She was 94 years old and lived to see another year. She passed away early on January 1st but she made it another year.
She was sweet. She was kind. She was my little grandma. But she was also wise, and fierce, and brave.
She was born in Japan, one of 11 kids. She ran away at 16 years old to play in a traveling band. She was honest. She said if she didn’t have permission to go that she would run away. And so she did.
She played the trombone and to my knowledge never had a lesson. Just determination. She danced too. And I could still see her love of music and dance the last time I saw her. Just a little sway here and sway there. Not a distant memory but an imprint in her body. One that would never leave.
She traveled in the band. Dancing and playing not knowing a soul just knowing her soul called her to be there. She traveled to Hawaii, the United States, Canada, and China.
She returned to Japan and worked in a tea house or a restaurant from what I remembered. And she met my grandpa who was overseas for the war. How he ever landed a catch like her I’ll never know. He was good on his word of coming back for her. He visited her and sent money and finally had enough to bring her to the United States.
I’m not sure if grandma knew what she was getting into with the Ross family. Bless my grandpa’s heart but You either loved him or hated him. Lucky for this starry-eyed granddaughter I loved him and I think my grandma must have too. That and she never backed down from an adventure and had the patience of a saint.
She loved my mother so much that at 44 years old she hand and heart picked a 9-month-old baby girl and adopted her as her own. She was always honest with my mama- that she wasn’t her birth mother- but when you get a mom (and a grandma) as pure as mine was- you thank the lord she chose you. And she chose a son too. Because that was the woman she was. She was going to love you and she was going to show you the best life she could give you. Full of sweet love, tough love, and a heart big enough for both kinds.
My childhood was a blessed one with so many memories with grandma. Sleepovers, cooking, creating, experimenting, and eating endless ice cream cones.
She tried to teach me Japanese. Oh, how I wish I would have known I’d regret not learning. She taught me the importance of skincare (she swore by ponds cold cream) she did look damn good at 94...I’m going to have to give credit to Japanese genes. I hope adoption gives you some inheritance to that.
Talk about honesty. She told me if I left my sad, ratted up baby blanket at her house she would throw it away. I left it there, mom swore she wouldn’t throw it away. “I threw it in the dumpster and the garbage man came”. I was 6. I’m 32 now. I forgive you, grandma. (mom should have known better.)
I’d never seen my grandma so happy as when she visited Japan. She was right back home each visit. Happy, dancing, drinking...oh my god drinking. It starts in the morning and ends way after bedtime...and they know how to hold their liquor. She would dance and jump and pass out and wake up in the morning ready to go again.
I crack up retelling the story of when she was In her late 80’s and she would walk to her favorite spot. One time she came home and told my mom she had “one beer”...it turns out one beer was multiple bloody Mary’s and when you get to be 80 you can start lying to your daughter (and caretaker.) “one beer” in her Japanese accent...classic.
She loved all her great-grandchildren and could remember most the time before she passed away that she had 4. “Four? Four?...you busy.” Yes, grandma, I am busy but I am loving it.
There is something about death that makes you think about getting older. And makes you start thinking about all the time that’s gone by. Death is a sweet release for the loved one gone- they’re flying free among the stars- but death stings for those left behind. It’s the kind of hurt that says I’m so happy you’ve gone home, I’m so relieved that you’re free- but it doesn’t take the ache and absence away. Bittersweet I think they call it.
I didn’t know what to do when I heard she slipped silently away but I know what to do now. I had to write about her. I had to tell people about her. I had to cry about her. I had to get my love and admiration out into words that would never scratch the surface of the person that she was.
Thank you for loving me. Thank you for picking my mom. Thank you. I love you.