(Published May 24, 2017)
Since my mother died some twenty-odd years ago and I have no children of my own, I wasn’t planning to spend much time celebrating — or even thinking about — Mother’s Day. However, the fanfare surrounding this year’s $17 billion retail day was inescapable.
I always thought that this traditional tribute to unsung moms was just another brilliant Hallmark idea, but it turns out that it started way before Joyce Hall (that’s Joyce Clyde Hall, a man) started the company in 1910. In fact, I was happy to read that it was first mentioned as “Mother’s Peace Day” as far back as 1872 when a group of anti-war activists (women, of course) decided to set aside a day to celebrate global unity.
My own memories of this important day go back to my childhood when we used it as a time to buy something special for my mom and obachan. I guess it’s always been a commercial holiday even before florists began building their entire business around it. Still, even though it was always tough trying to think of something other than black support stockings that my 90-something-year-old grandmother would like, it was a great way to take time to think about what I could do for her rather than the usual other way around.
It wasn’t easy for my mom to have her mother-in-law living with us, but for the kids, Bachan was the center of our world. I’m not sure how we communicated since she never learned English even after living here for more than a half-century, and I no Japanese, but each one of us nine kids was convinced that we were her favorite. Maybe it was because she spent hours braiding a rug for each of us made from piles and piles of fabric scraps, or maybe it was the way she fed us by frying bologna with just the right amount of shoyu on top and chazuke on the side. We all turned to Bachan for the attention a busy working mom could not provide.
When my father died while I was still in high school, it was difficult for my mom to take over feeding and clothing us, but also making sure we all somehow made it into college. As I grew older, rather than appreciate how difficult it must have been, I used to pick on some of her silly habits — like filling up on closets full of toilet paper or anything else that she could buy on sale, or refusing to throw away anything that could possibly be reused. (As comedian Louie Anderson once aptly described someone very much like my mother, “She wasn’t a hoarder. She had aisles.”)
Looking back, it’s easy to remember the irritating things my mother would say and do and frightening to think how much I have become like her. However, even though Mother’s Day does not require my buying any presents anymore, perhaps I can commemorate it by paying tribute to all the wonderful things mothers do.
And on a timely aside, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the signing of EO 9066, I’ll start by remembering the way my quiet but strong Nisei mother took action against injustice. In a very uncharacteristic gesture, she wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan demanding redress. When she received her check, she celebrated by taking us to an expensive (especially by her standards) dinner at a restaurant of our choice, aptly named Killer Shrimp — for it was a killer day.
Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.