My mother arrived from Japan in 1932 as an 18-year-old picture bride from Fukushima, Japan. My father worked a farm in the San Fernando Valley growing flowers under the hot sun in the summers and the cold winds in the winter.
When my three brothers and I were growing up, my mother would wake up early to make breakfast for our father so he could get out into the fields by 6 a.m. and then she would make breakfast for four hungry sons and pack a lunch for each of us to take to school.
Around 9 a.m., my mother would go into the fields and work a few hours and then return home to prepare lunch for herself and my father (and during the summers, she would make lunch for the whole family). After lunch, she worked a few more hours out on the farm caring for the flowers, which would be eventually sold at the Japanese flower market near downtown.
She would return home around 5 p.m. to begin preparing dinner for five hungry males. This was her routine six days a week since farmers don’t work five-day work schedules.
Sometimes she would tell one of us boys to wash and clean the rice and sometimes we were forced to do the dishes after dinner. She nagged us from time to time to do some house-cleaning and vacuuming, which we did reluctantly and with much complaining. One thing we did do religiously was to keep our beds neat and put our clothes away or in the hamper, but Mom did all the laundry (which I only learned how to do when I moved away from home after college).
Mom learned how to sew while she was at Manzanar and Tule Lake during WWII. After we returned from Tule Lake, when I was going to elementary school, in her “spare time” she made pants and shirts for me and my younger brother, which we were embarrassed to wear because they were not designer label and never in style and so we complained.
The lunches she made for us was either baloney or peanut butter and jam and we got sick of eating them day after day, so we complained about that too. She didn’t know how to cook Western foods at mealtime so we complained about her cooking and how we wanted something other than Japanese food.
I’m much older now and my mother has been gone for 15 years. I realize and appreciate now how hard she worked to provide for us and show her love for us, in ways that don’t shout out “LOVE.” I just assumed this was what moms do – this was her “job.”
After she had a stroke, my brothers and I tried to visit her at Keiro so that one of us saw her almost every day. I guess this was our small way of giving back, but I never apologized to her for all the complaining we did while she was doing her best on our behalf. I feel regret and wish I could go back in time and tell her face-to-face “Thank you” and “Sorry, Mom.”
Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near Downtown Los Angeles and can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.