Memphis Fast Fiction Home

I later found out that there were only five Japanese in Memphis when America entered the war.

As a girl, I thought my family were the only ones, unique in our little world.

At our family bakery, my parents employed a black woman named Martha.

I often wondered if I was experiencing a silver of how she lived in the days after Pearl Harbor, as everyone’s eyes turned to watch me and whispers were always at my back.

I never got the chance to ask about the conundrum, though. She quit the morning the two uniformed policemen were posted to guard our store.

A few weeks later those men were replaced by Federal agents, then one day those agents arrived with guns and a car and told us to pack our things and go with them.

My father didn’t speak English, so my mother was the one that asked them about the bakery. Who would look after it, how would we pay our bills?

They didn’t say anything as they put us in the car.

It was nearly three years before we saw our bakery again.

But, by then, the bakery wasn’t ours any more.

My mother never baked again.

Memphis Note
When Pearl Harbor happened, there were only five people of Japanese descent in Memphis. A family of three, and two men. The family ran a bakery on Madison that was closed when they were all forced to move into internment camps. I don’t know if it ever reopened.

Katrina Coleman

They slept together on a mattress in the corner of the room. It was just the three of them now. Her boy, her daughter and her. Their father been strung up by a lynch mob during the riots last spring.

She’d taken a job cleaning at a German’s confectionary after that. He’d been good enough to rent them a room in the tenement above the bakery. Things were still hard, but seemed to be going right.

Asleep in her arms, her little girl coughed.

“Close the window, Mama. Someone burned something,” her girl whined.

“Window’s closed, stupid.” Answered her boy.

“Hush, the both a’ ya.” She said, barely waking. “Go back to sleep.”

Another sleepy cough, and she said quick prayer that her girl wasn’t getting sick. They couldn’t afford medicine.

Her boy coughed next.

Then the smell reached her. Sickly sweet, acrid and choking. Like bags of sugar melting down over a coal fire.

For a moment she wondered what anyone could be baking at this hour.

But there was something in the air, in that smell, that was making her so very sleepy.

She pressed her face into her daughter’s hair then fell asleep, for the last time.

Memphis Note
The deadliest fire in Memphis history is the Specht Fire that happened in December of 1866. Fourteen people died when a confectionary business with apartments above it caught fire in the early hours of the morning. Among the victims was a mother and her two children. They suffocated in their sleep.