Day 15 of the A to Z Challenge is the letter “O”:
O is for Obaasan and Ojiisan
Obaasan is grandmother in Japanese, and Ojiisan is grandfather. I wish I’d known my maternal grandparents. But Obaasan died before I was a year old, and Ojiisan was killed by two teenage boys for $8.00 in his pocket shortly after internment.
I remember sitting around a table with my paternal grandmother, listening to stories of her past. And being chased by my paternal grandfather, his fingers twitching to tickle me. I remember my grandmother wiping tears away, their kisses hello and goodbye. Though I know cultural difference would have made my experience with Obaasan and Ojiisan very different, learning what I learned while writing The Red Kimono has made me miss even more the stories, lessons and culture I might have learned from them.
Through research and family mementos, some details have come to light about their history, but it only makes me hunger for more. Click here to read what I’ve learned.
I based Sachi’s Mama and Papa on my grandparents. In The Red Kimono, Sachi’s own obaasan and ojiisan are mentioned several times. In the following excerpt, Mama is trying to explain to Sachi why she must return to Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima.
The room was quiet. Sachi listened for sounds to fill the uncomfortable silence: Wind rattling the window panes; muffled sounds from the family next door. She waited for Mama’s next words. She didn’t want to stare, afraid it might make Mama too nervous to continue, so she scanned the room for something else to look at. Papa’s slippers under the bed. His folded newspaper on the nightstand.
“You never met my parents, your ojiisan and obaasan. You have only seen pictures and letters of them. I am very sorry about that. Especially now.”
Trying to settle the leg that refused to hold still, Sachi shifted and sat on it. “I’m sorry, Mama. I heard people talking about the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” She looked down at her lap, wanting so terribly to touch Mama’s hand, but not able to bring herself to do it. “I’m sorry you don’t know how they are.” She looked up and smiled. “But sometimes, no news is good news, right?”
Mama smiled slightly, but her eyes watered. “Perhaps. But I think wondering is worse than knowing what really happened.”
Sachi couldn’t believe it. Without hesitation, she touched her mother’s hand. “I just thought that very thing.”
“Then, you will understand that I must return to Japan to find out.”
Sachi cringed and sat back in her chair, waiting for the words she dreaded.
Please don’t ask me to come with you.
Mama covered her face with her hands. When she finally placed them on her lap, her eyes were red. She spoke quickly. “I have missed my mother and father for so many years, Sachi-chan. I love your papa. He has been a good husband and a good father. But as a very young woman, I was not ready to leave Japan. I have tried to adjust to America all of these years, but it is not my home.” She put her hand in her pocket and pulled a photograph out. “I carry this with me always,” she said, holding it for Sachi to see.
Sachi couldn’t believe the girl she saw standing between two adults. “Is that you with your parents? You look just like me.”