Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Robert Coombs Interview
Narrator: Robert Coombs Andrews
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: SeaTac, Washington
Date: August 2, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-crobert-01-0024

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AI: So, we're continuing our interview with Mr. Robert Coombs. And I wanted to ask you a little bit more about life there at Minidoka and some of your interactions with some of the Japanese and Japanese Americans there.

RC: Well, the first, the first interaction was, was with the cleaning ladies. There was a crew of ladies that would come up to clean the men's dorm, particularly, they had a rough job. The winds blew. And in the spring and summer it was dust time. And they ended up by having to clean the rooms and the main living room in front of it, the living quarters, twice a day. They'd leave to go back to their block for lunch and then they'd start all over again because you just would swipe the dust off things, if they hadn't arrived, you know. But one of the nice experiences I had was when they got done, apparently they would sit and talk and do crochet or knitting or embroidery work and things like that. And one day -- they knew that I would go into town maybe every two or three weeks on a Saturday afternoon, and come back Sunday night. And one of them kind of screwed up her courage, I guess, and asked me if I minded if they asked me to buy some things for them in Twin Falls. And I said, no, I didn't mind that. It'd be something for me to do. So it turned out that they had a whole list of things that, in the embroidery realm of knitting material, embroidery threads and patterns, and everything was listed just so, you know. And so, I remember the first time I, I took this list and they gave me some money. And I said, "Well, let's see how much it costs. Let me buy it and (...) I'll give you the bill when I get back with your things."

And the first time I went into the place where they said I should go -- because somebody had been doing it for them, and then stopped or gone away. I don't know what the circumstances were. And I walked into this place and went up to the clerk and got the list out and told her what I wanted. And she said, "Where are you from?" And I told her. "Oh. Well, I don't know whether I want to sell these things." And I (said), "Well, what difference does it make who's buying these things, who's using these things? After all, it's money in your pocket, isn't it?" "Well, yes." (They said), "Okay, this is a business deal. I'm buying these things and I'm paying you for them." So I gave her the list and she took off and she filled the order and I gave her the money. Monday morning the ladies arrived and with expectations and there I had all of their material that they had been looking forward to. From then on, whenever they ran out of something and they knew I was going into town -- the same lady, when I walked into her store, why, she had her hand out for the list. And the thing that was interesting was that she realized that it was foolish of her to be that way. That this was her job. She was in business. And I reminded her of the fact that this was a business deal and she was going to get paid for it. And then we became friends afterwards. That was my contact with the (cleaning) ladies -- they always (said), "Ohayo gozaimasu, Sensei." And in the morning, when I would be going down the hill to the school they would be coming up and they always said, "Ohayo gozaimasu, Sensei," which was a wonderful experience every morning, to be greeted that way. And I would, I would bow my head and greet them. And, so we had that kind of a contact, too.

AI: It must have been very, it must have been quite a wonderful thing for them that they had this relationship with you and that you were able to help them out in some ways. And then that you also, when you went into Twin Falls, you made a difference --

RC: (Yes).

AI: -- with the salesperson.

RC: But, you see, she was, she was one of a few that were out of line. Because it didn't take long for the Idahoans to realize that the people of that project were, were saviors in some way. Their, their crops were very valuable and they were being saved, every spring, every fall. And they realized it. The only thing that (...) made them unhappy, in my recollection, was the fact that the boys and girls that graduated from Minidoka, Hunt High School, (...) were accepted by the Northwest organization so that they could (...) go to a university.

AI: In other words, Hunt High School was accredited.

RC: It was accredited.

AI: And this was in contrast to the Idaho schools.

RC: Yes, yes.

AI: The public schools.

RC: And they, they got involved. They realized that they had to do something for their own kids.

AI: So, in some ways it stimulated --

RC: Oh (yes).

AI: -- the Idaho -- the department of education to upgrade?

RC: And I go back to the word "change." That place changed Idaho in many ways.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.