Peach Farmer’s Daughter
“There’s dirty dirt and then there’s clean dirt. Dirty dirt is city dirt when you don’t know if someone’s spit on it and clean dirt is farm dirt out in the orchard.”
This is one of the many things Sacramento resident Brenda Nakamoto, author of the Peach Farmer’s Daughter, remembers her mom saying growing up on a peach farm as a Sansei, a third generation Japanese-American. I met her this past spring in a class we took and immediately knew by listening to a reading that I’d be purchasing a copy of her book.
The story begins when Nakamoto is ten — living in Gridley, a rural northern California town where her parents owned the orchard. Her first memory is of the Mexican workers hired each season for harvest. You can feel her connection with them; practically hear their melodious voices dancing in the orchard, with an occasional solo belted out. Some became friends from afar, making a lasting imprint. And on occasion, when one or two would not come back after working at the orchard for several seasons, Nakamoto reveals her pain, yearning and wonderment. This chapter appropriately titled “Songs of Harvest” is one of 35 that make up the book.
Her prose is both delightful and funny, her stories gorgeously told by the four seasons in which they are split. She speaks in short essays, shifting from descriptive childhood recollections to the reality of later years. Talking with herself, she longs for a boyfriend and frolics in her own personal river as a child then shifts to instances of helping her elderly dad when older.
Nakamoto shares interesting tid-bits about Japanese culture, words and food including a family recipe of Maki Zushi, engaging you in every tale. She also shares family information from the past, although limited due to her parents, aunts and uncles not telling her much- they couldn’t remember, or chose not to according to Nakamoto.
We do learn her father was drafted into the military in 1941, becoming a camp cook during the war. Although he was offered a promotion he turned it down, opting to return to his parent’s peach farm awaiting him. Her mom was sent to an internment camp. They met after the war in Gridley.
There’s a bit of playfulness throughout the book: Nakamoto references mommy and daddy, her grandma Baachan and auntie Chi with funny descriptions of habits and actions. There are sounds of the orchard and its occupants. Chireep! Cheery-chika, chika from squirrels who bark and banter when she trespasses into their realm. Or simply the sound of peaches that fall and splat: Thug-splot… Her years on the farm were formative with recollections like these that will make you smile.
Nakamoto’s humoristic style and historical references are easy to devour. Her debut book, Peach Farmer’s Daughter is a delightful memoir worthy of snatching up this summer.
The book is from Sacramento’s small literary publisher, Roan Press and can be purchased on the Roan Press website via Amazon.com. You can also find it at The Avid Reader, 617 Second Street in Davis.
Nakamoto will give readings of her book as follows:
- Tuesday, July 12 from 12:00 noon to1:00 p.m. at the UC Davis Bookstore in Davis.
- Saturday, July 16 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op in Sacramento.
- Thursday, August 4 at 7:00 p.m. at the Gridley Branch Library in Gridley.
If you miss these, Brenda Nakamoto will be in conversation with Journalist Elaine Corn at FoodTalk@Cafe Bernardo this September.