1918 - 1930
A Japanese is born to march proudly over the entire world. ___Japanese language textbook for secondary schools.
Was the violent storm that heralded Jack's arrival in this world merely a portent of how he was to leave it? My parents told me of black skies and the roaring winds that blew down the woods at the back of the farm the night Jack was born on Friday, the tenth of May, 1918.
Old Doc Jerry had drawn Daddy away from the room where Mother labored. "The baby won't make it, but I'll do my best for your wife," he'd said.
Mother told me later that Daddy had turned away from the doctor and come back into the bedroom, knelt by her bedside and buried his face in the covers sobbing.
My brother did make it. He was new-born skinny, soon turning yellow with jaundice, his life fluttering precariously for several months. Finally, Jack began growing vigorously and my worried parents could relax. By the time he was walking, his blond hair was curling and he was following Daddy around the barn, the chicken houses and all over the hundred and twenty acres of our family's Michigan farm. Paternal grandparents tell a story about four-year-old Jack spending a mild winter morning in February, 1922, with them. When they told him he had a baby sister he crawled under the dining room table in a bit of a temper tantrum. It was evidently a temporary feeling of being displaced, for in the picture of Jack and me taken when I was about nine months old he is looking every bit the proud older brother.
When Jack was born Mother wanted to name him John Alfred after his two grandfathers. Daddy leaned toward naming his first-born son Howard Hammond, Jr. The baby was named Howard, Jr. but they called him Jack. Mother laughed, "It seemed a good compromise at first, then later it posed a little problem at school; there was confusion as to whether he was Howard or Jack." It became a favorite family story of how Jack settled the problem himself by getting up in school in the second grade and announcing to his teacher and the whole class, "My name is Howard Irish, Jr., and that is what I want to be called."
I can hear you say it now, "My name is Howard Irish, Jr., 1st Lt., U.S. Army, O 393415."
As I look at pictures of Jack as a grade school student I think of his classmate, Nick Van Wingerden, who became special to Jack, with a friendship lasting all the rest of their lives. The two boys looked alike; both fair with curly hair, although Nick grew taller than Jack and his face broader with his Dutch family characteristics. While Jack walked a mile down the graveled road to our village school in Coopersville Nick lived in the village. Jack's father was a farmer and Nick's a baker. Nick was one of several brothers and sisters.
Jack had only one sibling ... me.
Turning the pages of Mother's old black photo album I see a snapshot of a single-engine monoplane taken out in our north field. The pilot is standing casually beside his plane....
The plane is as noisy inside as when it roared in to land on Daddy's wheat field. Grandpa and Grandma Irish's yellow house on the hill doesn't look like it's on a hill at all from the sky. Everything looks strange and flat as Jack and I peer out the window of the Curtiss-Robin monoplane. I cling to him when the pilot makes a turn over Coopersville and heads back toward the farm. Before we know it we're back on the ground again watching and waving as the plane becomes a tiny speck in the distance.
Our first and only flight together was with a 1929 Barnstormer. Do you remember?
Jack took an avid interest in everything, especially those things having to do with the farm. He helped plant the rows of corn whose slender green leaves were soon whispering as their prickly edges rubbed together. He and Daddy created a pattern out of the enormous tilled fields of rectangles and squares, some in new green wheat or oats that turned by late summer into straw-colored stalks with heavy heads of grain ready for harvest. He loved the smell of fresh cut alfalfa, the narrow paths worn in the pasture by the cows as they plodded up to the barn at milking time, the creek wandering through the pasture, the old hemlock tree. I know Jack never tired of the freedom to explore it all. He worked hard at the chores set out for him. He raised a couple of Hampshire pigs one year, black pigs with wide belts of white going around their entire body just behind the front legs.
He raised a beautiful purebred Jersey heifer named Clara Lovely Saundra another year. She even had her name engraved on an oval brass tag which she wore mid forehead when on exhibition. Jack placed the heavy chain over Clara Lovely's horns proudly when she won a blue ribbon at the Berlin Fair.
Jack, do you remember the pheasants? Memories keep flooding back....
I sit on the back steps of the farm house watching as Jack walks past the old pear tree toward the hayfield with a water jug. Daddy is cutting the first crop of alfalfa; I can hear his tenor voice wafting intermittantly in the soft breeze above the sound of the tractor, singing, "On the road to Man - da - lay - ay, where the fly - ing fish - es playyyy." Daddy says it's a good year for alfalfa and he's hurrying to get it cut and raked into windrows ready for the hayloader. Suddenly his singing stops. We look up to see Daddy pulling back on the throttle to stop the tractor. When he jumps down both Jack and I run toward him. A beautiful hen pheasant lies shattered on the shiny blades of the mowing machine and on the ground in back of the blade, unhurt, is her nest of eggs. Alfalfa cutting time turns bad when setting hen pheasants are hurt. Having her legs cut off is what usually happens to a hen pheasant, and that means trying to catch her and kill her mercifully. We all hate it. We're relieved now to see that this one is beyond help of any kind.
