Day 12 of the A to Z Challenge is the letter “M”:
M is for Mama
My maternal grandmother died before I was a year old, so sadly, I never got to know her. However, my mother used to tell me stories about how her mother insisted she practice her Japanese dance lessons and her o-koto lessons. Mom never came right out and admitted it, but being a little girl who didn’t like to practice my piano lessons, I knew she probably didn’t like being made to practice either.
So, from the seeds of the stories my mother used to tell me about her mother, the character of Sachi’s Mama was planted. In Sachi’s struggle to find balance between her Japanese heritage and the American culture that surrounds her, Mama is the antithesis to Papa. Where Papa accepts American customs such as Christmas, Mama insists that Sachi remember her Japanese culture.
But in the secrets of Mama’s past (hinted in The Red Kimono and revealed in the sequel), we begin to learn why she holds on to Japan.
The following excerpt takes place in Sachi’s living room. She has just overheard the radio announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Her parents sat across from each other in front of the radio, so still they reminded Sachi of mannequins she’d seen in department store windows. All that moved was the steam rising from the hot tea on the table next to Papa. His eyes looked strange as he stared at it. She couldn’t see Mama’s eyes. Her hands covered her face.
Words blared from the radio and pounded like a drum against the tension in the room.
“The surprise attack has destroyed a large part of the US Naval Fleet, and the casualties are expected to be in the thousands.”
“Papa? Is Taro-nisan okay?”
The lines in Papa’s brow softened and his eyes crinkled the way they always did when he smiled. He reached for her, and she ran to him and snuggled into his arms, comforted by the scent of cedar incense on his shirt.
“We have not been able to reach him yet,” he said.
Mama rose from her chair and walked to the window, her eyes sad and dark, her lips pressed tight. She straightened and took a deep breath. “Michio. She must practice. Sachiko, please go and practice your dance lessons now. Mrs. Thompson will be here soon.”
Sachi slumped in Papa’s lap and whined. “Dance lessons? On Sunday?”
“Do not argue,” her mother scolded. “Mrs. Thompson was kind enough to let you make up the lesson you missed last week.”
Mama turned away, but not soon enough. Sachi could see the look in her eyes, too. Sadness. Anger. Fear. It reminded Sachi of how she felt all those times kids at school called her slant eyes. She had wanted to cry. But there was no way she’d let them see a single tear fall. Not one, single tear.