OCHAZUKE: Love Thy Neighbor

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By MAGGIE ISHINO
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on April 13, 2011.)

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In the early ’30s in San Diego, my parents owned a mom-and-pop fruit and vegetable stand. It was managed by Mama. It was situated in-between a butcher shop to the right and a bakery shop to the left. Bill was the name of the butcher. Regrettably, I have forgotten the name of the lady who owned the bakery. My Mama and they were good neighbors. They had a silent “love thy neighbor” policy and would look out for each other.

Papa would get up every other morning at 3 a.m. and go to the large produce outlet market, where he could replenish fruits and vegetables for the stand. At the stand, he would rinse the vegetables that needed rinsing, such as spinach, carrots, and celery, and put them in their proper place before going to his regular job.

(Papa was a custodian at one of the well-known hotels in San Diego. He was a self-taught plumber and could repair sinks, garbage disposals, toilets or whatever else needed repair for the tenants of the hotel. Papa was able to read English, so whenever he did not know how to repair something, he could follow written directions or call someone professionally.)

Every morning around 9 a.m., Bill was kind enough to pull up the heavy “iron door” for Mama and open the stand. Around 4 p.m. Bill would pull down the “iron door” to close the stand. Mama trusted Bill and the owner of the bakery enough to give them the key to the stand.

The bakery lady would drop by the stand just before Mama left for home with a bagful of some type of bakery goods, such as doughnuts, cookies, half of a pie or cake  so that we children could have dessert in the evening and/or take dessert to school in our brown lunch bags.

Since Mama had no telephone, the bakery lady would take important messages for Mama. Although Mama would rarely use her phone, she was grateful that she had access to one in an emergency.

When fruits were in season such as, pears, peaches, and Concord grapes, Mama would share with Bill and the bakery lady the “first crop.” Bill would give Mama the remainder of a pork or ham butt and/or half of a roast beef. Bill and the bakery lady always charged the very minimum to Mama for whatever was actually purchased. We were poor, but never went hungry.

I still recall when Bill gave Mama a huge rack of spare ribs. Mama chopped it down to “chunks” and made sweet and sour pork. She gave a bowlful to Bill. Bill enjoyed the spare ribs so much, he gave Mama quite a few racks of spare ribs after that.

(Mama was an excellent cook. I have been to well-known Japanese/Chinese restaurants in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and Washington, D.C., but I have yet to equal Mama’s chow mein, sweet and sour pork, and tempura.)

On the way home from grammar school, my brother and I, with two or three friends, would stop by the stand and Mama would give us a fruit. I will always remember one summer when watermelon was in season, Mama gave each of us children a slice of ice-cold watermelon. We lined up in front of the stand eating the watermelon, which attracted a lot of business. People would park their cars in front of the stand and purchase several dollars worth of fruits and vegetables, including watermelon. Mama said it was a very profitable day.

As God said, we should “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and I can honestly say that the butcher, bakery lady and Mama truly loved and cared for each other. Even as a child of 8 years, I could sense the beautiful and loving relationship between these three people.

Today, most of us don’t even know what our neighbors look like, but I believe that within our hearts, we love our neighbors.

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Maggie Ishino is a Rafu typist. Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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