By GAIL MIYASAKI
Happy birthday to you!
A shout-out to Hisano “Mary” Furukawa Kudo of Huntington Beach, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Aug. 26!
Then, for a second time on Sept. 1, the legal date of her birthday!
Born in Brighton, Colorado, Mary, as she likes to be called, remembers harsh winters and unexpected tornadoes on the farm there that were not to her liking. The Furukawa family of six eventually headed up to Seattle to be part of a growing community of Japanese Americans there when Mary was in her teens. After she had completed high school, they transplanted to Los Angeles.
Romantic novels always play on the story of boy meets girl. Their version goes like this —Kaimon Kudo, her late husband, spotted Mary working in a J-Town store and had the gumption to tell her that he was going to marry her on the first day they met! Obviously, love blossomed and the rest is history. They married in 1939 on an eventful New Year’s Day.
New York was their honeymoon destination, visiting Niagara Falls, the World’s Fair and the Empire State Building. Kaimon, a fervent and popular wrestler at that time, took Mary across the U.S., to other major cities where he had wrestling contracts.
When the war broke out in 1941, they were in Honolulu, where they stayed for nine more years. The Kudo household grew from two to six during that time, with the births of Dennis, Mary Ann and twin boys, Joji and Kenji.
Los Angeles again became their home base. Kaimon was a recognized 8th-degree black belt judo instructor, so naturally the three young boys grew up around area dojo and competitions.
Mary found sporting events, especially the chance to go to Dodgers games, fishing and kenjinkai picnics a great way to have fun with family and friends.
Characterized as a hard-working mom, Mary kept busy with jobs at the Crenshaw-area Sav-On Drugs store and the popular Grace Pastries. Even at 72 years of age, she applied for a position at the Cerritos Broadway (now Macy’s) and got hired to sell kitchenware.
One of nine grandkids and a mother of three, Erika Mora says a favorite memory took place after having dinner together at a local restaurant. “Granny had a glass of wine, or two. On our way out, Mom and I walked with her and the three of us were walking arm-in-arm, with Granny in the middle, when all of sudden she lifts up her legs, saying ‘Whhheeeee!’ She is the heart of our family and has impacted all of our lives deeply!”
Mary is most often described as a “real lady.” Not many of them around these days. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting one, you’ll never forget her. An independent, strong and loving woman, she continues to be mindful of others, always with a positive attitude.
Now young adults, two of her eight great-grandkids, Melanie and Cody Mora, remember that they built forts with dining room chairs and bed sheets, spent time in her kitchen, cooking, cleaning, and studying, but most of all, they know that she is “the best great-grandmother in the world!”
Daughter Mary Ann Kishiyama looks after Mary these days, saying that “Mom is doing remarkably well and loves her bearclaws for breakfast every morning!”