Join me in remembrance …

{1} Visitations are held for a variety of reasons. For some it’s because the deceased has outlived peers, making a formal funeral service optional. Attendees solemnly bow in reverence, have a few words of condolence with family members. It’s in and out. On this occasion there was a crowd lingering in front. Upon entering, the foyer is crowded and the chapel is filled. No one seems to be making a move to depart.

Aside from the usual greeting, “Gee, it’s been how long since we’ve seen each other?,” I catch bits and pieces of  remembrances past: “She was certainly one of a kind,” “She broke the mold,” “Someone who was always concerned about others.”  

She bore her first child at the home of a sympathetic stranger in cold and unfriendly Utah. A forlorn place for someone described as a “sexy, high-spirited, say-what-you-think woman.” Upon returning to postwar Los Angeles, she did the unthinkable: got a divorce and raised the family as a single parent. For her there was to be another world, new people to befriend, things to do, places to go.

A barbershop was a man’s haven in the old days (and usually the neighborhood bookie joint). Her hairdressing skills, combined with thoughtful counseling and delightful conversation, made her a popular stylist and confidante. Crossing age barriers was never a problem. She wowed her children’s friends as well as their parents. She was a master at hana, a Japanese card game that called for daunting shouts of hope as much as good cards. Nor would she frown upon an occasional nip of scotch. She became an accomplished painter and played tennis into her eighties. Truly an incomparable lady.

A death that brought smiles rather than sorrow …

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{2} The Fukuoka Hirotos were unusual in that they all came to America together, the parents of four settling in Riverside, CA. Their eldest son took up farming in Coachella, another started a grocery store in Glendale,  the lone sister married and moved to Oakland and we stayed put in Riverside;  the grandparents returning to Japan when all were settled.

Glendale was a rabbit hutch: there were eleven siblings. The eldest two of eight boys made a habit of running away from an authoritarian father and would always wind up at our house, seeking solace with their favorite “auntie,” my mother. On a pre-war summer day, Cousin Number One comes not as a runaway but to introduce his new girlfriend. This was to become an established routine as all sought her endorsement and approval. It just so happened Number Three Cousin, his brother, was sleeping on our sofa as the most current truant. At the time I was a ten-year-old country boy who knew nothing about girls except from the Sears Roebuck catalogue. I had never seen anyone as elegant or striking.

A month later, it’s Cousin #3 making the long trek from Glendale (60 miles of no freeways) to show off his new girlfriend: his brother’s, whom he had met at our house a month earlier! My mother approved on both occasions.

They married, even though he was amongst the first-ever group to be drafted prior to WWII. Then eventually it was Italy and France with the famed 442nd RCT. She waited in camp for the duration with her parents. After the war they settled in Long Beach.

Cousins do not automatically make good friends. The vagaries of life — age, camp and distance — intervene. Where an older cousin-in-law might fit depends on circumstances. For us there was a special connection, a bond that continued into her nonagenarian years.

With her death no tears, just fond memories …

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{3} I’ve known his father from pre-war years; the unlikely pairing of a Boyle Heights yogore-in-training with a bowl-haircut country boy. We met at a summer camp for young Jappo kids. Actually it was fall, before they closed down for the year because of cold weather; which explains how a bunch of JA kids could even go to a San Bernardino mountain encampment before The War. We both ended up in Poston, which meant being joined at the hip for three years of high school.

As members of two constantly warring gangs, we maybe exchanged a thousand words in all that time. If you count cuss words as talking. [We never fought, at least me and him.] Post-war resulted in a togetherness under much friendlier terms.

With a third classmate, we still get together regularly, mostly for breakfast. More than a thousand words are exchanged before a coffee refill. A long and storied friendship continues.

He just lost his fifty-three-year-old son.

Death can be devastating  …

W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at williamhiroto@att.net Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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