It All Started With Pumpkin Pie Day Two

As I have said this started with Emi-san wanting Thanksgiving. I have met Kaori-san several times and Emi-san really wants her to experience Thanksgiving. It made me laugh to think that even though I would eat Thanksgiving twice, I would not eat it on Thanksgiving Day in Idaho. This dinner has much higher expectations because Emi-san has lived in the states and has memories of wonderful Thanksgivings. Memories are something you don’t want to compete with. I did not sleep deeply that night, problem solving in my sleep. I haven’t done that since teaching. Yes, here is a little secret, teachers don’t sleep well, because we practice in our sleep.

I have a few problems to work out. My microwave doesn’t work well. It had transformed sweet potatoes into card stock. So zapping is not an option. I have quite a bit of food from the day before. My three burners, two pots and two skillets will have to do. In talking to mom, she had encouraged me to find some “turkey herbs” to put on the chicken. At the Fresta, my local grocery store, I found thyme and ‘herb mix’. I have no more gravy packets so will stretch what I have. The sweet potatoes will be boiled; one more thing to cook on a burner.

Rich has an hour drive so he leaves right at 6:30 am every day. My friends will be here around 11:30 so I had five hours to get everything ready. It seems like plenty of time. I don’t have to walk to the station and back. I end up needing every moment. I   put the the sweet potatoes on to boil, get out the mashed potatoes, and put the pieces of baked chicken from Costco into a skillet. I sprinkle them with the herbs, add a little water, put on a lid and the low heat. All three burners are busy. The gravy simmers on the back; potato water being the stretching agent. The mashed taters, as my dad would call them, became creamier today as I hand fold in more butter and milk. By now the sweet potatoes are drained and waiting for their mashing. I add a touch of maple syrup instead of milk. The mashing tool is my wooden spatula made from a hard wood tree in Boise. On the farm we ate spuds every day. Only on Thanksgiving were they mashed, more evidence of the significance of the day, then and now.

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I did need to go to my local bakery. I had to find something pumpkin. My neighbor told me that our bakery is the best in town and the chef has a cooking show. So right at 10 am I am waiting for the doors to open. Things here do not open until 9 or after. It is one of the many things I have had to adjust to. I am behind three other customers. The woman in front of me has two boys about two and four. The display case is full of colorful pastries. Without thinking I say to him “Oishii so!” Immediately his brother high tails it behind his mom’s legs. His mom bows and smiles and then tells him in Japanese to say hello in English. He does. I respond in Japanese. “Sumimasen” It is her turn to order and our potential conversation is killed. When it is my turn I find that they have three pumpkin-hobocha-custdards. When I look at my watch, it is 10:30. It was smart to start cooking so early. Scurrying up the four flights of stairs, I review the list in my head. Without Lulu, I set the table myself. Again cranberries, fruit salad, a relish plate, bread and butter, salt and pepper dress the table. Emi-san has confessed that she doesn’t have flatware at her house. So I know this table will feel special even though she has been to America.

They arrive on the dot. Their entrance is no less noisy, just more English. Emi-san can’t believe how good it smells. As I take the lid off the poultry, it smells wonderfully Thanksgivingish. Herbs were a great suggestion from a master cook. Kaori-san comes bearing beautiful, exotic Japanese desserts. Today’s conversation is different. Emi translates between Kaori-san and myself. She vacillates between being a part of the conversation and interpreting it. I can only imagine what that feels like. With the three of us, it is a little quiet. As the ladies say “Itedakimasu”, and Emi-san starts passing the food, I keep quiet. She does the teaching today, telling her friend what each thing is and what to do with it in Japanese. She also calls it “gurebi sasu”. Emi’s voice is full of pride and nostalgia. When Emi-san hands Kaori-san the fruit salad, she refuses it and says in Japanese, “I will eat the dessert later.” So that is why the girls yesterday didn’t eat the fruit salad until last, they thought it was dessert.

IMG_1619Myself, Kaori-san, Emi-san ready for Thanksgiving

Emi-san and I haven’t seen each other for a while so she dominates the conversation. Her excitement for the day is palpable. As she takes a bite she collapses around her food exclaiming in Japanese and then in English. Both rapidly. “Oh how I have missed cranberry sauce, oh and this gravy sauce is so good. This isn’t turkey?! Oh my goodness this is so good!” Now you have to add between each of those sentences she turns to her friend and says it in Japanese. Who must not have known what she was talking about because then Emi-san would point and name. That is gravy sauce, that is cranberry sauce. They also loved the olives and pickles.

