Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Shig Yabu Interview
Narrator: Shig Yabu
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Location: Camarillo, California
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-yshig-02-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

RD: Okay, Maggie.

SY: Maggie. Well, we went, we had a fellow by the name of Ken Suo, and he was probably... well, he was the best slingshot shooter in Heart Mountain. And he was able to get rubber tubes from the place where they fixed trucks and so forth, and he showed us how to make slingshots. It was a real unique way, made out of pinewood and real small, and we would shoot it from way back behind our head, and we became known as the slingshot block. But we also, he had twelve pigeons, and I don't know whatever happened to 'em when he left. I had a horned toad, I had a lizard, I had a sparrow, I had... the animal that could live in water and...

RD: Salamander?

SY: Salamander. And I had a ridiculous worm with no head, no eyes. But I left it in the Coke bottle and I tied a knot on it, it could untangle itself, and I still can't figure out, nobody, even the biology teachers can't figure out what that was. But we called it a horsehair, because somebody said, well, some horse left a hair and that turned into this worm, which I know is not true. But one day Ken asked a group of us to go hunting, and you know, Wyoming is known for a lot of hunting.

So we went down to the Shoshone River and we could hear magpies way out, and because of the hills, echoing and so forth. We could see hundreds of magpie nests, and one boy said, "I bet you you cannot hit that nest." Why we selected that one, so we all started shooting. And many of us had marbles as well as ammunition, because we played for keeps, we had extra marbles, and perfect bullets. And eventually we could see the magpie nest kind of moving, and all of a sudden we could see it halfway, and next thing it hit the ground, it's pretty high up. It rolled down on the ground and stopped. Well, we were curious as to know what in the world does a magpie nest look like inside? So we looked at it, and this little baby magpie bird begging for food with its mouth wide open. We looked for food, bugs or anything, from the Shoshone River we tried to give him some water. And one of the little older boys said, "You know, that bird's going to die." I said, "Why?" He said, "The mother bird will reject that bird because it's on the ground, they can't bring it up to a nest." So at that moment I said that bird is gonna live with me and I'm gonna take it home. So the symbolism of this bird was that bird became an internee. It was free living out in the open, Shoshone River, out in the forest, and here we walked back to camp and here the barbed wire fence, each one of us opened it up for each other, and I held the bird, and I crawled back into Heart Mountain. That bird became an internee just like we were, forced into camp.

So here's this little baby bird, I'm carrying it, my mother greets us with her arms folded, with a big smile, and she sees this, what she calls a "dirty black bird," white and black bird. "Kitanai," that means "dirty." Pre-med student, she sees bacteria, viruses and all the communicable disease, "Take it back where you found it." Well, I knew that the bird's gonna die if I take it back. So I pleaded with her. Well, she didn't want anything to do with it. But fortunately my stepfather was very much a nature boy, knew exactly what to feed the bird, made a beautiful cage. And every day I always thought Maggie and my mother hated each other because they would scream at each other, yell at each other, and laugh at each other, but never touched it.

Whereas I wanted this bird to be trained. The first time I stuck my hand in there, pecks on it, it'll bleed. Eventually it would crawl up my shoulder, oh, was I proud, I trained this little scavenger bird. My mother was so conscious about cleanliness, magpie birds are scavenger bird, eats dead meat. So when we get food from the mess hall, all the dishwashers saved all the best meat for Maggie. On the bottom of the cage was dirt, Maggie will bury the meat, because that's nature, that's their instinct. My mother will go and scoop all the meat, because she didn't want that bird to have dirt on the meat. And our concern was, is she gonna survive the harsh winter? Well, the closer it got to winter, the feathers started getting bigger, and every night I would peek in the cage it would curl its head, and with just one leg, it would sleep. But it was first to get up every morning. People going to the bathroom, they're going to the mess hall, that bird will run back and forth and jump up and down, and it had two layers of wood, it would jump up and up. And when they can't see that person no longer, she would come back, the next person, she would get excited, and on and on, so she loved people. And a lot of them would say, "Oh, be quiet, shut up," because it was really noisy.