"I tried to stop as soon as I saw her flutter in the grass, but it was too late," Daddy says, as he pulls off his cap and slaps it against his leg. He kneels beside Jack near the nest and moves the alfalfa away to see the eggs.
"Can I take her eggs up to the barn and put them in with Banty Hen's eggs?" Jack looks up from the nest, "Please, Dad."
Daddy stands up, reaches for the water jug and takes a long draught before he replies, "Well, why not?"
Jack throws his straw hat on the ground as soon as the words are out of Daddy's mouth. He begins carefully transferring the pale brownish warm eggs from nest to hat. When all are in the straw hat, he stands up, holding it against his body. "Thanks, Dad."
Back at the barn, Jack gently lifts the little feathered body of his bantam hen and puts egg after egg into Banty's nest. She scolds mildly with a muffled sound in her throat. "You keep these warm along with yours and you'll be in for a surprise." Though she looks awfully small to cover so many eggs, she seems to sense the need and ruffles and puffs her feathers out to make as much of herself as possible. "Good girl."
Each morning and evening Jack stops his chores long enough to converse with Banty Hen and take a peek under her brown- and black-shaded feathers to see if all the eggs are intact. One morning the eggs have cracks and strangely enough, both bantam eggs and pheasant eggs begin hatching at the same time. It isn't long before Banty Hen and her large brood are a comical sight in the barn yard as the baby pheasants grow much larger than the chicks and soon are even larger than Banty Hen herself.
"Dad, could I build a pen for the pheasants out back of the shop?" Jack asks one morning. "They're going to fly away and not know how to fend for themselves. Please, Dad?" Daddy dunks a fat oatmeal cookie into his last cup of coffee and eats slowly while he considers the question.
"What kind of pen did you have in mind and what would you build it from?"
"There's that roll of old chicken wire out back and some boards by the engine room. I think there would be enough wire to cover the top, too. If it was fastened against the back of the shop it wouldn't take as much wire. I could start today."
"Okay, Jack, okay. See what you can do. Be sure to get your chores done first. I'll need you to help with hay loading after lunch."
Several days later the pen is finished and the elusive half-grown pheasants coralled. The pheasants don't seem to mind the pen as long as there's water and grain, plus all the bugs and grasshoppers they can catch. As their tail feathers grow long, the birds make short flights inside the cage banging against the chicken wire. Jack continues to water and feed them, spending so much time with them they soon are tame enough to be held and petted.
One morning the game warden drives into the yard inquiring about a rumor that there are captive pheasants on the farm. He tells Jack and Daddy that the pheasants will have to be set free from the pen. "Sorry to say it, young fella, but you'll have to let 'em go."
Jack is about to turn away when the warden calls out from his car, "I guess we can wait until after hunting season closes. I'll come out again the morning of the 29th."
On the 29th, we're all on hand to see Jack release the pheasants. He holds each one and talks to it, stroking it gently before he lets it go. Each hesitates, looks about startled, then with a great flapping sound, flies up into the air. The last to go is the biggest cock, so beautiful, so regal as he perches on Jack's hand. He tilts his head to peer at Jack, tries flapping his wings a little, looks once more, then lifts off into the air with the familiar pheasant crowing sound his goodbye.
Chicken-wire fencing is very different from ten foot high barbed wire fencing three layers deep with no food and no one to open the gate for you to fly away.
Jack raised pigs, chickens and Jersey cows all under the guidance of the leaders of the 4-H Clubs in Coopersville.
In 4-H Jack also began a long love of woodworking. After seventy years I still have his first project, a cutlery tray, an oblong box made of wood with a center divider forming a handle. On the bottom pressed deeply into the wood with a stout lead pencil in his Grandmother Irish's handwriting are the words, "Made by Howard Irish, Jr. when he was 10 years old."
Jack's teacher and mentor of 4-H Club Handicraft was William Van Allsburg, co-owner of the Coopersville Lumber Company. The boys worked on larger projects in classes in Mr. Van Allsburg's basement. He was a soft-spoken man with infinite patience. The boys would ask, "What do you think of this, Mr. Van Allsburg?" and his unfailing reply was, "I think you'd better sand it one more time."
