Saturday, December 12, 2009

This Lady Does Not Sing the Holiday Blues

This year will be the first year in 26 years that Will and I will be spending New Years away from home. Every New Years since I moved from my family home in Idaho, back in 1968, I have cleaned the house furiously from Christmas to New Year's Eve and worked from morning to night cooking traditional Japanese food. Each dish meant something so I carried this burden of responsibility to cook it so that those good things would happen during the year to feed our guests who dropped by. Often, I lived where there were very few Japanese Americans so A) No one drops by without invitation and B)they wonder, "what's this?" as they look over the people. My friends are cool so the question is not judgment but an expression of interest as they scoop a healthy portion onto their plate: there is nishime -- a mixture of root vegetables of the earth; sushi; decorative rice molded into special shapes, a whole chicken, a whole fish, a side of black peas, kombu (kelp) and chestnuts, a bright orange gelatin called kanten, okowa which is red adzuki beans and mochi rice, chirashi gohan, vinegar rice dish sprinkled with shredded vegetables, and Japanese style potato salad (includes a green vegentable like string beans, carrots and olives). These foods symbolized strength, robust health, good luck, the family staying together, happiness. I'll let you match them up. All the foods were made to be eaten the next day because we don't work on New Years. We just visit each other and eat from other Japanese family New Year foods and good conversation.

Will and I would catch New Year's Eve parties after a day of cooking a week of cleaning, and of course, paying off our bills so we don't enter the New Year owing anything, which would symbolize debt all year long. But, nowadays, we never can quite stay up for midnight -- unless we're at Jim Garcia's house!

On a day between Christmas and New Years, I would make rice cakes or mochi. You cannot greet a New Year without our traditional breakfast of a mochi soup, the cake dropped into a tasty broth with vegetables (all with meanings) and kamaboko, a decorative fish cake which has a meaning. (We all love ozoni).

I also made kazari=mochi for our alter. This is constructed by two large mochi put on top of each other with a leafed mandarin orange on top. Trying to find one fresh for New Years was always a frustrating reminder that we are off the radar to the produce managers. The leafy oranges so prominent for the Christian holiday of Christmas is completely gone for our needs on New Years. For this holiday, the stores are stocking up on snacks for football games. But we MUST have that one orange to place on top of the stacked mochi for our ancestors! Over the years, I think we have educated some of the healthy stores to stock oranges a few days longer and the hunt is not so consuming.

But this year, New Years being so close to when my mom passed on, I don't have the steam to even think about what needs to be done and to top it off, our daughter who moved back into town informed us she is off to Pasedena with the Oregon Ducks and can't do the New Year thing after all. It took a moment's consideration -- the timing, the injured wrist which requires help, and no help. It seemed to be time to finally let go of the burden of guaranteeing a good year for my family by the magic of cooking and cleaning. Nature and the Great Creator provides for us all, and for our part, it is what we do all year which determines happiness, good fortune, health and our family staying together. So this year, Will and I will observe New Years in a peaceful manner. Maybe Will will light the Sacred Fire before New Years' Day as he always has done, and we'll have our mochi breakfast, thinking about Mom and our ancestors. Our family of daughters have their own lives. Josina lives clear in Minnasota. Margaret, William and baby Celeste will be with there own family in southern Oregon. And, of course, Maki's taking off for the Rose Bowl with friends. When she made the decision to skip New Years, some time during fourth quarter of the UO/OSU Civil War Game game which determined who would go to the Rose Bowl, her date promising to pay for the flight for her and her friend, tickets to the game already secured, that kind of revealed us for who we are, and that is we are two people headed for the Siuslaw River to relax, of course. No Dummies, we. This lady does not sing the holiday blues.

After the one year observance of my mom's passing this coming summer , we will have that open house party we always had at New Years sometime in September/October. It'll be a way to show gratitutde for the harvest, to celebrate good work together, to welcome the students back to a new academic year, and all the birthdays and anniversaries which seem to be observed during those two months within our circle of friends, during a time it's safe for Margaret and William and our granddaughter to travel up to do with us. As for next year, this might be a good change to keep. On New Years, we will, like the rest of Nature, take it easy, have prayers by a Sacred Fire, prepare food for our ancestors' alter and for New Year's breakfast for the two of us and any daughter who might be at home and also want to wake up early enough for breakfast with us. The happy thing is we will actually be able to stay up late enough the night before partying on New Year's Eve at the Longhouse, welcoming the New Year in company of friends with lots of kids and of course elder Wilma Crowe, who celebrated her 91st birthday this June, at the Longhouse, rushing outside to bang on the Longhouse pots and pans at midnight. Life is good.

1 comment:

  1. I miss this is well, but reading about the food and happy times we all had there makes me homesick. I am feeling a little sad, but feeling as well my family is also scattered this holiday. Jonah is at home in Oregon visiting his family and saying goodbye to his great-grand mother who passed last month. She was a lively spirit, 97 years old, living in Arizona, but visiting New York. She also was a victim of the health system not taking care of her when she fell and broke her hip. She did not have any other other health conditions known to her family. She mad a decision to give her body to science, you know what went on after that. They cremated the remains and sent to AZ, but her family will honor her in Eugene. He's sad, but have faced many obstacles in his life. I am glad I was there for him. He's in honors classes and I hope going on to college.

    I am trying to convince his mother to send him to live with us. I have uploaded more pictures of my grands on Face Book. I am working today and tomorrow, but off for the holiday. I will call you all.


"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

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. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.