But I would say, whether I'm coming home or going out, I would always say, "Hello, Maggie." Coming home from school or whatever, playing with the kids, I would say, "Hello, Maggie." And one day that bird said, "Hello, Maggie." I said, "Oh, no, no. Is there somebody around? Somebody playing tricks on me?" So I went to the bird, we were face to face with each other, and I said, "Hello, Maggie," and the bird said, "Hello, Maggie." So I went and told my friends. "You're a big liar." "Well, come and see for yourself." Well, the bird said, "Hello, Maggie." Well, next thing you know, the word got out. The whole camp knew that there was one bird that could talk. So people would come visit, whether it was young, old, regardless of the age, it was fascinating. Well, what else is there to do? Next thing you know the bird started using other words like, "Come on, Maggie." "What you doing?" Or, "Baka," which means "stupid" in Japanese. Ohayo means "good morning," so it would say, "Ohayo." It whistled. The catcall was amazing. And what my mother used to observe was a pretty girl would be walking by and it would make a beautiful catcall, wolf call, rather, and the girl would turn around, look around to see what guy is calling. Well, it's the bird. Can't see the bird in the cage. But it could whistle any tune that you give him, and it will mimic you. And we put a bowl of water in there, it just loved to take a bath. When the Troop 333 would meet in front of my house, barrack, the bird felt it was part of the troop.

And then what was interesting about it was my stepfather said, "You know, if we clip the wings, I mean, the feathers, it's can't fly away." And we were afraid if it fly away, it couldn't survive, it was too domesticated, it wouldn't know to hunt, the instinct is gone. And so... and plus that, it'd be too friendly with other animals. It would go to the other animal and it would eat him. So we cut the wings, and it would go between our barracks. And it would socialize, it'd go from one stairway to the next. But in the middle, across from where we live, there was too elderly ladies that used to sit and talk in Japanese, and laugh and talk and laugh, and next thing you know, Maggie's in the middle of the two ladies, and you'd swear there was three old ladies laughing and talking. It was so comical, everybody used to laugh at them, including the bird. On the end there was a gentleman that had a little dog, and Maggie was not afraid of the dog. That dog was afraid of the bird because it would chase the dog. And once in a while, Maggie would move to the next barrack and get confused, because, gee, you know, they all look alike, I mean, the barracks. So all of a sudden you see a man say, "Come on, Maggie," and it would follow the man all the way back to our premises between our two barracks.

So that magpie was really a charming bird, everybody knew about her, and it was my best friend. But I think probably... not probably, it was, August the 14th, 1945. It was a windy day and we were playing basketball outside of Block 7, and where we shoot, if the basket is over here, we would shoot way over here with the hopes that the wind would carry the ball towards the backboard. Knowing that it's impossible to make it because it's so windy. And we heard the siren go off for the first time at Heart Mountain. Not just once, but maybe for half an hour. And as I told you before, we watched the newsreel and we knew that the war is coming to an end. And so we said the war ended, assuming that's what the siren was about. We laid on the ground, tears in our eyes, laughing, now we get to go home. And it was so windy, there was a little whirlwind, looked like a little miniature tornado, and we could look up. And of course my hair was full of dirt or sand, and we didn't care, we were that happy.

So now the WRA suggested and recommended, "We're gonna close. We'll give you twenty-five dollars per person, you could take a free train trip to any destination in the United States and go as soon as possible." Well, every week, not the train station, we would go to the railroad, because there was no station, there was just a railroad. We would go there and we would see hundreds and hundreds of people departing. And we would say, "Bye, good luck," and whatnot, and they would be laughing and smiling. And then when we turned around, going back to our barracks, it was the loneliest feeling. The camp started to become like a ghost town, and the mess halls started to close, consolidating. Where at one time there were sixty mess halls, now it's twenty, now less than that. Now we had all the privacy we wanted in the shower room or the bathroom, but it was very lonely. So Maggie and I had quality time, and we would talk. "You know, when we get to San Francisco, we don't know whether we could actually have, the city ordinance might not allow you to be in the city. Maybe we might donate you to the Fleishhacker Zoo. That way I could come and visit you every weekend. And not only that, you have entertained all these internees at Heart Mountain, now you could entertain all the people from all over the world that comes to visit. Because how many birds could whistle and talk and make a fool out of themselves and making a fool out of the other people?"

