Twenty-five years ago, Junkoh published stories of his childhood in his newsletter.
My favorite story was that of his father’s attempt to grow a watermelon, since I, with little experience, had failed in my efforts.
I considered the newsletter and his comments to be high points of the month, a chance to “get to know” Bainbridge history through a native.
We had lived on Bainbridge five years and met Junkoh and Chris through their garden business.
Being a writer, I realized that he would be a fine subject for a column, even though I was not writing columns back then – just bad books.
He agreed to be interviewed.
We sat down, he stoically, I thought, as I, the inexperienced columnist, read my list of questions. I cannot recall a single question, but I do remember the sun shining though the window highlighting the figure before me. I must have thought that he should always have sun around him, being in the growing business.
Did he answer my innumerable questions? Probably, but he had no need to answer for his demeanor, and poise was the story. He told of his birth here, his early years, mentioning how hard it had been for the family to survive during such hard times.
(He was a Depression child as I was.)
He continued, telling of the government’s forced eviction of his friends and family, adding that his family had spent the war farming in Moses Lake. He was the reporter of things that I had only read about: the families’ dismay and horror, the treachery of people who swore to keep things for those leaving on such short notice. Finally, I grasped the vastness of the government’s betrayal when Junkoh described his parents returning home to a store and nursery ransacked and destroyed.
That hour spent in that sunny room was my introduction to a community I grew to understand and admire.
(Blaine Newnham’s article on Junkoh several years later in the Seattle Times far outdid anything I could have done.)
His calm presentation of such humiliations and disappointments seemed contrary to human nature. Where was his anger? His revenge? His bitterness?
He had related his life with a poise and an acceptance that, I must confess, I could not repeat in my privileged but painful life growing up in Mississippi.
I was not here when he became a city councilman in Old Winslow, but I was here when the library garden and the Sakai interior courtyard came into being. I urged people to pass the bond to buy the Grand Forest because Junkoh was the co-chairman.
He became an “institution” that would always be there for any problem – now or in the future.
Need a pesticide?
“Try the green product,” he would say.
“What should I use as a cover plant? A rose that needs no spraying? An apple tree that bears fine fruit?”
Whatever you needed to plant, Junkoh always had one for you.
“Let’s go see what Junkoh has,” was our saying when out on errands.
Where else could you find so many choices, such wonderful help, such history? Actually, where else could you find my husband in a red pumpkin suit? A Santa Claus suit?
Did I mention Junkoh’s sense of humor? I meant to. I should add Junkoh’s power of persuasion.
Writers are always searching for a charged image that encapsulates their work, and I searched for just the right one for Junkoh.
A year ago, I watched the delivery of a giant bonsai tree to our neighbors. It was a Persian hardwood from Iraq by way of Oregon. Someone had molded its growth over many years, and it was stately and, yes, poised, if a tree can be poised.
Today, I thought of what a descriptive image that would be for Junkoh. His early life had been molded by events, his family was immigrant stock, and yet, like the tree, he had become a treasure.
Yes, that was Junkoh. He was a treasure.
Sally Robison is a Winslow artist and the author of “The Permanent Guest’s
Guide to Bainbridge Island.”