A JA tradition that occurs every Memorial Day weekend is to visit the cemetery to pay respects to loved ones who have passed.

In the case of my wife Lisa’s family, the cousins get together for this annual tradition. We usually visit three to four different cemeteries.

This year the first stop was Evergreen, where her paternal grandparents and other relatives and friends are buried. Next was Rose Hills, where her mother’s relatives and more friends are interred. Our third stop was Fair Haven in Orange County, where more aunts and uncles have their final resting place.

At each cemetery we had to remember where each person was buried. Once we located the gravesites, we cleaned the headstones, dug out the flower holders that were imbedded with overgrown grass, placed flowers, and then we said a prayer.

Auntie Fran

After this stop, the family usually gets together for lunch. Our favorite place is a diner call Arthur’s in Orange. It has pretty good chicken fried steak, which is one of my favorites.

This year, however, we had the good fortune to see one of Lisa’s Auntie Fran’s sisters-in-law, Mickie Iwakoshi. We all enjoyed lunch at a Japanese restaurant and caught up after a long time.

We shared memories of Auntie Fran and her husband, George Iwakoshi. The cousins each had fond memories of visiting their farm in Fountain Valley. It was a gathering point for the Abe clan in the ’50s and ’60s.

Auntie Fran made great meals and the kids had a chance to roam the farm. After any meal we were treated to a trip to the freezer in an outdoor storage unit … full of all types of frozen delights! A bonus was that Auntie Fran had the first color TV!

Since she never had children, she spoiled her nieces and nephews, never forgetting a birthday, graduation or other milestone. We always left with fresh strawberries, cabbage, corn, and sometimes canned albacore!

Group picture of the clan

In the summer we were able to see Disneyland’s fireworks show as we drove home. As an aside, Lisa’s dad, on the way home to Gardena after a visit to Auntie Fran, saw the searchlights marking the opening day of a new amusement park called Disneyland. Her dad decided to investigate. Lisa, all of one year old, attended the opening day of Disneyland!

Unfortunately, Uncle George passed at a very young age. The farm later became part of what is now the Golden State Freeway.

We also noted the passing of Auntie Mickie’s husband, Uncle Sets Iwakoshi. The unfortunate circumstance was he did not have a service because of COVID and we did not have a chance to say goodbye. Uncle Sets was always so personable and was a great guy.

Lunch selfie with Auntie Miki

After lunch, if we have time, we’d go to Green Hills to visit her Uncle Vic and other friends who are interred there and then try to make our way to Forest Lawn. A full day!

I guess Memorial Day is not just visiting and remembering loved ones that have passed but also taking a moment to savor the memories of times past with those still here and remember why family is so important. My sister-in-law mentioned it was also a time to run into and connect with friends and family who are also making the rounds of the cemeteries.

The Chinese do the same thing, except in April. We call it  “walking the mountain!” This tradition includes bringing food to the gravesite, burning incense and paper money, and bowing three times.

Even though I am an in-law, I have been a part of this JA tradition for 40+ years. I cherish this time with family.


Bill Yee is a retired Alhambra High School history teacher. He can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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