Stories from My Life: Remembering my best friend in college, Harriet Emas Nicholson
I decided to write a novel when I was in my late 20s. But I soon realized that I didn’t have enough life experiences to call upon. Two decades later I tried again and began writing short stories, which led me to my first thriller novel, Category 5. Fast-forward through another two decades and two more thrillers, I am still writing, most recently with my historical fiction novel, How Much Do You Love Me?
I have come to realize that, during all those intervening years, I’ve had numerous interesting and life-changing experiences that might be of interest to others. For that reason, I am starting a new blog series called “Stories from My Life.”
What I will present every so often will be short vignettes covering significant events from my life, interesting experiences, or individuals who have impacted me greatly. The choices I make will be random and have no obvious order. In this first story, I take you back almost fifty-two years, to the fall of 1963 to introduce you to the person who would become my best friend for the next five years, Harriet Emas. What happened afterward, none of us would have ever predicted.
It was the fall of 1963 when I started college at Penn State as a meteorology major. When I arrived, I had just completed a summer working as a Student Trainee for what was then the Weather Bureau. I had spent the summer painting weather shelters around the Washington, DC area. To my good fortune, I continued that summer job for three more years (in Harrisburg, PA).
My first year at Penn State was difficult, but I adapted and things got better with time. I became acquainted with my fellow meteorology classmates, one of whom was Harriet Emas. Surprisingly, we hit it off. I say this not because there was anything unusual about Harriet, but because I’m amazed that she had the patience to put up with me. She always treated me well; I can’t remember an instance when she said anything to upset me.
Now before you go thinking ahead where you shouldn’t, I need to tell you that romance was never an issue because Harriet already had a steady boyfriend, Joe, who also attended Penn State. In fact, later on, Joe became fiancée Joe; I remember her proudly showing me her engagement ring. Perhaps it was because of this very arrangement that our friendship developed as it did.
For the next five years, we attended classes together, privately critiqued professors, took notes when the other couldn’t attend a class, and helped each other with classwork. But beyond that, we just talked. A humorous event occurred early on. Some words I picked up suggested to me that Harriet was not Protestant. And so with my usual tact, I asked, “Harriet, are you Jewish?” She said yes. Now you need to understand my perspective. I had just moved from a small WASP-ish town about two hours away, and about the closest I had knowingly come to a Jew (other than some new professors at Penn State) was the picture of Jesus Christ hanging on the wall behind the altar of our Lutheran church. To top it off, if I haven’t already convinced you of my naiveté, here is what I said next. “Harriet, I didn’t realize that any Jews had blond hair.”
I’ll fast-forward to the spring of 1968 when the above photograph (of Yours Truly and Harriet) was taken in one of our offices. Not long afterward, Harriet and Joe married (she became Harriet Emas Nicholson), honeymooned in Puerto Rico, and moved to Philadelphia, where Harriet soon had a job (as a meteorologist) with General Electric. By then, we had both graduated with a BS in meteorology and were working towards an MS. In August I left Penn State and started work for the Navy in Norfolk.
For the next several years we communicated mostly by letter. Joe had gone to Temple University and had passed the bar exam. I did visit Harriet in Philadelphia once. I remember her proudly pulling away stick-on wallpaper in the kitchen to show what she and Joe had accomplished. After another year at Penn State in 71/72, I headed for California for my new job.
By early 1974, I was becoming worried because I hadn’t heard from Harriet in several months. I wrote a letter urging her to write forthwith, but heard nothing back. I finally called her in Philadelphia. Joe answered the phone. I asked if I could speak to Harriet. He asked who was calling. He then told me that Harriet had died the previous fall. She had been pregnant for the first time and came home early one day from work, not feeling well. They ended up going to the hospital where she passed away. The best anyone could figure, he said, was that a clot had broken loose and killed her. I couldn’t believe it. She was just 28 years old!
From my viewpoint, that’s the story of my best friend, Harriet. I miss her and imagine that if she were alive today, that we would still be the best of friends.
Stories you can listen to, #10: The Necklace, #326
In my continuing series of short stories, The Necklace, #326 is told from only one point of view, that of retired school teacher Ruth Armstrong. Her sole mission at the auction is to buy one particular item from the estate of Dr. Thomas Griffey’s late parents. Will she succeed? And why is #326 so important to her?
