For decades, Beverly Pond searched for her friend Marianne Rikimaru, the Japanese American girl she had walked with to Fruitridge Elementary School most every day in the years before World War II.
Beverly wanted to return a set of ancient Japanese dolls belonging to Marianne’s family, who left suddenly in April 1942.
For 70 years, Beverly had no idea what became of her friend after the Rikimarus were sent to a remote detention camp for Americans of Japanese ancestry along with thousands of other Sacramentans.
The family never returned to Sacramento, but the heirloom dolls they left behind haunted Beverly, who eventually married and became Beverly Thornton. As she got older, her sense of urgency to find their rightful owner grew.
The story of the dolls begins just before the Rikimarus left for the Elk Grove train station headed for the Tule Lake detention camp in the high desert near Oregon.
Marianne’s mother brought over the Japanese dolls and left them with Beverly’s mom for safekeeping. They were intricate dioramas – one of an ox-drawn cart, another of a traditional Japanese farmer and his wife, and the third of an aristocratic couple.
“She was crying, and said, ‘I’m so ashamed of my people,’ ” because of Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Beverly said.
The Rikimarus left the dolls with the Pond family because they were allowed just one suitcase on the train.
“It was a very sad day,” Beverly said. “I didn’t think it was right, I knew they hadn’t done anything.”
In the prewar years on 44th Street in Sacramento’s Fruitridge area, the girls were surrounded by Japanese strawberry growers, and were free to pick all the luscious fruit they could as long as they didn’t step on the plants.
Every day, they’d walk to Fruitridge Elementary in south Sacramento. “We talked about boys on the way to school,” Beverly recalled wistfully. “One day Marianne said something about marrying one of the boys in our class, and I thought she couldn’t marry him because he was white, and that made her cry; it hurt her feelings really bad.”
Beverly said that helped her understand the pain of prejudice. She realized that she and Marianne were just two schoolgirls with similar crushes and feelings.