Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Tribute to a Special Lady

Tomorrow is my Mom's beiju, her 88th birthday, a special one for the Japanese. The beautiful thing about being in Hawaii is that despite being generations removed from the first immigrants from different countries, we still celebrate certain cultural events, and the 88th birthday has special significance.

My Mom is a private person so we won't be having a big celebration - just the kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids who live here in Hawaii. It'll be a nice time to gather to celebrate with this very special woman.

Grandma died during childbirth when Mom was just about a year old, so Great-Grandma Waka helped to raise her and her two older brothers until her dad remarried when my Mom was in the fourth grade. Great-Grandma Waka died just before I was born and my middle name is Wakae to honor her. My Mom sometimes reminisces about the things she did when she was younger, and I think I get my "tomboy" personality from her. She graduated from Mid Pacific Institute and Honolulu Business College and was working at Dole Plantation as a secretary until she met my Dad and got married. After that, while we were growing up, her main "job" was wife and mother.

Back when I was young, I didn't realize how much my mother shaped our lives. It couldn't have been easy; there are five of us siblings, and at one time, there were four children ages five and younger.Yikes! I look back and wonder how they managed on my Dad's paycheck, but they were resourceful. Dad had a garden where he grew a variety of vegetables that were served at dinner.The least popular was okra; Mom tried to cook it in different ways so we would eat it, but after that one harvest, Dad never grew okra again. There was a time when they bought chicks, and when they matured, we were in charge of collecting fresh eggs every morning. We lived in a plantation community so at that time, it was not a problem to raise a whole batch of noisy chickens.

Mom did all the right things to nurture our love of learning. We recited nursery rhymes, listened to stories and poems, sang songs, and made up games. We went on free field trips. We regularly went to the beach where my Dad went pole casting or diving. I didn't realize back then how lucky we were to have fresh fish for dinner, and during lobster season, we even had fresh lobster. When we got older, we helped Mom make musubis, veggie sticks, hash patties, fried chicken, and teriyaki for a picnic dinner. Those foods tasted extra delicious after a swim! We took trips to the mountains to pick guava or lilikoi that Mom often made into jam or jelly, and fern shoots or "monkey ear" which were then cooked with meat and other vegetables for dinner. We also took yearly trips around the island where we'd stop at certain beaches or natural attractions. Along the way, we'd sing songs or play games like spotting out-of-state license plates or a particular car color, or counting different service stations (Shell, Chevron, etc.). We were all competitive and hated to lose; that's how we all are to this day.

When I began school, I was the youngest in my class because I was born in December. I loved school, and at that young age, I decided that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. But I was young, and my fine motor coordination was not up-to-par with the rest of my classmates. When we began handwriting in first grade (those were the days when kindergarten was more about social and emotional development than academics), the teacher said I needed practice. Every afternoon, when others were out playing, I had extra homework; I had to practice writing letters until I got them right. It was painful, and more-than-once, I cried at the injustice of it all. I really tried, but it was a challenge, and when I had to erase a letter, the newsprint often tore. I never asked my Mom how she felt about "forcing" me to do handwriting homework, but I'm sure she was glad when I finally "got it" and didn't need that extra practice.

When we were young, Mom sewed all of our clothes. We'd look in magazines or catalogs and pick out a style we liked, and she'd measure us, go to the store to buy material, draft the pattern, and sew it. At that time, I didn't realize how special we were to have one-of-a-kind dresses. The only store- bought dresses we owned were those we received at Christmas or birthdays from our grandparents or uncles and aunties. How I wish we had pictures of us wearing those dresses Mom sewed for us!

In their own way, our parents encouraged my siblings and me to do our best in school. Without putting pressure on us, we nevertheless got the message that we were expected to try hard in school and to go on to college. When my youngest brother was in school and we were old enough to take care of ourselves, Mom went back to work. After a number of temporary jobs, she began working for the Mililani Town Sales Office and quickly rose to the position of executive secretary. I'm sure our family could have used the extra money if Mom had gone back to work earlier, but we appreciate that during our growing-up years, she was there for us.

I went on to college and became a teacher and now, I'm a school principal. All of my siblings went on to successful careers in different fields. This is a tribute to the sacrifices Mom and Dad made when we were growing up as well as the experiences they exposed us to that shaped our lives and gave us the drive to make a difference for others.

Today, my Mom lives by herself since Dad passed away two years ago. My siblings and I take turns checking in on her, and she really enjoys those days when my sister brings her granddaughter over to Mom's to babysit. Mom is still recovering from a fall she took earlier this year, but being the proud person she is, she refuses to use a walker or cane. I know she'd love to go traveling again, so that remains a goal for her to get better more quickly.

I know that Mom is proud of her extended family, and tonight, we will celebrate her 88th birthday. The values she imparted in us, her five children, are now evident in her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Happy 88th Birthday, Mom! I love you!

This is the last family picture of our parents and us five siblings. 

No comments:

Post a Comment