Jack's advanced projects included a walnut dresser, a kneehole desk made with inverted chevrons of wood grain forming the drawer fronts and pale birdseye maple used for the top. A grandfather's clock case never held the clock and radio he had in mind, but is now in my home and boasts a mirrored back wall and glass shelves to hold our mother's colored glass collection.
As I remember all of these childhood things about Jack, I wonder. Didn't he ever do anything he shouldn't have? Is my mind so filled with love and yearning for a time long lost that I can't see him any way but faultless? Surely he tried smoking cigarettes out back of the barn. Slapped old Molly's flank when no one was looking to get her to gallop up the lane. Maybe not. As the only boy he spent more time with his dad than anyone else and there was a lot of work to be done. Mother punished him for something once, paddled him with the yardstick hard enough to snap the thing in two. What had he done?
If you were here today, I'd ask. Would you remember?CHAPTER 2
"If the United States ever attempted to prevent Japan's natural expansion then a grave situation indeed would be created since Japan is an overcrowded nation which could not be shut up indefinitely in her small islands."
___Viscount Kikujiro Ishii, in welcoming Ambassador Joseph C. Grew to Japan, June 21, 1932
Yellowed and frayed, the newspaper clipping from the Coopersville Observer is captioned, HOWARD IRISH, JR. CHOSEN COUNTY 4-H CLUB CHAMPION and begins, "Howard Irish, Jr., from Coopersville, has been selected as the all-around county champion of 4-H Club work for the past year in Ottawa county."
The article, which must have been written in the early to mid-thirties, concludes with, "This honor carries with it a scholarship at Michigan State College valued at twenty-five dollars." At that time a twenty-five dollar scholarship was definitely something to be proud of.
Farm life both then and now is not easy, but Jack's help made it easier for Daddy, I'm sure. I cannot remember ever hearing of Jack being reluctant to do anything. Mother and Daddy both worked so hard that if Jack or I ever felt like dragging our feet ... well, we just didn't. Mother never worked in the fields with Daddy. Her domain was a large vegetable garden and the huge landscape project she initiated for the yard around the house and other farm buildings. She canned all the fruits and vegetables that were grown on the farm, plus beef, pork and chicken. There were huge meals to be prepared for the dozen or more hungry men who came to help Daddy harvest the grains he had grown. She taught Sunday School, sang in the choir and sewed most of my clothes. All of this plus washing and ironing, mending and cleaning. Daddy was up at 5:30 every morning to do the chores. Cows to feed and milk, chickens to feed and water, eggs to gather, clean, candle and take to sell or to the hatchery. Then fields had to be plowed and planted, crops harvested. Chores for both of them were endless. It never entered our minds to not pitch in and help.
During the depression there wasn't much money and in high school Jack wore the same tweed trousers to school every day, along with a couple of long-sleeved white shirts which he alternated. He carried his roller skates slung over a shoulder to balance his books on the way to school. When the sidewalk began at the town limits he strapped them on and skated the rest of the way. The "big boys" from high school skated down the middle of the street in front of school on their lunch hour. "That's my brother," I'd say, as if no one would know unless I told them.
The building where both of our parents and Jack and I graduated from high school was judged a fire hazard in the 1970's and torn down. The cornerstone is preserved inside a glass display case in the newer building. Our Grandfather's name, A. W. Irish, is on that cornerstone as a member of the school board.
Your name, Howard Irish, Jr., is engraved on a plaque in the city park's Memorial Honor Roll of World War II.
During his high school years Jack had his eye on the girls ... June ... Mary Alyce ... Arlene ... but not much money to spend. Daddy would search his pockets to come up with a couple dollar bills, one for gas and the other for a snack or a movie. I think June was the first real love of his life.
Somehow money was found for ballroom dancing lessons. Not many lessons, but enough to help Jack get by socially. He in turn taught me to waltz and do the two-step. There was always money from somewhere for music. For Jack it was music, music, music. We all sang in the church choir. Our parents had become members of the Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) church in Coopersville very soon after they were married in 1916. Church was woven into our lives much like the select colored yarns of a tapestry. Sunday school, choir practice, Epworth League, prayer meetings, all a part of our childhood.
Mother had graduated from Western State Teacher's College in 1916 with a credential to teach but married instead; now it was natural for her to teach the high school students' Sunday school class. Her class was the first of the Sunday school classes to be co-educational, making it a fairly large interesting class of which Jack was a member.
Music rounded and expanded Jack's life both in the church and at school. In the 1936 Zenith school yearbook the caption beneath Jack's graduation picture reads: "Music exalts each joy; allays each grief." He played violin in the school orchestra all four years, sang in the Glee Club his senior yea