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“Elgin, Elgin, come have a wee taste,” dairy farmer McMullen would say to my dad in his Scottish brogue, and the two men would sip wine together on the porch and share stories. I’ve never found out why he called dad Elgin, when his name was Eldon.

World War II was raging and the demand for milk was high. I was about 5 or 6 growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. Those were happy days for me, not fully understanding the horrors of war.

Dad worked at the dairy and we lived in a small house on the property. I loved tagging along with my father as he did what dairy farmers do — herd cows into their milking stanchions, milk them, put them out to pasture, endlessly clean up the milking sheds — while I enjoyed the carefree days of just being a kid.

The farm also had walnut trees, and I remember the chatter of the Mexican men and women doing the harvesting.

In the house, mom was attending to her chores while listening to the Hit Parade on the radio.

Our neighbors were immigrant Japanese farmers who meticulously tended their crops of fruit and vegetables.

One day, I saw a pretty little girl around my age leave the group of workers toiling over the plants next door and walk toward me. With a smile, she started talking to me in Japanese. Of course I didn’t understand a word of it, but kids have a way to communicate and we quickly became friends. I wish I could remember her name.

We played together for about a month. Then one day, a Japanese woman came and took her away. As she left, the girl turned around and with a smile gave me a little wave goodbye.

That night at dinner, I told my folks about my new friend.

After dinner, mom began cleaning up and taking care of my baby brother Wesley. Dad flipped on the radio to hear Lowell Thomas report the war news, and then listened to Glen Miller’s band playing “String of Pearls” — and the Andrew Sisters singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

Funny, I can still remember that.

I wanted to play with our neighbor girl. Days passed, and I wondered why she didn’t come back to see me and why my parents wouldn’t allow me to go over and see her.

Looking at her house, I couldn’t see her — or anyone else — and no one was tending the crops.

The next day, there was still nobody in sight next door.

“Where’s everybody,” I asked mom.

I’ll always remember the sad look on her face as she explained to me in measured words that the government had taken everyone of Japanese descent to live somewhere else until the war was over.

She mentioned a name — “Manzanar.”

I never saw that little girl again.

• • •

Robert LaRue is a resident of Hauser.

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