Click here to either listen to or read the story.
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The Japanese Internment of World War II, Part 9: The Tule Lake War Relocation Center
Above image of Tule Lake, circa 1943-44, courtesy of Library of Congress
This blog is Part 9 of a series discussing the internment of Japanese in the United States during World War II. This sequence is meant as an accompaniment to my historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?
Part 6, “One Family’s Journey to their Internment Camp,” discussed one family’s journey in the spring of 1942 from Bellevue, Washington, to their permanent camp in Tule Lake, California, one of ten permanent camps created for the Japanese in the United States. They got there by way of Pinedale (central California, near Fresno), one example of an Assembly Center used to house internees before the permanent camps were completed. Construction of Tule Lake had begun more than a month before the Japanese left Bellevue.
The Tule Lake War Relocation Center was located in Northern California, it’s post office address Newell, California. Tule “Lake” was a misnomer; to create fertile farmland, the original lake had been systematically drained, starting in 1907. As they disembarked from the train, the internees peered at what again (like Pinedale) looked like a desert, with not a tree in sight. But replacing the 100-degree-plus extremes endured at Pinedale in July were temperatures some fifteen to twenty degrees cooler because, at just over 4000 feet, Tule Lake was 3700 feet higher than Pinedale.
Designed for over 18,000 Japanese Americans, Tule Lake had three times the capacity of Pinedale. Defined by the government as a permanent facility, more thought and preparation had gone into its construction than at the Pinedale Assembly Center, and things were more organized. The tarpaper-covered barracks were the same, but there were more windows. This time the floors were concrete. After a while, plasterboard became available to cover the interior walls, providing some insulation against outside temperatures, dust, and dirt.
Above image of Tule Lake courtesy of Densho.org. See note below.
Up next: The Japanese Internment of World War II, Part 10: Life at Tule Lake
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Note: Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project is a digital archive of videotaped interviews, photographs, documents, and other materials relating to the Japanese American experience. Additional information on the project is available at www.densho.org.
Wine and Dine Literary Society
This past Wednesday evening Becky and I had the pleasure of attending a book-club meeting in Livermore, California where I addressed the Wine and Dine Literary Society. They had chosen How Much Do You Love Me?, my historical novel on the Japanese internment of World War II, as this month’s read. In the picture you see… View Article
Stories you can listen to, #9: Lemonade or Iced Tea
In my continuing series of short stories, Lemonade or Iced Tea, although relatively short at 900 words, is told from three points of view: mother (Emily), daughter (Janet), and fiancé (Timothy). Will Timothy end up marrying Janet? You decide. Click here to either listen to or read the story. Feel free to share this blog…. View Article
White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy receives acclaim from Kirkus Reviews
White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy is the third in my trilogy of thrillers. Here is a copy of the Kirkus review: KIRKUS REVIEW In Tag’s (Category 5, 2005, etc.) thriller, a scientist learns that Nazis are planning a return to power with an attack of worldwide proportions—and that her family in Colombia may… View Article
Stories you can listen to, #8: Jimmy Boy
In my continuing series of short stories, “Jimmy Boy” is told from the point of view of Delores Weaver, an elderly woman riding out Hurricane Iniki in Kauai, Hawaii, in September of 1992. It isn’t long before Delores and her husband, who has Alzheimer’s, have to move from their apartment to a storm shelter. It’s… View Article
The Japanese Internment of World War II, Part 8: Internment in Hawaii
This blog is Part 8 of a series discussing the internment of Japanese in the United States during World War II. This sequence is meant as an accompaniment to my historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me? To cover an aside, Part 8 takes a slight detour to the flow established in the previous… View Article
Stories can be really short! Stories you can listen to, #7: The Long Walk Home
I wrote this story specifically, and was lucky for it to be accepted, for publication in Storybytes, an online magazine. Stories published in this magazine have word counts of a power of 2. My story is 128 words long, which is 2 to the power of 7. Click here to listen to or read the story…. View Article
New review just posted for Category 5
As most of you know, until I switched genres to historical fiction with How Much Do You Love Me? I wrote thrillers, a trilogy: Category 5, Prophecy, and White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy. The first in this series, Category 5, which focused on weather modification and hurricanes, has a brand new review. I am posting it here because this reviewer,… View Article