Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Of Dreams, Drums and Mothers

Our oldest daughter, Josina Manu, had a dream the other night and shared it with me:

i had a very long involved dream last night. in one part i was in a living room with a number of women, and you were there across from me. i was telling a story about something i had read in a book. your mother interrupted me and started telling a story, i can't remember how it started but she started to dance, she was moving her feet in a step and then leaned forward, still dancing, and began describing how the drums used to be made. she was motioning over a handbag as if it were the drum, and explaining how the barrels were made of metal but they would stretch the skin over it and sew it on before they were done smithing the metal. once the skin was on then they would finish working the metal. all the while she spoke, her hands were in the motion of stretching, then sewing the skin, and her feet were still moving in dance.
there were many mothers in my dream, and ancestors. when i woke and was describing the dream, i kept saying "misa's mother" but not mary. i honestly don't know if it was mary or grandma florence, because she had a younger face that i didn't recognize.
but i wanted to tell you about it.

It almost seemed as if she dreamed a dream for me during this hard time because it carries such meaning for me, and at this point, is very comforting. There is a reason why Josina could not tell whether it was my Mama or Grandma Florence.

I have two mothers. One is my Mama who gave birth to me and raised me the best she could. The other came into my life when I became a mother and had no clue what I could do to mother this little one, our second daughter, who had already made up her mind about life in an orphanage in Korea. We clearly were in over our heads and needed help, and went for help to Winnemem spiritual leader and doctor, Florence Jones, whom we call Granny.

My mother, Mary, gave me the framework of my life to carry me along. For me, the metal circular frame is from my mom. And, then, Granny made a drum of me.

That needs to be explained. Al Smith, a wise Klamath elder, was sitting in a counseling circle of former addicts, watching his friend expertly lead a conversation. Afterwords, his friend asked him what he thought. Al said, "remember that you aren't the drummer, but you are the drum." That really resounded in me. I think many of us offer ourselves to be drummed. I know I did. And it led me to Granny. And daughters.

Both Granny and my mother carried handbags. They carried EVERYTHING in the handbag. It wasn't a place for money only. There were things to soothe, to cure, to comfort, to stave off hunger AND things to mend, to patch, to cut, to fix, to prettify, to write notes, to open things up, to entertain. Like I said, everything. They were prepared for anything. Both these women certainly meant to prepare me for everything I might face. Therefore, the handbag, and circling mother hands fashioning a metal piece and that metal form completed by another mother fitted with a drum head. They worked together and molded me.

Both were so strong and full of vigor and life, in different ways, of course, my two mothers.

This is a beautiful dream where my mother(s) revealed themselves to our eldest daughter, Josina.

It's a blessing for mothers to be taught that they are not the drummer but the drum offering themselves to be drummed. There is something about daughters and mothers which ultimately teach that lesson to one another, "we are not the drummer; we are the drums who offer ourselves to be drummed."

Dedicated to: Mary, Florence and their mothers and to Josina, Maki, and Margaret, and our little blessing Celeste. And since our family is very complicated, to our daughters' other mothers and grandmothers and other daughters. It seems we are a clan of two-mothered daughters.


I sit in an interesting intersection right now. I received three messages in a very short time from three doctors who treated my mother. One is a medical doctor. Another is a naturopathic doctor. And one is my Indian doctor. All are women. All well respected for their doctoring. I am simply printing their messages to us as we are grieving the death of our dear mother, and I print them here in the order I received them:

September 10 (the day of the Wake) an email from my Indian Doctor:

I am thinking of you today and the strength you will need to get through it. The prayer house fire is burning so I put some tobacco down for you to feel our love. I wish I could be there for you now, but Mark is in Sacramento so I am watching out for Dan. I know that if you close your eyes for a moment, you will feel the fire and gain the balance you need today. It is once in a great while that we actually have a mom's love more than once, and how lucky we have been. It's a crazy world we live in and your mom made the best that a little person could at the time. But now it's time to send her home where her heart is. Now, settle your heart, burn your root and breathe deep. I love you both. See you soon.

September 15 (posted after returning from her vacation on September 11) from our Naturopath a sympathy card and handwritten note:

Thank you for your kind message letting me know your Mom had passed away. I'm glad she was at home, and you and Marti were both there. Your mom was very lucky to have you as a daughter. You took wonderful loving care of her in these last few years.

September 16 (a form letter dated 9/8/09, the first workday, first appt. slot on the fourth day after my mom's death) from my mother's medical doctor whom I was considering having as my medical doctor for hospital privileges:

Dear (my name inserted)
According to our records, you failed to keep or cancel your appointment with our office on (tues. 9/8@8 am inserted).

Since you are a new patient to my practice, I had reserved additional time on my schedule to meet you and to work with you on your health issues. If you cannot keep your scheduled appointment, please call my office at least 24 hours in advance to cancel. Advanced notice of cancellaation allows us to give appointments to patients who otherwise could not be seen. if you do miss your next scheduled appointment, you will not be able to establish care with me and will be asked to find a new provider.

I appreciate your cooperation and look forward to seeing you at your next visit.

