James D Houston - A California voice lost
California just won't be the same without the melodious voice and glorious words of James D Houston. He died yesterday at his home in Santa Cruz.
Through some sort of a magical stroke of good luck, I have been a close friend of his oldest daughter Cori, for over 30 years. We played soccer together for years in Santa Cruz. We connected one afternoon after finishing a tournament in Sacramento, sitting on a dock at the river next to the field where we had played.
We discovered that we were both literate, had actually thought about life, struggles, what we wanted to do with ourselves, kind of grown up, adult things. A special friendship was born in the steamy heat of a summer afternoon.
She opened her door to her family who lived in a special house near the water on the east side of Santa Cruz, explaining the architecture of a cupola, a widow's watch, the outdoor shower and what's that, what the heck is a hot tub? Why is this room full of a room full of typed index cards and a typewriter. Oh, both your parents write books. Like what kind of books?
Now almost all of these books are in my bookcases: Farewell to Manzanar, Snow Mountain Passage, Bird of Another Heaven, and Hawaiian Son. One of my favorite opening lines in a book was in one of his. Unfortunately you have to go to the link at my personal blog to read it otherwise my normally easy to get along with editors might not be so easy to get along with anymore.
Okay here it is but it is not a direct quote cus I don't have the book in front of me:
The man wakes up and turns to his wife.
"Do you wanto play county fair?"
"What's county fair?"
"You sit on my face and I tell you how much you weigh."
See??? I couldn't have that in the Chronicle.
He was always Mr Houston to me because he was Cori's dad. Not in that Eddie Haskell kind of way, "Oh hello Mr. Cleaver." But more out of respect for my friend's father. Or maybe because he was an award winning local author, someone I aspired to emulate. As someone recently graduated with a degree in journalism from Chico State, I was impressed with his graciousness and easy going manner. Why was he like that? Was it his time in Santa Cruz and Hawaii? Or his confidence in his writing skills? A combination things or some other variable I had no knowledge of at age 23? I know, it was the old Mercedes and the Panama hat with the Hawaiian shirt!
Both Mr and Mrs Houston were always friendly and open to me, answering questions about how they wrote, how they got ideas for books, what drove them to complete books. Their writing styles were completely different, as different as they were as people and as different as a Japanese American and Anglo guy could be. What a surprise. Together they wrote one of the first books about the Japanese-American experience, Mrs Houston's experience in internment camps, Farewell to Manzanar.
During that time I had been going over there and just whining about every little thing. Drama, drama, drama, whine, whine. I read that book and was just embarrassed that I had complained so much to Mrs Houston after what she been through, imprisoned for years by her own government. I told Mr Houston about it once and he just smiled in a very knowing way, clapped me on the back and moved on.
Over the course of knowing a friend and her family for over 30 years there are vignettes, meals at the Santa Cruz wharf discussing politics, the unexpected death of Kathy Akao, Jeanne and Jim's niece, Cori's cousin, the weddings and always in the background the Hawaiian music. The Houston family, especially Mr Houston, was close friends with Hawaiian musician Eddie Kamae who came over to play at Cori's wedding. Mr. Houston wrote the book, Hawaiian Son, about Eddie. I have managed to compile stacks of Hawaiian music thanks to the introduction by James D. Houston.
The tears many of us shed today are for a man who had a life well lived. Aloha Jim. Mahalo for all the gifts you gave us while you were here.