We want coffee with our pumpkin custard and as we wait for my big American pot to fill, I am finding out how to get a yearly pass to the Hiroshima garden. I get out my notebook; I had bought it all those years ago in Teshikaga. Kaori-san lets out a yelp. “Where did you get that?!” I explain that I had been a ryugakkusei-international student-and bought it in 1981. Kintakun was this popular character at the time and he was on the notebook. Kaori-san tells me that she could not get one when she was a kid because he was so popular. That led me to tell her that I would be wearing my kimono for the New Year. She seemed concerned that I did not have all the accessories that go with wearing a kimono. So I went and got it.

IMG_1618Enjoying pumpkin custard, notice the pastry box is folded and has a cool pack.

A kimono has many layers and accessories. From the moment I brought out the duffel bag with it all, Kaori-san was awestruck. I began to unpack it all to show them what I had. A good thing because they obviously needed aired out. I so wish I could understand Japanese. Under her breath, shaking her head, Kaori-san spoke rapid, quiet words. Emi-san looked at me and said, “She is saying that you have a treasure here, every piece is precious. They must be cherished.” Which didn’t seem like I was doing. I was pulling things out, shaking them and dropping them in a laundry pile. As they dropped, Kaori-san would pick them up and slowly, almost reverently refold and put in a pile. She was on the floor with her legs tucked under as all Japanese women can. It was a sight.

Emi-san kept saying, “I can’t believe this. You have so many Japanese things-real Japanese things! Oh my gosh this is a real silk kimono!” Then she found 5 yen coins strung with pink yarn. This made her laugh and laugh. “Why would you do this? “ she chortles. “Because American money has no holes, and that is what a teenage girl would do. I told you I was an exchange student! ” a bit miffed that she found this so funny. “I know but I really didn’t know this! That you had all this!!”

I pick up a folded note tucked in a side pocket. It is handwritten and in Japanese. “What does this say?” As Emi reads, her entire demeanor changes. Her straight body bends around the note. She is shaking her head like Kaori-san. Her voice is soft and emotional. “Oh my, oh my, they love you so much! Your host mom wrote this all in hiragana so you could read it. When she sent this you only had two sons. {That was 20 years ago.} She is telling you that Kuzuo-san has died. Oh, my, oh my, Angela you have to go to them before more die. They loved you so much! You have to go to them!” By now she is standing, her hand on my arm, looking at me. We have kimono stuff all over the floor, remnants of our Thanksgiving feast still on the table. Her friend is still kneeling on the floor, now putting the neatly folded piles back into the duffle bag. Her face has the same urging look.

IMG_1884My kimono items

Like yesterday, a phone goes off reminding us of life’s obligations. It is school dismissal time. I am thankful for the signal. And like yesterday, I insist the mothers go do what they need to do. I have plenty of time to do dishes. And then laundry. We say goodbye and hope to have lunch together soon. Kaori-san thanks me for the special day. It HAS been a special day. I will never forget the sight of her kneeling on the floor reverently folding my things muttering how precious they are. Emi-san gives me a big hug and thanks me for Thanksgiving. Sorry about the lack of stuffing and pie I shrug. She hugs me again. “It was all great, really great!”

I wash, dry and put away dishes in shifts. There isn’t enough room otherwise. I find the yams in the microwave. Oops. Mom would find this funny. It was a real Thanksgiving if something got forgotten.

There have been times that I thought my exchange experience was a dream. Life has a way of taking over. Unpacking my kimono brought back so many memories and feelings. My host families were so good to me. The kimono is an artifact of their generosity and total inclusion of me into their lives. Each family treated me as if I were their daughter. They gave from the heart. My strongest memories are around the dinner table. Eating, talking, laughing. I was a part of their family. It was a magical year.

IMG_1885This photo was taken in Kuzuo-san’s tatami room during the New Year’s celebration.

I head out for my daily walk around the river. The fresh crisp air refreshes. The day was so intense I feel like I am returning from a trip. I think about my host families and what it will be like to see them again. It is apparent that going back to Teshikaga, Hokkaido is not a question of if, but when. I must study diligently to become as fluent as I can. I don’t want to talk to them through someone.

The problem-solving machine is awakened and begins churning. I hear fish jump and watch the heron soar looking for supper. As I am coming up the path, I run into my neighbor, Etsuko-san. Her smile is bright and inviting. “Are you finished walking?” she asks. Yes, but with the day I have had I can go around the river again. I join her and we talk, me Japanese with her help, and her English with mine. The only barrier we have is language. Etsuko-san is generous with her time and her knowledge. We laugh at the ways of our languages and cultures. I am reminded that just like before, here in Hiroshima, I am treated well, like family.

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5 thoughts on “It All Started With Pumpkin Pie Day Two

  1. Your writing is wonderful! Life is changing every day for you! And you’ll soon have your boys with you! Love to all and Merry Christmas 🎄🎄🎄

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  2. I look forward to reading each of your posts when I’m notified about them. Thanks for sharing the picture of you in the kimono for this one. It made everything hit home.

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