This is a hard post to write, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to get through it tear-free. Bear with me. It’s not that I’m too strong to cry, or that I “hold it all in”… it’s just really hard to type and think when your eyes are leaking and your hands are full of Kleenex. (lol eyes and nose “leak”, according to Diva.) By the way, that’s not the best pic of Nana, but it’s the one I have for now without rummaging thru photo albums. Maybe I’ll change it later.
Today was my maternal Grandmother’s birthday. She would have been 78 years old today. She preferred the grandchildren to call her Obasan, which is Japanese for Grandmother, to honor our heritage. Some time in my teen years, I started calling her Nana, and I have no clue why. No one else called her Nana, and she didn’t try and change me. I remember her telling me “I don’t care what you call me as long as you call me.”
I’m the oldest biological grandchild. I was blessed to have Nana all to myself for the first 4 years of my life. Mom said that when she was 9 months pregnant with me, Nana stopped by the house early in the morning on her way to work. She told Mom that “there is something wrong with the baby, but it is all going to be ok.” Nana didn’t know what, but she knew something. I was born later that day, via emergency C-Section, and I had the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around my neck. Had I been born naturally, I could have suffocated. How did Nana know? I’m not sure. But I do know that anytime I was with Nana, I could typically be found in one of two places: in the toy room, or under Nana’s wing.
Each of us grandchildren had a special bond with Nana, and she loved each of us differently. Not UNequally…. just differently. My bond with Nana was typically in the kitchen or at the grocery store. When we went to the store, we walked arm in arm, mine in hers when I was little, and as I got bigger, hers in mine. I remember times that I felt weird holding arms with OMGMYGRANDMOTHER, especially as a teen and when someone looked at me funny. But what I wouldn’t give to have her arm using mine for stability as we walked the grocery store…Anyway (I’m avoiding tears…) If she was cooking, I was in there too. Nana’s house has a tiny kitchen… two people in there was too much. Nevertheless, I learned several of my favorite recipes from being in there with her. I also learned to cook the way I do now… without a recipe, or using a recipe as a guide only. I remember Nana telling me “you just have to taste it” when she was making seasoned rice for Inarizushi, or adding salt for rice balls. Well, rice shapes… Nana would often squish rice into different shapes because it was fun. Triangles were ones she made most often. Sukiyaki, basic sushi, barbeque chicken and rice, and many other delicious things came out of that tiny kitchen. Several of the recipes were not her own, they are just ones I remember eating almost exclusively while we were visiting.
Nana was born in Japan. I’m told that her home city was Hachinohe, in Aomori Prefecture in the Tōhoku region of Japan. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but that’s what Google says when you look up the city. I do know that Hachinohe is on the northernmost segment of the big island of Japan. She was born on the island of Hokkaido, and they moved to Hachinohe, and that is where she grew up. Nana worked in the Japanese school system as a teacher’s assistant in her younger days, and she always had the patience to show that she was good at it. I don’t recall her getting upset or flustered at much of anything, and even her “angry” was not done with an elevated voice. WE knew we were in trouble when the middle names were used. If our last name ever followed, we might as well never come home again. I will NEVER forget how she said my name.
Nana worked in the hospital for over 30 years. She was happy at her job, and good at it. Towards the end of her tenure, she said that her boss knew she would be retiring soon, and “just let them know” when she is ready. One day, she walked into her boss’s office and said “I’m done. I’m ready to retire.” The boss asked when, and she replied “At the end of today.” There was no question, no fuss, no two weeks notice. Just….done. Like that. She was so good and faithful that the boss didn’t have any issues.
When we would leave Nana’s house, She would stand out on the end of her yard and wave. She would wave until she couldn’t see the car anymore. We all had our hands out of the windows, waving back. The entire time that I was growing up, I thought this was just something SHE did. I found out a few years back that it’s a traditional Japanese thing. Not everyone does it, but it had something to do with back in the old days, people couldn’t visit often, so the waving until you couldn’t see them anymore was like hanging onto every last second you had. I do it now with my family members, and it’s just something we do.
The funniest story I have was when Nana came home from work one day and said that she and her close friend Mrs. Acosta were teaching each other their respective languages (Mrs. Acosta is Hispanic). Neither one had English as a first language, and they both spoke with broken English at best, so we weren’t sure where this was going to go. Someone asked Nana what she had learned so far, and she said, “I learned the word chit.” Much juice was spat all over the room, as Nana DID. NOT. SPEAK. with vulgarity. “WHAT did you say?” She calmly replied with a smile, “Chit. C-H-I-T. It means that you chit down in a chair.” All of a sudden, every one of us in the room KNEW that we had been taken for a ride. Nana then smiled really big and simply said “I made a funny!” and went into the kitchen, while we sat there picking up our jaws off of the floor.
Nana passed when she was 70 years old. She said that she had some heartburn on March 13th, and lay down to sleep and sometime in the early hours of March 14th, she never woke up. The coroner said the signs pointed to a heart attack, but we didn’t do an autopsy. There was no need to. That was a very hard trial to go through, and even now it still hurts really bad. The biggest thing that Nana did with everyone she held dear was make sure that we knew she loved us. Every birthday, Christmas, or other holiday card, anything signed by her was always done in the same way, in the same handwriting, in the same broken English…
Love You Big As Sky.
And now you know how it all began.