#AtoZ Challenge: P is for Papa

Day 16 of the A to Z Challenge is the letter “P”:

P is for Papa

If you’ve been following my blog during this A to Z Challenge, you know that Sachi’s and Nobu’s Papa was based on my maternal grandfather, particularly his history as an immigrant–Issei, first generation. But since he died before I was born, I never knew him and therefore, much of the character is a figment of my imagination, a compilation of my feelings for my own father.

As far as what Papa looked like in my mind? Well, many authors will admit to envisioning the movie version of their books, and I admit to it, too. So, here’s a little secret. The actor I imagine as Papa is Ken Watanabe. He embodies the physical characteristics of Papa–the sparkle in his eyes when he smiles. But it’s the dignity he portrayed in his roles in Memoirs of a Geisha and The Last Samurai I hoped to capture in Papa.


In the following excerpt, Papa attempts to explain Mama to Sachi:


Papa stood. “I have a meeting at the bank this morning, Sumiko. I will take her to school. Hurry and get your coat, Sachi.”

She huffed as she put on her coat and stomped to the car. Though happy Papa was taking her instead of Mama, she couldn’t help pouting about the way the morning had gone. Why was Mama so grouchy?

They pulled out of the driveway. Maybe Papa would drive slowly past the pretty Christmas trees in the front windows of the houses on Peralta Street. That would cheer her up. One by one, she judged the tree in the window of each house they passed. Some had ornaments of different colors. Some had all green. Some had all red. She had to admit, none were as pretty as the tree in her window. But even Christmas decorations couldn’t make her forget how angry Mama made her sometimes, making her practice, practice, practice.

They stopped at the intersection. Gilman Street was always busy and speeding cars zipped back and forth, replacing the parade of pretty lights and Christmas trees on Peralta. Papa glanced back and forth, waiting to turn left.

“Why does Mama make me practice all the time?” Sachi asked. “All of my friends get to play whenever they want to.”

He stopped watching cars and raised an eyebrow at her. “All of your friends?”

“Well . . . maybe not all,” she whispered. Not even Papa was on her side.

He didn’t say a word as he turned onto Gilman. It wasn’t unusual for him to be quiet, but this kind of quiet made her stomach feel as tangled up as her hair when Mama combed it. When at last he smiled and patted her knee, all the tangles went away.

“Sachi-chan, practicing your music and dance is your mother’s way of making sure you do not forget your Japanese heritage. Remember gaman, Sachi-chan. Patience. You will understand when you are older.” He turned into the parking lot of Jefferson Elementary.

She looked away and out the window, rolling her eyes. She was tired of trying to be patient.

The school yard was crowded with kids waiting for the bell to ring and she hesitated to get out of the car.

They will all stare at me.

That was just one of the things she hated about fourth grade. She also didn’t like homework. Or grumpy Mrs. Nelson. And she especially didn’t like the kids who called her slant-eyes.

One day at lunch, a boy in her class had moved to another table, all because she sat next to him. Snickers and whispers had surrounded her
like moths around a porch light. She left her tray on the table and ran out of the cafeteria. But those moths flitted and batted around her all
the way out.

Even the oak breaks.

She opened the car door.

“Are you not forgetting something?” Papa leaned over and turned his cheek toward her.

Why did he always have to do that? She glanced around to see if anybody was looking, then gave him a quick peck on the cheek—even
if he was on Mama’s side. “Bye, Papa.”

“Bye-bye. Have a good day.”

She shrugged. How good a day could it be with all the kids teasing her about being Japanese?

This entry was posted in Excerpt, The Red Kimono and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to #AtoZ Challenge: P is for Papa

  1. Mustang.Koji says:

    I am very sorry your Grandpa never had the chance to lay eyes on you…and you were never held in his arms. Unmei.

    You write so well…Gifted may be the right word…and perhaps that gift came from one of them…

  2. I love how real your characters are, Jan. This is a beautiful excerpt 🙂

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