Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jamie Ford, Oscar Holden and The Alley Cat Strut

Henry and Keiko's record

It's in the mail

Back on January 24th of this year, my brother-in-law Chuck Pefley put up a post about the Panama Hotel. Chuck generally posts a neat photograph that he's taken in and around Seattle on almost a daily basis. I follow him not only because he's my brother-in-law, but because he's an excellent photographer and a source for models for a number of my pieces of art.  I don't know whether he discovered the book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet first and the hotel later or the other way around. It really doesn't matter to me whether the chicken or the egg came first. There's a fascinating story to be told about the Panama, and Chuck discovered it long before I did. Because the photograph he'd posted involved a gold leaf sign, I was hooked.

My wife and daughter and I were going to go to Seattle in a few days, but I managed to follow the link Chuck had given to the Author Jamie Ford's blog, quickly skimmed it and discovered a small but very meaningful connection which I planned on exploring - after returning home from Seattle. We arrived in Seattle to an empty house - Chuck was at work, and my sister was in Tacoma with my brother Dan, doing what she does best. After unloading the car, I was ready to sit down and take a nap (at my age, it's almost a necessity). I can nap anywhere and in my short trek to the couch, I spotted Jamie's book on my sister's desk, picked it up, and quickly fell in love. No nap. Book. GOOD book. Over the next two days I read it. I'm a history nut. This had some really good meat in a very soft shell.

Chuck took us to the Tea Room of the Panama Hotel for an evening cup of Rooibos tea, and I was able to experience first hand the basement of the Panama. More meat. The story sucked me right in. After returning to Chuck and Penny's that evening, I read the Author's notes at the back of the book. They're there for a reason. Jamie lives in Montana.

As a young man, my father had spent time at Fort Lincoln, south of Bismarck, North Dakota. My grandfather was an Immigration officer charged with guarding German, Italian and Japanese 'prisoners' at Fort Lincoln during WWII. My father also met my mother while attending Catholic High School in Bismarck, so I knew some of the story of the internments.

A key element in the love story which Jamie has written is a 78 recording of a Seattle Jazz legend by the name of Oscar Holden. I will not reveal the significance of the recording. Suffice it to say it is a key element in Henry's life, and in the belongings of thirty-seven Japanese families in the basement of the Panama Hotel.

I created the record label for a recording that does not exist, but because Jamie had brought some of my childhood family memories back to me, I gave him something tangible last Saturday that existed only in his creative 'storyland'. What I received from Jamie was a signed First Edition of his wonderful novel of love lost - and found - in the grooves of a 78 record. Thank You Jamie. You did my spirit good. There's more songs yet to be sung.


  1. Beautiful post! Interesting and creatively inspiring between the grooves. ;-)

  2. Dave - What an extra special gift you gave to Jamie Ford. I'll bet he was touched beyond words. It's also good to hear that he bought one of your wonderful pieces of Jar-art.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and the links to the book. The Amazon page for the book has a couple of videos with the author talking about his book. And you can "look inside the book" and read a few pages -- easy to see how you got sucked in so quickly to the story. ( http://www.amazon.com/Hotel-Corner-Bitter-Sweet-Novel/dp/0345505336 )

    Jamie Ford'a website and blog are interesting too. ( http://www.jamieford.com/ )

    Good stuff!

  3. Dave - this is all so interesting. Great post. I too loved the book but didn't get to meet the author when he came over to Seattle. The Ballard library was absolutely packed out the day he did his reading.
    Incidentally, I did not know there were German and Italian "prisoners" as well as the Japanese.

    1. We had Italian POW out at Fort Lawton. In fact, one was killed and is buried in the Military cemetery. Several African-American soldiers were charged, wrongly with their deaths, Only recently have they been exonerated.

  4. What an amazing story, Dave. I love it when a book just sucks you right in like that. But to be able to relive the story again in a setting such as the hotel you mention is a blessing indeed. And what a wonderful tribute to the author. I love the way the story and the people have come full circle. :-)

  5. You were fortunate all the way around, Dave. I never heard of the book before today and reading about it. Now I will have to get it and read it too. Amazing are the results of the beginnings.

  6. A great book and a great gift. When I was in high school if they'd taught History using books such as this instead of the classroom books they used, I would have enjoyed History Class 100% more! A great way to learn about history through stories. I have wonderful friends that live in Washington that I visit every year.....my plan this time is to visit every place mentioned in the fabulous book.
    Colleen Anderson

  7. Dave,

    What a story! This is always facinating how often past and present intersect.
    Have to read the book.

    Thank you.

  8. I bought the book in the airport to read while waiting and flying.Little did I know. I enjoyed it and remember those times though I was a little girl at the time in Minnesota.My father was in the newspaper world and he talked about the war and it's impact on the JapaneseAmericans.. FDR was great man but this was wrong!


  9. Currently reading the book and i can't stop it's so nice!good thing i stumble on your blog,just love it!

  10. We've been driving around Texas and listening to an audio version of the book. We have 1 disk still to hear out of 9. Fabulous story. Educational as well.

  11. I received this book as a Father's Day gift from my daughter. What a wonderful read. I love your record design. Hope some Jazz musician will create the music soon.

  12. I wanted to ask if this vinyl by Oscar Holden really exists?