Sincerely, (signature)
New patient letter #1

I understand that sometimes form letters are sent by clinic staff other than the doctor, that these are probably even pre-signed. I understand that perhaps the doctor did not get my appointment cancellation message called into the after hours answering service explaining that my mother had died and that I would be busy making arrangements all through September so both our appointments must be cancelled. I understand that perhaps the police officer didn't inform the doctor as he said he would or that she doesn't read obituaries, or that her answering service did not give her critical information of why I was cancelling all these appointments. She may not have known. After all, the lab called days after my mother's death to ask me to call regarding her lab results, something the doctor had already told us at the appointment hours before my mama died. The doctor said on the basis of the results, we needed to hook up with hospice and she would be happy to help us. This is not a blog to blame a doctor or damn an institution even if seems to have some glitches with inter-departmental communication.

Like I said, I sit at an interesting intersection looking at systems of healthCARE in our country.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


One of the Tsukimi Kai 3 friends with whom Will and I traveled to Cuba wrote a comforting email to me of a lesson she learned after her father had passed, “You will still grow to know your mother and understand her as the years go by.”

Those words struck me because it is so true. In the days, mere days, following my mama’s death, I began to have flashes of her as a woman, what her choices revealed about her as a woman without the mystique of Mother.

My mom was raised to be and do right in this world by her family. Every example she saw, every story shared with her, and those were the stories shared with my sister and me as children, the examples and role models she pointed us toward, were of rightness, of goodness.

However, in her life, she encountered and sometimes even became immersed in things she had never imagined -- hate, violence, wartime hysteria -- all that was not right or good, a side of life she had never been prepared for; no insights to help her de-construct clearly.

Each time "life threw her a big one," she held fast to what she knew to be right and good and without becoming immobilized, walked through the best she could and took her babies with her.

For her, doing right meant to be a single mother in a multi-generational home. Every woman knows what sacrifice of personal worth and independence that choice must have required. At the same time, every human being knows what a gift it is for children to be raised by a mother, and grandmother and a grandfather. Her choice was clearly made for us. Once single and living with parents, always single -- with all the baggage of a single person living with her parents carries in the eyes of the Nikkei as well as the rest society, seen as the perennial dependent and the effects of those dynamics on the rest of her life.

Our upbringing was shared by my mother and grandparents. Definitely we learned Grandma and Grandpa knew best. However, I have a clear memory who taught me how to navigate a school system in which a teacher put me in a closet if I spoke Japanese, god rest Mrs. Finney’s soul. I remember who read Mine Okubo’s book to me as a child and clarified that the Nikkei were not guilty of anything when they were herded into concentration camps and it was wrong. In this way, my mother planted the seed which sprouted fully in me so that when I saw injustice, I knew it by name and could stand firmly on the side of justice and stand with any child victimized by it in the classrooms without fear or hesitation.

Definitely, it was my mother who taught me a very healthy attitude toward protecting myself as a little girl and later, as a woman so I would not be easily victimized. My antenna for 'red flags' are quite sensitive.

Definitely, it was my mother who taught me that becoming involved in public service, civic responsibility was a good thing. I remember the whispered arguments in Grandma’s bedroom between them over me -- whether I should join choir, whether I should run for office, whether I should be involved in so many school activities. It may have been Grandma’s house but those were the battles my mom decided to take on while letting the others go. And when there was a performance or event, both Mama and Grandma would be there supporting us.

I remember peeking in her bedroom -- a.k.a. the sewing room -- her back bent over the Singer, late late at night, sewing something for my sister or me. I remember my spoiled attitude that I had a personal designer of my own. We would go to buy a pattern, and beautiful fabric, but I always wanted something changed -- not a mere hemline -- but the scoop of the neck, the dip in the back, a hemline which draped. And mom would do it.

I read and write for fun because of so many “fun times” with her, my sister and a book and how much praise I received for writing, encouraged to enter into contests. My mom is not so much a reader, so that is something she deliberately did for her daughters. I went to college because it was a given, an expectation from the time we were little girls. We were encouraged to put our pennies in a big piggy bank for college. Now I know that she did this in spite of the “out of reach” costs of higher education so that when the time came I would be motivated to find a way -- national grants, work study -- to actualize what was essentially a dream.

She taught me from the time I was barely walking all through adulthood that all people were equal, including me, even if she may not have been able to believe that fully herself. It was just one of those things she wished for me -- just as she wished for me to go to college when she could not, choose my profession even if she could not, choose my life partner wisely even if that choice was not something she was able to have, to participate in community, run for office even if those options were closed by war and law from her.

She did not wantfor her daughters a life where bad things were thrown at them -- unexpected, unfathomable surprises as her substantial challenges must have been for her -- and she prepared us for life the best she could. She wanted us to have some say about our destiny. I am grateful for the blessings of my life because she thought about what I might need on whatever road I might choose and gave me everything she could to prepare for any difficulty.

Along the way, my mother did follow her daughters into college, became a teacher, and dedicated herself with great passion to a chosen profession. When given bad news about a third procedure for her heart in her 70’s,she moved into assisted active living near my sister and did not allow the prognosis to limit her. In fact, for the first time away from Home, she lived as an independent individual, had her first best friend, went on tours around the world, and lived the life of a popular coed. When she received bad news about dementia, and it became serious, that did not overwhelm her. She moved with me and even with her dementia, lived with personality and grace intact, greeting each person, each new day, and all of nature with love. Finally, as I witnessed it, when faced with dying, she simply left in an instant, her face reflecting surprise and wonder at something I could not see or hear before she shook herself free and took her last breaths.

The blessing from now on, as my friend passed on to me from her own loss of a parent, will be to grow to know more and more, to begin to understand my mother. For this I am most thankful.
"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . 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.