Monday, May 28, 2007


My mom turned 76 today. What an amazing life she's led.

The last of seven children (actually there was an eighth but he died shortly after birth) she was the baby of the family. Once I asked her how she got her name and she told me, "By the time I came around, my grandparents were old and couldn't care less so my mother finally got to name one of her children. I guess it was Grandma's favorite name."

Her father was a wholesaler of hanao, the thong part of zori, sandal-like footwear for both men and women. As a child, I thought, wow, a wholesaler of such a small part of footwear! It's like being the Shoelace Emporium. But, of course, when your footwear is as simple as zori, the hanao becomes a Big Deal. They were a multi-generational Tokyoite family of well-to-do merchants and had servants and housekeepers and indentured serfs. Well, maybe not serfs, but they did have poor farm kids who came out to the city to work in shops as errand boys or nannies. I imagine my mother had a Very Pampered Life.

Their house and shop were destroyed by the air raids over Tokyo during The War and they moved to the Shonan beach area, south of Yokohama. Still, as the youngest of the family, my mother probably did not suffer too much. Even after she got married to my father, her mother (my grandmother) would occasionally go to the newlywed's home to cook and clean for them -- especially when she had to entertain her in-laws!

I guess the turning point came a few weeks after I was born, when my father was sent to LA and she suddenly had to become a single mom. Since then, she's had to take an infant to California by ship, deal with a Very Foreign Country, learn to drive (as well as learn to shop, use American household appliances, be charming to my father's clients even with limited English……) give birth to a Giant Baby in the Foreign Country, put up with a Terribly Unruly Daughter, go through an agonizing six months with a dying husband who left her with two children, one of them still in grade school, a $300,000 mortgage on a newly purchased house (and that was a LOT of money back then,) no insurance policies and no money in the bank. But that wasn't all! She went to work for the first time in her life outside the home at 45, became a good enough accountant to be promoted several times and paid off the mortgage. But that wasn't all! She was fiercely independent and together we retiled the bathroom, fixed leaky roofs and faulty plumbing. But that wasn't all! Now she's stuck being live-in nanny to my brother's son. My brother who refuses to move out of her house.

Moreover, she's a fabulous cook, seamstress, knitting pro. She can be charming, coquettish, flirty. She can walk miles without getting tired and swims every week. I can't say she was a great mother . I don't think she really wanted to be a mother -- she hates that kind of stress and responsibility -- but she did a pretty good job raising us. And ever since I became an adult, our relationship has gotten better and better.

She's not an instigator. She doesn't set the direction for her life, or pursue lofty goals, but she'll rise to any challenge life throws at her and then some.

Best of all, though, I have some of her DNA. I can only hope she's got her mother's genes that kept my grandmother healthy into her late 90's. Happy birthday, Mama!


Blogger Eric Valentine said...

What a beautiful and well written post. I found it interesting and an easy read, well done. I will read more. Thank you. :)

8:44 AM  

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