Saturday, October 11, 2008

I didn't plan this!

Neratte imasen!

I didn't plan things this way, honest, but it just worked out this way. After (comparatively) meticulously describing a recent wedding, I now get to describe a funeral. My paternal grandmother died this past Tuesday, and the Pumpkin Clan (including the Pumpkin Princess) attended the funeral today. She was 91 years old and she'd suffered a huge stroke 3 years ago. She probably died of a combination of pneumonia and heart failure. No one is surprised. We miss her, but we've been missing her for 3 years. Knowing her, she's probably glad to be free of feeding tubes and i.v.'s, and happy to finally be with my grandfather (he died over a decade ago) again and to have gained the ability to watch over her 8 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren all at once. I'm sure she's somewhere where she can have all the fried pork cutlets and peanut candy she wants, with a full set of perfect teeth to enjoy them properly.

She had the standard issue hard life of people her generation. She was brilliant and loved school, but her family's finances (or rather lack thereof) decided that she would finish the required six years of education and then go to work. The job she happened to have was a waitress in the on-site restaurant of the library, which was where she met my grandfather.

Pretty and smart as she may be, she was definitely not the bride my grandfather's adoptive mother had in mind. Great-grandma was actually Grandfather's (much) older sister. She and Great-grandpa were childless, so they adopted her youngest brother to continue Great-grandpa's family line. Great-grandma was a skilled kimono seamstress, and she used that skill to pay for grandfather's university education. She also taught sewing to girls of families well off enough to afford her lessons. She'd probably planned on taking one of her students as his bride. No way would she let some girl who'd only finished 6th grade and was from a family of alcoholics marry her university educated son.

Now, this is where things get interesting. Grandpa and Grandma do get married. Grandma once mentioned that her wedding kimono was borrowed, which strikes me as a bit strange for a daughter-in-law of a master kimono seamstress. A distant aunt mentioned very late at night and under the influence that there definitely were less than 40 weeks between the wedding and the birth of their twin sons (my uncle and dad). It's not hard to imagine Great-grandma's reluctant acceptance of Grandma after receiving the news that she was pregnant with her son's offspring. And if her acceptance were reluctant, she might not have enthusiastically prepared a wedding kimono for her new daughter in law. But all that's lost to history and left to speculation.

The twins were 6 when April 15th, 1945 swung around. At the time, the family was based in Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony. The end of the war meant Taiwan was no longer a part of Japan, and Japanese had to cut their losses and leave as soon as possible or risk becoming targets of revenge. So the family cut their losses and left. They were lucky in that aspect. Grandpa had failed his draft physical (so he was still around, as opposed to having become the object of a US Marine's war story) and had a university education. He found work fairly quickly after their return to Japan. This is an exception, not the rule. When you're an exception, particularly when you're a positive exception, the general rules will come gather around you. Friends and relatives came to Grandpa and Grandma, people who, like them, had cut their losses and left Taiwan and mainland China but had not fared nearly as well, asking to stay with them a while until they got back on their feet. Grandpa almost always said yes, but the actual figuring out of what and how much to feed everyone who showed up at mealtimes, and how to pay for it, was left to Grandma. But she figured it out. And she put all three of her sons through college. And she cared for her in-laws until they died.

In Japanese Buddhist tradition, when you die, you get a new name. Grandma's new name translates into "seamless". When people came to her for help, she gave it, whether they were family nor not. There were no seams that differentiated "family" and "not family" in her compassion to help others in need.

It's getting late. I'll post about the funeral another day.


sheri said...

My sympathies on the loss of your Grandmother, (((((ayako))))). She sounds like a strong, amazing woman.

pumpkinmommy said...

That's sweet of you, Sheri, but at this point it is a relief more than anything for pretty much everyone involved. Now, everyone's biggest concern seems to be whether Grandmother left enough cash to cover the inheritance tax it will cost for my aunt to keep living in the house she's lived in for the past few decades.