The older I get, the more I become convinced the world would be a better place if everyone had a mom with my mom’s positive attributes: totally generous and willing to put her own needs behind the needs of others.
I am from a female-dominated extended family. My dad’s family was small but my mom’s family was enormous. She was one of ten girls. Out of three brothers, only one survived childhood.
I feel lucky that I knew both my baachan (my mom’s mom, an Issei) and my grandma (my dad’s mom, a Sansei). Baachan came to this country from Hiroshima in 1923. When I was a child, Baachan had many ways of letting me know I was loved even though she couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Japanese. The fact that I couldn’t understand didn’t stop her from speaking to me! Just from the way she engaged with me, I had a sense of her humble, steadfast character.
In one of my writing assignments in high school, I struggled to explain the compassionate way Baachan tried to communicate with me. I was finally able to speak with her when I learned some Japanese after college.
After my Baachan’s passing, the neesan of my mother’s family, Tsuyuka “Mary” Nakagawa, was a wonderful, nurturing matriarch for two decades. Sadly, my Auntie Mary passed away last week. The funeral will be held in Lodi on the same day this article will appear.
In a recent Rafu article, my dad chronicled the “sisters’ trip” to Lodi that he joined with my mom and the Southern California aunties. My youngest aunt, Akemi (Kikumura) Yano, has told part of our family’s story in two books, “Through Harsh Winters: The Life of a Japanese Immigrant Woman” and “Promises Kept: The Life of a Japanese Immigrant Man.” (Keep an eye out for both books in electronic editions through Amazon. They are available now in print and may become available in electronic form soon.)
My mother’s, Auntie Mary’s and Baachan’s lives were forged out of hardship and suffering. At one point in each of their lives they lived through the Depression and the wartime incarceration, took care of lots of kids, and supported families. Besides raising 13 kids, Baachan worked as a contract laborer picking fruits and vegetables throughout California. Auntie Mary was widowed at the age of 29, then worked on a farm and raised five lovely children. When my mom was only ten, she used to take care of her younger siblings and do laundry by hand for the whole family. Their rich characters did not come out of thin air!
My mom is really something. I’m not bragging just because she’s my mom. My aunts and my mom’s friends agree with me. She is always surprising me with her strength, selflessness, creativity, and generosity. We all adore her! In her early seventies, she walks five miles every day, she works out with weights, she cooks for homeless people and sick friends and relatives, and she helps organize JACL and church events.
Last month I accompanied her to the church-sponsored breakfast program. With minor assistance, she cooked a spaghetti breakfast for 60 people. I was amazed that she was able to pick up and drain a boiling cauldron of noodles, which must have weighed more than 50 pounds, with the assistance of an elderly helper. When I offered to pour, she told me to get out of the way because she didn’t want me to get hurt!
Even though my mom has always been engaged with our extended family and with the church and JACL, she has always spent a lot of time taking care of our family. It had a huge effect on me to know that my mom was always supportive of me. The experience of growing up with abundant love, and with extended grace to make mistakes and stumble, has helped me navigate through the complex world we all live in.
One thing all moms have in common is learning how to juggle. I don’t think I’ve lived as diligently and graciously as my foremothers, but I’ll forge ahead and do my best. So gambatte and Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!
Laurie Shigekuni and Associates is a law office emphasizing estate planning, trust administration and probate matters, with offices in San Francisco and Pasadena. Laurie is a graduate of University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Her office can be contacted at 1-800-417-5250 or online at www.calestateplanning.com. The Pasadena office is at 225 S. Lake Ave., Suite 300, Pasadena, CA 91101. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.