Friday, December 24, 2010

Japanese Tales From Long Ago.

It was supposed to be a quick errand. Drop my brother off at a friend's home. My mom came along. It turned out to be an enlightening conversation with my mom about her family.

Since my mom was the only one in her family to immigrate from Japan to the United States, most of what we know about her family is through her stories. I don't have any memories of my grandparents, the last time we visited her family in Japan was in 1989, and though some of her family has been able to visit, for weeks or months at a time, we've felt the language barrier.

While my mom is extremely talkative, sometimes she's a bit hard to understand. (Combine English language learner with an eager storytelling.) But last night, after we dropped my brother off at his friend's house, my mom began opening up. I knew I needed to do all that I could to take in her story on that drive, as if she was passing a treasure on to me.

It all began when I casually asked her if she was the youngest, middle or oldest child.

My mom with her friends in Japan
I knew she had an older sister. I knew she wasn't as close to her brother as she was with her sister. I knew her brother, some time ago, had lost his best friend. I knew he was so distraught that after the funeral he went to a bar. In Japan, everyone rides bicycles, so on his ride home that evening, I knew he'd had an accident. Rather than pressing the brakes, his foot went into the spoke and he crashed, fracturing his spine and leaving him paralyzed. I knew that since then, he's regained some movement and has an amazing family that takes care of him.

What I didn't know was how old he was. The oldest or the youngest. So I asked.
My mom after she immigrated.

Remind me again if you are the youngest or the oldest, mom?

She's the youngest, which explains why she was the one to leave her home country, travel the world, and is as social as all get-out.

That's when she started to tell me about the oldest, Hideko. I had never heard of Hideko before.

Hideko was my mom's oldest sister. Though she died at the young age of 24, she had been married and had one son. My mom was only 9 at the time, but heard the stories through her other sister and mom, that they were as vivid as real memories. Everyone was devastated. She died from common post-pregnancy complication. This was in rural Japan in the 1950's and I imagine had it been just 10 years later, she might have survived.

What happened to her husband? And to her son?

Almost one year after Hideko's death, her son, a toddler at the time, experienced a tragic accident after falling into a pond on a winter day. He did not survive. Her husband, understandably, was distraught. He fled to the south island of Japan, Kushiro. He disappeared. Years later, he fell in love again with a woman from the island, a Kushiro girl. He went on to become a father again, of two children. 

The next story my mom gave freely, without any prompting. It's the story of how Hideko met her husband. It began with my mom's grandmother, Moto, in the early 1900's.

There was a young girl, in my familiy's village, whose parents were trying to force their daughter into child slavery. They were trying to sell her. My great grandmother, long after she'd raised her kids, found the child and rescued her from her fate. She took her in and cared for her as her own. That girl went on to live a full life, getting married and having a son. 

That son, many years later, went on to fall in love with and marry Hideko. 

My mom and I in Japan.
We arrived to our house and I pressed the button to open the garage, and with that I knew our story time was coming to a close. And what a time it was.

Since I've been home for Christmas, I've been organizing my mom's old photos. Today, as I continue sorting them, absorbing my mother's tales, I am reminded of the long Japanese history I am a part of. A history that includes a blend of providence and tragedy. That connects me to a world long ago and a beautiful Japanese family.


Teri said...

I think the thing that most comes to mind from this post is an appreciation for family history. And I think they are all that blend of providence and tragedy - some more stark than others, maybe.

I really love that photo of you with your mom... don't recall ever seeing little Layla photos before. Looking at a photo taken of you in Japan, what comes to mind is: "Nope. Your middle name is NOT Teresa!"

Glad you had that listening time with your mom. Thanks for sharing some of it with us.

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