A postcard came from Japan. It was from my grandmother. "How are you? I heard from your mother that you live close to Boston. Boston is such a lovely city, isn't it? I loved it when I visited. Take care of yourself."
Then, the handwriting changed to the one of my mother. "I decided to force Grandma to do something intelligent. I can't stand looking at my own mother spending days doing nothing. So, I thought about letting her write a letter. She does not have any friends, so will you receive her messages? We all know well that she has never been out of Japan. Please forgive her. She somehow thinks she has been to Boston."
My grandmother has been living in a nursing home in Osaka, Japan for three years. The only person she can recognize now is her sole daughter, my mother. Last time when I visited her about one and half year ago, she looked at me in a wheel chair and said,
"Young lady, I'm in trouble. You see the old ugly guy over there? He stole my money. I can't buy any food. I 'm so hungry."
My mother got irritated and screamed at her,
"What are you talking about? You eat three meals every day, and that's all you do, isn't it? Listen, don't ever say something like someone has stolen your money. It's such a shameful thing to do. OK?"
My grandmother shares a room with another old lady. One bed, one cabinet, and two chairs, that's all my grandmother has. My mother and uncle sold her house and took care of her belongings last year. Her collection of kimono, china, and first editions of masterpiece novels are all gone. She has been living the last part of her life at a little corner in a cold concrete building without any memories of these collections that she used to love. At this nursing home her eyes constantly look scared like a mouse kept in a cage.
We brought some rolled sushi to her for a snack. She had a hard time using chopsticks and made a mess on the table. Again, my mother got irritated and slapped my grandmother's hands.
"It hurts! Young lady, please tell my daughter to stop it."
"Mother. Don't hit Grandma," I said.
In a screeching voice my mother replied, "Once you get old, you are just like a kid. If I don't slap, she never understands."
Did you ever hit me when I was a kid? I don't think so, Mother. I thought so in my head, but I didn't say it to her.
My mother took care of my other grandmother, her mother-in-law, who was a serious Alzheimer's Disease patient, for five years. She did it at home alone without any outside help when I was at an elementary school. My parents had to lock her up at night as she often sneaked out of the house and wandered around the neighborhood until she got caught by the police. I still remember the noise she made banging the door in the middle of the night, and her weak but constant voice, "Please. Please open the door. Please".
It is a job of a wife of the oldest son to take care of aging parents-in-law among Japanese families. Young women in Japan usually consider seriously when they are about to get married to oldest sons, because of this heavy family obligation. My mother successfully got married to the second oldest son in Atsuta family, but unfortunately the wife of the oldest son died before doing her task, leaving her mother-in-law. I have tried to imagine how much my mother struggled. She definitely felt betrayed and unfair about the job she had never expected. But I am sure she must have felt guilty not accepting a typical self-sacrificial Japanese wife's role willingly.
A week later, another postcard came from Japan. This time I saw only my mother's handwriting on it.
"Will you send us a map of Boston? Grandma still thinks that she has been to Boston. I gave up. I decided to enjoy it. We will try to have a trip around Boston on a map together."
I read the postcard again. Suddenly I got disgusted with myself, who go back to Japan once in a while and then criticize my mother saying things like "Don't hit Grandma " hypocritically, without helping her at all. I sent them a map of Boston immediately. That's all I can do now as an irresponsible daughter, who lives in a foreign county doing anything at free will, for my mother, who has never criticized what I have been doing. Miles away from home, all I wish is that my mother would not slap my grandmother any more.
(2000/4/26. This essay was printed on Gloucester Daily Times.)