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My Mother is Still Dead ...

But I’m grown up now. I’m now over 60 (had my birthday). Most people I know my age, and even younger, have lost their parents. That’s the natural order of things. So now, finally, I’m normal. But, when a parent passes away, fond memories and a connectedness are still there. This, with parents, I don’t have.

But, again, I’m lucky. I do have five years of fond memories and connectedness with my Obaachan who dearly loved me. I spent every day with her. I am still familiar with our apartment in Chofu. I can vividly see the kitchen with the long stone and metal counter, deep sink in the middle.

Me-Kitchen in Chofu

My toothpaste was a powder; I dipped my wet toothbrush into the powder and brushed my teeth while standing on a chair and leaning over the kitchen sink. A rectangular table was nearby where I ate my breakfast, kneeling on the chair because I was too small to sit. My favorite breakfast was a bowl of hot rice with a raw egg over the rice, and some shoyu (soy sauce). I’d mix it all up and often ask for seconds. I helped, or thought I did, perhaps making more work for my Obaachan.

My Obaachan dressed in kimono daily. I wore regular kid’s clothes. Sometimes I would get dressed up in kimono. Sometimes I would get dressed up in a fancy kimono on special occasions and we’d visit a shrine. And at the end of the day, we would walk to the public bathhouse where we would take ofuro.

When I lived with my Obaachan, I was free, talkative, outgoing and sometimes a bit loud. My aunts tell me today that sometimes I would embarrass my Obaachan because I didn’t seem to change my behavior from home to out in public - not exactly the perfect Japanese child, I suppose. But I always knew my Obaachan loved me and we laughed a lot.

After I was adopted, I became quiet and became the obedient child that was expected--demanded. Somehow, it was mostly that person who grew into adulthood.

Still today, I wish with all my heart that I could just once talk to my real mother – just one whole afternoon drinking tea and snacking on okashi (Japanese snacks). I fantasize about this.

I’d tell her: I’m your little baby, Ranko-chan. I’m all grown up and live in California. I’m happy. [I would definitely leave out a lot of what happened between being adopted and now.] I’d tell her about going to school with my new Obento Box. I think she’d like that story. I’d like her to think that that little girl is who I am. I’d tell her about living with Obaachan and dressing up in kimono. I’d tell her about my breakfasts of hot rice, raw eggs and shoyu. I’d tell her about helping Obaachan do laundry. I’d tell her about Obaachan taking me places to see Japan. I’d tell her that Obaachan and I used to watch Samurai movies and soap operas on the television all the time. I’d tell her that SHE is an Obaachan and that she would be proud of her grandson. I’d tell her I like to wear blue nail polish on my toenails. I’d tell her I like to ski and surf.

Mostly, I’d like to hear her tell me about a few little simple events in my first year, before she died. Bringing me home from the hospital? Her thoughts as I learned to crawl, to pull myself up; did she drop me on my head once? I would once like to FEEL her care about me. My fantasy of our afternoon tea is my pretend way to FEEL my mother.

I sometimes wonder if this is “healthy.” I put a bit of detail into my fantasy. I can’t decide if I should serve plain green tea, or maybe a special blend of genmai cha (roasted rice tea), or if it’s summer, a cold mugicha (barley tea). I sometimes serve little rice crackers, sometimes each rice cracker is fancifully and separately wrapped. Sometimes the snack is yokan, a red bean paste confection. And sometimes I imagine that we are eating isobeyaki (grilled mochi, dipped in sugared shoyu and wrapped in nori/dried seaweed). Isobeyaki was always my favorite and I heard from my aunts that it was my mother’s favorite, too. I’d like to hear her say, “Oh, isobeyaki, my favorite too”!

But I do have several old photographs on which my mother wrote descriptions.

My Mother and Me: 111 days old

I read those, imagining that she is reading them to me—speaking to me.

My Mother and Me: 8.5 months old



I wonder if I ought to give up the fantasy. But, I don’t cross my fingers on both hands, scrunch up my face and try to make it happen actually, so I guess it’s OK. I’ve decided my fantasy is actually kinda fun and good for me. These memories and fantasies didn’t exist until 2005, when I reconnected with my mother’s family. But now I have them and when anything from my past that’s negative begins to creep into my mind, I replace it with my fantasy or memories with my OBaachan. I’m not sure that we can “erase” and make memories of bad things go away. But I think we can spend less time thinking about them and use better memories to fill that time. So that’s what I do. But don’t cross your fingers and wish hard; that, I believe may be unhealthy.

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