Today, Ralph left for California to attend the funeral of his step-mother, Hideko. She passed quietly and peacefully on Monday. While Hideko had been very sick for a very long time, it still came as a shock when I received the call from my father-in-law.
Although we didn't communicate much by way of the mails or even phone, Hideko and I came to have great respect and fondness for each other. I will always remember her astonishment at my slinging a 25 lb. bag of rice on my shoulder as we were shopping in Little Tokyo in LA. I tried to explain that (at that time) it really was nothing as I had been known to sling hay bales and feed bags when I was younger and not to worry, just where did she want it? She stood there, almost dumbfounded at a woman doing that sort of thing. I never mentioned that one of my cousins on The Island called me "Powerful Katrinka" because I would be out in the hayfields with everyone else. This was nothing.
Hediko taught me to stop and see the loveliness of cherry blossoms...how to enjoy a cup of REAL tea...and what French pastries were. She introduced me to her Japanese culture explaining its subtleties with patience and grace. She also introduced some of the wonderful foods of Japan always taking the time to explain things to me if I asked questions. I will never eat sushi without thinking of her. She would laugh at my refusal to eat the little freeze dried fish she ate as snacks as I explained that I never ate anything that was staring at me and that they looked too similar to the treats I gave the cats.
And what impressed me most is that Hideko was so wise about how hard a woman truely works in life. She always worked outside the home but also knew that a woman's job wasn't over after punching the time clock...just moving into all that it took to keep a family going with cooking, cleaning, and caring for everyone else.
Whenever we would visit, money would somehow find its way into my pocket or wallet and she would make me promise that I would spend it on myself only explaining that it was not to be used for anyone else or for necessities. Once $300.00 was put into my pocket and a whisper in the ear, "Play this in the slot machines when you go to Vegas. Not the five-cent machines either. Play the dollar machines. Have some fun."
I will miss her. She leaves a hole in all the lives she touched. As I sit here trying to condense a life into a few words I find it impossible to acknowledge the complexity of her life. She encouraged everyone she knew and mentored many people of all races and colors. Later in life she took up piano lessons stating there were always new things to learn - something I have believed in all my life. Common ground with the two of us. Mutual respect. I always teased her about using her dog's wagging tail as a metronome. Yes, I will miss her.
I never had the courage to play the dollar slots in Las Vegas. But the next time I go, I will...in memory of Hideko. I only hope she's there to see it and bring me luck.