It’s been a week since I have written anything of substance. I am trying to participate in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The month is November, the goal is to write 2000 words a day for 30 days. At the end of November at 2000 words a day there should be a short novel completed. I have about 6000 words on paper, but in fact for the last three days I have been unproductive. But life—or death—gets in the way.
On November 1 my only surviving uncle passed away. Uncle was 94, and had lived a full life in Los Osos, California. I was on a Disney cruise with my daughter and grandboys when I got word. As soon as we docked in San Diego I flew to Sacramento to gather up my sister, and we drove the four and a half hours back to Los Osos. We came because of Uncle’s passing, but wanted to support Auntie and my three cousins.
Auntie and Uncle married on February 2, 1950. They were the first interracial marriage on the Okinawa army base. They had to get special dispensation to marry, even though Auntie had been born and raised in Hardin Montana and was an American citizen. But miscegenation (anti-interracial) laws still existed in many states until 1967—yes, 1967—and the army was no different. Auntie was Japanese American, Uncle was white. They married anyway, and were together for 69 years.
Auntie is at End of Life. She is lying on the couch in the home she shared with Jim, in the valley they spent over 69 years working, playing and living in. Two of the cousins are with her as well as 9-5 Monday through Friday care givers.
She is dying in Los Osos valley where she followed her sister Hano back in the early 1950s. When Uncle Jim saw the valley, with the towering Morro Rock in the distance, he proclaimed this as their future and forever home. And it was.
They made their living running a gas station, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, taking only three holidays—Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Uncle Jim could fix any vehicle that came his way; little Ruthie would wear her gas station gabardine slacks and starched shirt, tucked in and belted, looking like a Rosie the Riveter, but instead of riveting, she washed windshields and checked oil levels, the little red rag stuck in her back pocket, swaying as she ran to a vehicle, popped the hood and began her work.
Aunt Ruth was the youngest of seven siblings—My dad was the oldest—and was always quick to laugh, quick to smile. Friendly and outgoing, with crinkly laugh wrinkles at her eyes, she was the face of the station. They built long friendships that were a result of the business and Uncle’s hobbies—everything from volunteer coast guard to fishing boats, to motorcycles and flying model airplanes.
The horses were more a result of the cousins’ passions, and their mom Hano supported the horses. Auntie and Uncle never had children of their own, though they parented Hano’s three boys as though they were their own.
Hano, Ruth and Jim. For most of my life I never thought of one without thinking of the others. They were together, always. Hano was a single mom, raising three hellions that were her sons. But Uncle was the firm hand of discipline, and Ruthie was the loving and laughing Auntie.
Hano, Ruth and Jim. So special to me because they were the only relatives I had ever known as a kid. The other relatives were in Japan, not close, mystical of sorts.
Hano was born in 1921. Ruth and Jim born in 1925. They are the last of a generation. My dad, Auntie’s brother, died in 1976 at 61. My mom, born in 1921 died in 2012 at 91. Hano died before that. The rest of that generation in Japan have also passed. All the history, all the memories, the stories of the war, the tales of pre-war…all gone, all lost as the generation fades away.
So we ask questions to the failing Auntie. What was your dad like? What was Grandma like. Who was funny in the family? Who was serious. Where did they go when they returned to Japan? What happened to my dad’s first partner in Japan? But so many more questions left unanswered. So many blank stares.
We hold her tiny hand, her fingers and nails so perfect, the rings loose on her fingers. Her face, so smooth and calm, not because she is totally at peace, but because the morphine absorbs the pain of loosing a lifelong mate.
Yesterday was a day of lucidity, of alertness. The three of us sisters who were able to come hovered like the three fairies around Sleeping Beauty. Ruthie is Sleeping Beauty. We all want the miraculous kiss to let her wake from the sleep to 1965, when they were in the prime of life, Hano’s boys naughty but nice. We all want to wake and find Los Osos and California as it was when they first found this valley, pristine and unpopulated. One paved streety with red dirt roads on either side. A clear line of sight to the sand dunes. Our cousins and I want to look at each other and see 10-year olds, playing pranks on each other. Or 17-year olds, riding horses on the beach, waves crashing around us. Not weary, wrinkled 60-something seniors, bedside, bound by duty and love.
But we wait, and there is no awakening. Ruthie opens her eyes and asks, “Where is Jim? Is Jim here?” When we don’t answer, she moans and says, “This isn’t a dream, is it?”
No, this is reality, this is the circle of life.
My sisters and I are here for only a few more hours. But the process will take longer. We will be gone, back to our own lives, our own dreams, our own realities. While our lives will go on, Hano’s boys will be left to take care of the aftermath. And the mourning of a past. And we become the next generation, we are the seniors. The future unwinds before us. A wedding is planned for next year, the hopes for new birth.
The fog burns off, Morro Rock rises up out of the ocean. And for an instance I don’t see the new homes, the paved streets, the Starbucks. I only see a single paved road, with sea pines and eucalyptus trees lining the sleepy path that leads us to the ocean and to the memories of the past.