5 minute read
The Strength and Spirit of a Mother
Words by Sue Burns | Photos provided by Nancy Bellin
Nancy Bellin shares about her mother’s love, strength, and courage of conviction that saw the family through the Japanese internment years and how her mother left indelible imprints on her spirit.
The bonds between mother and child stay with us throughout our lives. Everyone’s experiences are different, and shape us in myriad ways, defining how we live and shape the lives of others.
Nancy Bellin describes her mother, Asaye Miyake Hanada, as “...a classical beauty, faithful wife, loyal friend and can-do woman, no matter the circumstance.” At four feet, eleven inches, Asaye’s small frame housed her huge intellect, creativity, and strength. Nancy’s innumerable stories of her mother’s courage, resilience, and love—especially during harrowing times—illustrate how her own approach to life has been molded by her mother’s gentle touch.
Asaye grew up in Atwater, where she excelled academically, submitting poems to a Japanese-American newspaper. Kazumi Hanada, a writer from Dinuba who submitted poetry of his own, admired Asaye’s writings and began corresponding with her. They met and began dating, marrying in 1933. Known then as Amy and Kay, they moved to a house with a small farm in Cutler, where Nancy was born and still lives today.
Daily life on an unproductive farm miles from her family took grit for the young wife and mother of two, who was occasionally greeted in town with hostility as the war years progressed. But she never stopped trusting that people were good, encouraging her daughters to do the same. She prioritized family time together, invented games with resources she found around the house and farm, created learning activities, and read to them every night. From Asaye’s resourcefulness, they learned how seemingly insignificant objects could become tools for learning and play.
Asaye couldn’t have guessed the immense challenges her family would face during World War II after Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt. Nancy and Marian were 6 and 9 when the family was informed they were required to report to the Tulare Assembly Center. They were given only days to pack their necessities and make arrangements for someone to care for their home and pet cat. They had no idea where they were going, nor for how long. In this state of uncertainty, Asaye did her best to manage preparations and keep their emotions upbeat. She acted as if they were simply going away on a trip and would be back, emphasizing their good luck in being allowed to stay together as a family, while many others were not. From her outlook, the sisters learned that though they could not control the situation, they could choose their attitude about it.
No toys were allowed in the internment camp in Poston, Arizona, but Asaye packed as many books as she could. She continued reading to the girls every night. When their flashlights were taken away, she resolved to teach Nancy to overcome her fear of the dark by showing her that when one sense is diminished others grow stronger. “You can hear and smell farther than you can see,” she said.
When Nancy became ill, Asaye broke the camp rules to obtain one egg, which she scrambled on the lid from a gallon-size can over a Sterno burner with a precious bit of butter. When Nancy and Marian asked life lesson questions in the dim light of a single bulb in the barrack shared with three other families, they talked things over, always emphasizing trust in the good, and hope in the face of adversity.
When Asaye became a teacher in the camp, she encouraged her students not to be angry about their situation. “Make something out of nothing” and “roll with the punches” were two of her favorite sayings to share as she worked to create a safe, warm learning environment. As they saw how their mother’s actions softened the edges of the harsh camp landscape, they learned the importance of helping wherever they could, as best they could.
When the family returned home three years later, greeted by the sight of their belongings from the attic burning in their yard, Asaye quelled their sadness by reminding them that these were “just things” and they would start again. And they did, with Asaye teaching herself to sew, becoming a wonderful cook, and continuing to instill in her daughters a love of books, gardening, and her solid standards of what was important and right. From her resilience, they learned resilience. The gifts of their mother’s love, strength, and courage of conviction that saw the family through the internment years and the ups and downs of life beyond it, left indelible imprints on her daughters’ spirits. As part of an extremely close-knit family, Nancy and Marian went on to raise their own children and help in their communities. A recently retired educator herself, Nancy thinks gratefully of Asaye at this time, especially, knowing her mother would say living a life reflective of the qualities learned from her is the greatest Mother’s Day gift of all.