There were three girls in the Takenaka Family. My mom, Shigeko, was the oldest. Auntie Hiro (or Hiroko) was in the middle. And Auntie Kimi (short for Kimiko) was the youngest. The family lived in Los Angeles, where the girls were born.
When my mom was 17, married and 8 months pregnant with her first child, Auntie Kimi was about 12, and enjoyed visiting and playing with her neighborhood friends every day.
As she related to me — one day she came home from playing all afternoon, to find a major surprise awaiting her at home! She discovered that she had a new baby brother — John Makoto! To the amazement of the family, my obaasan (grandma), who was Kimi’s mother, was pregnant for 9 months and no one in the family knew it! Well, probably Ojiisan (Grandpa), but nobody else!
My obaasan must have bound herself because she was embarrassed to be with child at the same time her daughter was.
Even though they were 12 years apart, Kimi and her brother, John, or “Uncle Mako,” as we call him, would become very close siblings throughout their lives.
In the first half of my life, I recall Auntie Kimi relating a memory scene many times over: “Sanaye, I always remember when you were a little one and walking. You’d have your diaper on and from the back I could see you with your diapered bottom, waddling like a duck! So cute and funny! I can still picture you walking and waddling!”
I “waddled” in Manzanar Concentration Camp, where I was born. Manzanar is off of Highway 395, near Independence, California. What an ironic name. Manzanar was a deserted, desolate place, with seasonally extreme temperatures. A good place to put 10,000 people whom you do not like, and do not want living in your “hood.”
Auntie Kimi was a pretty young adult in Manzanar. She played in the tennis club. It had a large membership, which included my dad and Uncle Jimmy. “When life gives you lemons — you make lemonade.” The Tennis Club was the lemonade.
Kimi also worked as a dietician, feeding the little babies. It was a perfect fit for her affectionate, nurturing ways.
On June 19, 1943, Kimi married her honey, Harold Yoshio Kawasaki. All their life she was a devoted and faithful wife to Otsan (as we called Uncle Yoshi or Uncle Harold). “Otsan” is a general term that means “uncle,” I think. I don’t know why it especially stuck with Uncle Harold.
Auntie Kimi talked a little about what getting married in Manzanar was like. She said that the bridal dresses and veils, and tuxedos, and artificial bouquets, were passed on from person to person since individual purchases were too costly. In the wedding photo, if you look down at the floor, you will see the bare wooden planks of the barracks indicating the locale.
I asked Auntie Kimi what food they had for their wedding reception. She said they had “egg salad and tuna fish sandwiches.” They ordered the cake from Lone Pine, the nearby city. Just in case there was a glitch in the delivery, the cook made some sheet cakes.
Here is a TMI (too much information) story, as my son would call it. It was not easy to be newlyweds in camp. There were two or three families in each barrack. The mattresses were filled with straw. To paraphrase Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, who was one of those newlyweds, it was not easy to be romantically quiet in this circumstance and environment!
Later on in their married life, Otsan was a gardener. His “hobby” was to play the horses at the racetrack. Kimi never gave him a hard time about the gambling; sometimes she would go with him. Otsan, I guess, knew his limits, because as far as I know, his gambling never got out of hand, causing a hardship in the family.
Otsan and Kimi had two sons, Mori, born in Manzanar in 1945, and George, born later after camp, in 1950. I call Mori and Georgie my “double cousins,” because our mothers were sisters and our fathers were brothers. And as “doubles” our families were actually and really, very, very, close.
Auntie Kimi was a warm, open, vivacious, and personable lady. She was very kind and loving towards me. She always remembered my birthday with a thoughtful gift and a card that spoke of love and affection. Our Chinese Zodiac signs are the same — the Monkey, playful and lively. That’s us.
She is 24 years older than me. More than an aunt, Kimi was like a second mother, always ready to assist or give care whenever I needed it. And more than a niece, I have felt like a daughter.
In 1990, at the age of 70, Kimi was baptized into the Catholic Church by Father Fernando Aristi, at Transfiguration Church in Los Angeles. I was her godmother. Kimi believed in God, the 10 Commandments, and all the tenets of the faith, all along. She just never seriously thought about taking the big formal step until her late 60s, when my husband Richard was baptized in 1985. She said she was inspired by witnessing Richard’s baptism.
Father Fernando was a wonderful spiritual mentor for Kimi, with his vitality, creative energies (he was an accomplished painter and muralist), and his great love for people. Father lived “in spirit” and with his motorcycle, (yes, motorcycle!); he moved with the spirit, too. Kimi had a deep affection for the charismatic priest. Father Fernando celebrated the funeral Mass when her beloved Otsan died. Some years later, Auntie Kimi suffered another great loss when Father Fernando died in a car accident in Africa.
To Auntie Kimi,
You have been at Keiro Nursing Home in Gardena for several years now, Kimi. You are 90 and 4 years, and you seem to be “living” somewhere in between this world and the next.
I pray, a peaceful & wonderful passing over for you, Auntie Kimi.
Thanks for all the love.
The best is yet to come.
Sanaye Furukawa was raised in Los Angeles. She worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District as an early education teacher. She lives in Gardena with her husband, Richard, and their Jack Russell/Chihuahua, or “JackHuaHua,” Aki. The Furukawas have two sons and a granddaughter. Sansei Stories is an ongoing workshop run by Timothy Toyama at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute. For more information, call (310) 324-6611. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.