie’s roommate is the great aunt of some high school mates of mine. She said Elsie fell out of bed. What I wasn’t told, is that she was now in hospice care because of it.

I was planning another trip to visit her and get a couple bits of family history from her about the time she sprung my grandfather and her brother – my Uncle George – from a holding stall at the Santa Anita Racetrack when Executive Order 9066 was signed by FDR rounding up west coast Japanese – Americans.

Long story short, Japanese who lived in the interior like in Wyoming were viewed as being non-threatening and allowed to stay in their homes and Elsie was able to get them back to Wyoming.

After World War II Elsie chose to move to Boston where she attended dental hygienist school and upon graduation, returned to Cheyenne and worked for Dr. Carson, who ended up being our family dentist.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s going to the dentist was viewed, I think by everyone, as cruel and unusual punishment. Those belt-driven drills that moved the bits at the speed of a hamster spinning his cage were gruesome.

The classic diabolic dentist movie scene is when a Nazi war criminal played by Lawrence Olivier bores into Dustin Hoffman’s front teeth in “Marathon Man”.

I inherited my dad’s bad teeth. I don’t know if kids still get their baby teeth capped, but all my teeth were covered with stainless steel. If there were metal detectors back then, I never would have made it into a sporting event or through the airport.

My aunt the hygienist cleaned my teeth. She always made it fun for kids. This was during the days of cuspidors – those little round sinks with cold water swirling around. I’d get that gritty toothpaste which sort of tasted good squirted out by my aunt pulling the trigger on that high pressure water pistol that shot a straight stream from two feet away.

Then swish and spit.

I always liked the mist that splattered up on my face as the fast moving water sloshed up the ceramic sides of the bowl.

When it was Dr. Carson’s turn, he wasn’t the most personable guy, at least compared to Dr. Cohen, my pediatrician. After a few pleasantries, if I was in for a filling, he pulled out this Dr. Frankenstein contraption. It was a glass, graduated cylinder embraced in a stainless steel housing with a needle the size of a house nail. He would stick it in a bottle of Novocain, pull it out of the robber stopper with a squeak and squirt the air out before jabbing me various places in my mouth.

Elsie would come in and mix up the filling gunk, which consisted of mercury and silver. My mouth was so full of toxins by the time I was out of high school, it would make a tuna fish gag. I gave up my last old school filling when my root canal tooth finally gave way a couple years ago and replaced by a ceramic one. My dentist at the time talked me out of gold, because it would ‘show’.

I shouldn’t have listened.

There’s no wonder dentists are viewed as torturers.

I don’t have to tell anyone who’s experienced those low RPM drills how much more pleasant it is to go to the dentist now and have to submit to those water-cooled hydraulics ones.

When I have dental work done nowadays, I don’t bother with the anesthetic since the needle poke hurts more than the drilling and there’s no biting of the inner cheek because of the weird numbness.

At the end of the session, Auntie Elsie handed me a pencil and a toothbrush and I was on my way.

Dr. Carson’s office was right next to the Bunten Pharmacy on one side and a block away from Save More Drug and Thrifty Drug. While waiting for my ride, I killed time browsing the baseball cards and Beatle cards and waste my money one a pack or two of them.

Elsie was single and in those days, that was unique, but not unusual for my family with three of her brothers never marrying and a brother and sister marrying much later in life.

She lived in south Cheyenne with my grand parents and her brother, Richard. She eventually moved out to her own place. Rich stayed there until both grand parents died and eventually married. More on them later.

Elsie was quite the athlete – playing 2nd base in a competitive softball league and a 175 scratch bowler. When she quit playing, I think I have her glove in my baseball box. My dad gave me my first glove, which I still have. Not a good memory about it though. The neighbor kid, who was much older than any of us threw a ball at me that was catchable.

I was scrawny and my hand and arm weren’t strong enough to keep the ball from flying out of the webbing and into my eye. I think it knocked me out. I ended up going to the emergency room, but I was no worse for the wear.

The glove I used most of my Little League career I bought at a church rummage sale in November 1963. It’s a Rawlings Wally Moon model. It had a broken in pocket and I made many a good play with it. There were a couple fly balls I should have had but flinched when the fence came up on me. Those weren’t major league fences, they were chain link barely waist high with the barbed edges uncovered which aren’t allowed these days.

Elsie taught me how to bowl. Starting out, everyone uses the house balls. The problem was, finding the same or a similar one each time I went to the alley. I didn’t really get the hang of the game, even though my mom and dad were at one time avid bowlers. World War II put an end to that when they were both kicked out of the American Bowling Congress after Pearl Harbor.

Neither of them picked up the sport again after that. Besides, my dad had a bad back which kept him 4F and out of the war. I also inherited his back problems and was introduced to chiropractics and sat out my sophomore year of high school wrestling – a great sport for spindly guys like me.

I think chiropractors had the same macabre reputations as dentists – maybe they still do.

When I started working and had disposable income, Elsie talked me into buying my own ball and shoes. I wasn’t a great bowler because I didn’t spend enough time at it. I did bowl enough to win a bowling trophy while on a team in Lander, Wyoming.

That was a rite of passage.

About that same time “The Big Lebowski” came out. I related to the nerdy Steve Buscemi character, since I didn’t quite fit into the usual bowling crowd.

Bowling has changed. I got rid of my ball in an early purge, which I now regret. There’s no bowling alley in Boulder and the ones in Denver are these disco-like places with flashing lights and loud music.

The worst part is, the score keeping is automatic.

Keeping score with soft lead pencils projected overhead is a lost art form. It was a display of bowling knowledge. I was always lousy at math, but I could score a bowling game. I think I was good at it because it was very visual – marking those x’s and half x’s writing legible numbers. Some people were bad at it. Even if I wasn’t bowling, I liked to keep score.

After Elsie died there was no big to do, I come from a long line of low key die-ers. A few months earlier my cousin Alison called to report her mother – my Auntie Jeannie – had passed away. She had a stroke while sleeping and didn’t wake up. She had a small reception, nothing like some services I’ve attended.