So now, October, first time I saw Maggie on the bottom of the cage, eyes flickering. And I carried the bird on my chest, and I could hear my mother behind me crying. But I was determined, that bird is gonna get well. And I put the bird in a little shoebox, placed it under my bed, and got up early the next morning and she was hard as a rock. So I buried the bird, put a cross up. And even now people ask, "Do you know exactly where you buried that bird?" Well, I went back there looking for the area, can't even find the barrack I was in, so there's no way I could tell where I buried the bird. But November 15th, the camp closed. Well, we were not on the last train, we were, we left the week before the closing day. My stepfather left the month earlier, looking for a job and a place to live. So my mother and I boarded the train, and we talked about Maggie all the way home to San Mateo. Still, I didn't realize how closely she was connected to Maggie. I was, I knew that. Then my half-brother, fifteen years younger, lived in San Francisco, visited my mother. Two weeks before she died, she heard my mother in her sleep saying, "Shigeru, Shigeru," that's my name. And then she yelled for Maggie twice. Then I realized she was like a mother to Maggie. I didn't realize how closely she associated with that bird, like I am.

And when I wrote the book Hello Maggie!, I learned more about my mother, the sacrifices she had. For example, she never bought any warm clothing while she was at Heart Mountain. All the things that she had was the things that she brought. She bought clothing for me, but not for herself, because she remembered the Depression days. She remembers being a single parent, she remembers putting me in babysitting service. And so this is her way of sacrificing. And so as I was writing Hello Maggie! book, I learned the close associations she had with Maggie and with me, and the sacrifice she did for all of us. And so that book really brought home how close we were, especially when the camp, when the WRA said, "It's time for you guys to leave," and we couldn't leave. And fortunately Maggie was my best friend. And animals are my best friend. As you could see how close Uma is. You could see how close my other dog Brutus was.

RD: You told me a story, I remember, about a friend of yours saying why Maggie died. I want you to tell me that story exactly. Remember, you said that he knew that Maggie knew.

SY: Well, according to a fellow by the name of Peter Duchow, who is a writer with Hallmark, he mentioned this to me. He says, "You know, Maggie did not want to leave Heart Mountain, did not want to leave Wyoming." And Maggie felt that she kept all the internees' spirits up by entertaining to us by her speaking ability, being close, and being associated with all of us. And although two years ago I was at a Heart Mountain reunion in Las Vegas, a gentleman came up to me and says, "You know, I've never met you before, but I lived in upper Block 14. But," he says, "you have a real bad bird." I says, "Well, you're the first person I have ever known that mentioned that she was bad. Can you clarify that for me, because I'm real curious." He says, "Your bird cussed at me." I said, "Really? Well," I said, "I did not teach the bird to cuss, my mother did not teach her to cuss, but I think the older teenagers taught her, because the bird will mimic whatever you teach her." And so we parted friends, and he understood.

And so Maggie still, I still have great feelings about that bird. And Barbara Bazaldua, who wrote this book called A Boy of Heart Mountain, saw the original book of Hello Maggie! and she said she wanted to do something with the story of the internment camp and myself and the bird. And I just got it yesterday, and I saw there's two chapters about Maggie. And I did not want to write an autobiography, and I'm glad, and I really commend Barbara for doing this service for Maggie and Heart Mountain and so forth.

RD: Maggie was kind of an ambassador, wasn't she?

SY: Oh, definitely, definitely. And even when Estelle Ishigo, the Caucasian lady and my mother would be out there talking, it was really interesting because it seemed like the bird understood that she was an ambassador, a friend. And the one thing that I always remember, my uncle, Sam Horishige, from Seattle, Washington, was in the 442nd, the famous U.S. Army regiment. And we had a little star that was on our barrack window, and below that was Maggie's cage. And years later, when my mother passed away, I joined the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation board and I donated that emblem to the foundation. And I told them, I said, "I understand the stem is broken, it's discolored and it's old, and if you get rid of it I can understand it." But when my mother used to get a letter from her brother and would read that story or letter in front of Maggie, it appeared to me that that bird was, seemed like she understood. Maybe it was the tone of voice or whatever it was, because the bird would listen with her head cocked back and forth, and won't say a word, didn't clown around like she normally would. So I would say that bird had more meaning to all of us than we realize.

RD: It's too bad that the bird couldn't have gotten her freedom.

SY: Yeah. And so I associate people, like people with animals. And I always ask people, if they're from Wyoming, "Have you ever seen a magpie? Do you know about magpies?"

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.