My Japanese grandmother died on July 5th, but my Grandpa Yosh left notifications to some people in the church who didn't realize my part of the family didn't know, so I was not notified until yesterday. As a result I missed the memorial, which is sad for me though of course memorials are for the living so I can find my own way. In any case I'm going to repost (below the fold for those who don't need the non-political stuff) a Thanksgiving post about her which I wrote a while ago.
I had an interesting (to me) Thanksgiving which centered around visiting my Japanese Granparents, Grandma Kimi and Grandpa Yosh. It is a long story, and might not be interesting to you, so I have placed it behind the extended entry. Three of my grandparents are connected to interesting Japanese stories, but they don't have much of the political/legal content which this site normally centers on, so you have been warned.
Grandma Marie Holsclaw was my father's mother. She had a good friend who was Nisi--a US born child of Japanese American immigrants. This friend's name has been lost with my grandmother's Alzheimer's and later death. None of the members of our family remember her name. There was apparently a great deal of familial strife between the Nisi children in the US and the family in Japan. This caused a great deal of pain to the first generation parents of my grandmother's friend. Eventually it was decided that her friend would go to Japan to make peace with her family. Unfortunately she arrived in Japan only a month or so before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Apparently my grandmother had to travel from Auburn, California to San Francisco a number of times in order to assure US authorities that her friend was really a US citizen. The rest of the story is lost to me, though there are rumors of letters that may still exist on the topic somewhere in our family.
But as you might guess, Grandma Kimi and Grandpa Yosh have much more to say about being Japanese in the US.
Grandma Kimi is in a rest home in Davis, two hours by car from my parents and about ten hours by car from me. About 13 years ago she had a stroke and was expected to die. She took about 5 years recovering from that and eventually got to the point where she could do many daily activities, and could speak almost normally, though at a very slow pace. Two years ago she had another stroke, and she is not recovering. She was always my closest grandparent, so I visit her whenever I can. It nearly broke my heart to see her a month ago on the way to my Grandpa Holsclaw's 90th birthday party. Her mind still works, you can see it in her eyes and in her frustration as she tries to react to my presence. But her body doesn't play along. She can barely twitch the arm which used to sew hundreds of little trinkets for sale at craft shows and her mouth won't allow her to say more than one word at a time. Even then she often can't make us understand the word she says. She was clearly slipping in to death, so I decided to make a point of seeing her again this Thanksgiving.
On Thanksgiving Day my parents and I drove up to see her again, and to eat with Grandpa Yosh. My dad foolishly asked her if she was doing well and she glared at him while shaking her head. She seems much better, but that is a relative scale which is really just differentiating between levels of awful.
We went out to Baker's Square with Grandpa Yosh, and it is becoming clear that he is doing what he can to take care of Grandma Kimi but that what he can do isn't so much anymore. Then we went back to see her for dinner, and found that she pretty much just sips milk, has a bite or two of mashed potato and then refuses to eat any more. I don't blame her for avoiding the mushy green stuff. It looks and smells awful.
Grandma Kimi was born in California, and went to college before being sent to the Poston internment camp. Her mother died in the camps and told Kimi: "Don't blame the government for my death because it is time to meet my friend Jesus." She always told us that quote with mixed emotions. I think she wanted to follow her mother's advice, but couldn't. Kimi eventually became a seamstress at UC Davis Medical Center and invented an evacuation gown which nurses could wear to flee with multiple babies during a fire or other emergency. Apparently this gown exists all over California, though she never tried to profit from it because "it was just me performing my job". She eventually sold sewn knick-knacks at craft shows and was wonderful at playing the marimba.
All of these things weren't that important early in my life. To me she was far greater than those things--she was my favorite grandmother. I would spend time at her house, play with her puzzle toys, and I'm sure generally make a nuisance of myself. Grandma Kimi and Grandpa Yosh took me and a friend to the Expo '86 Vancouver World Fair. I still remember that whole trip very fondly. More than the actual fair, I remember playing with the chemistry model sets which Kimi brought along. Matthew and I made some of the most interesting molecules in the back seat of her car.
To look at me you wouldn't expect me to have a Japanese grandmother. Kimi married at 35 which in 1951 was quite late to start a family. She had eight miscarriages, and her doctor told her to stop trying and adopt. She adopted a Japanese street urchin, who by height and weight was thought to be three. She may have actually been as old as six, and she had already learned habits which she could not break in her stay with the Nakadas. She eventually vanished, not to reappear for many years. Kimi couldn't have children, her attempt to adopt had turned quite bad, and she was a Japanese woman with no hope for grandchildren. She met my parents in a church in Davis and adopted their children as her own granchildren. I hope you won't begrudge the fact that I waited so long to reveal that fact--I didn't find out myself for many years. I didn't understand race well enough to think that having two white parents might exclude you from having Japanese grandparents.
As I look back on it now, I see that Grandma Kimi really is my closest grandparent. The grandparents on my mother's side were nice, but didn't develop a close bond with me when I was young. The grandmother on my father's side was somewhat close, but fairly early she began her descent into what we now know was Alzheimers, and she had been deeply scarred by her realtionship with Grandpa Holsclaw. Grandpa Holsclaw I have only seen three times, he planned a divorce from Grandma Holsclaw for 15 years while waiting for no-fault divorce to become the law of the land. He divorced my whole family along with her.
In the last 3 years I have spent some time with all of my grandparents in different ways. Before her second stroke it was very easy to spend time and talk with Kimi and Yosh. I had a bond with them that made small talk easy, and deeper talk possible. My mother's parents now live near my parents, so I see grandparents and parents at the same time. I can talk to them, and enjoy them, but I have to make an effort that was never a problem with Kimi. My Grandpa Holsclaw I saw at his 90th birthday. But a half an hour of close contact with the man who so wounded by Grandma Holsclaw was much tougher than a half an hour spent with Kimi in her rest home bed, even though she couldn't talk and could barely register my presence.
It isn't a new discovery, but there are ties stronger than blood.
I give thanks for Grandma Kimi. I can't imagine a more wonderful grandmother. I know that the small comfort I give her at her bedside can't come close to repaying her for her gifts to me, especially when she catches me crying. But it is all I have.
Now of course I don't have that. But hopefully the ways she helped shape me will continue on in a positive fashion. Goodbye Grandma Kimi.