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Los Angeles~ A Distant Memory and Resonance Part II
Return to Tokyo
In the summer of 1973, we returned to our home in Tokyo, Japan. I didn't keep in touch with my classmates, but I did write Christmas cards every year to Mrs. G, my first grade teacher. My mother kept in touch with former neighbors Mr. & Mrs.D, Mr. & Mrs. J, and with Mrs. Y, whom she met at my brother and sister's preschool. Mrs. Y gave birth to another son and she and her husband purchased a home in Rancho Palos Verdes. Mr. & Mrs. D lived in a trailer home after they moved back to Quebec City and later purchased a home in the suburbs of Quebec City.
A few years later, both Mrs. Y and Mrs. G visited Tokyo. Mrs. Y came to visit her grandmother who was ill. This was probably Mrs. Y's first or second visit to Japan. Although her parents were Japanese, she was born and raised in Hawaii, and did not get the chance to visit her ancestral land often. My mother and Mrs. Y were eagerly exchanging letters trying to set up a get together. Unfortunately, the meeting never took place. Mrs. Y became ill during her stay in Tokyo and couldn't see my mother. It was just too bad that they never got to meet.
In 1977, Mrs. G visited Tokyo with a group she was travelling. I do remember going to see her in a hotel in downtown Tokyo though I remember very little about this visit. I think it was a fairly brief meeting and we met with Mrs. G in the lobby of the hotel. We weren't able to plan much else as she was with a group and on a fairly tight schedule.
I continued to keep in touch with Mrs. G after her visit. She rarely wrote back, but I remember clearly the rare occasion when she did. In 1981, she sent me a Christmas card enclosed in a bright red envelope, announcing her marriage to Mr. S. She had divorced her husband Mr.G, to whom she was married when I was in her class. (For the sake of simplicity, I will still call her Mrs.G ). When I graduated from high school in 1985, I sent her my graduation picture. I never discussed the possibility of ever seeing her again, but in the summer of 1990, while a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I had the opportunity to visit L.A. again.
In 1990, my father accepted a position for visiting professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Before the new semester started, we decided to meet up in the L.A. area and spend some time together. I had not seen my parents for a whole year so I was really looking forward to this trip. In mid-August, I flew over from Madison on an afternoon flight while my parents flew in from Tokyo earlier in the day. While I was elated to see them again, I was not happy to see that their hair had turned considerably gray in the year that I had not seen them. We headed down to the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach in our rental car.The weather was sunny, the sky, clear blue. This was a part of Southern California we had not visited during our years in Culver City. We had been to Disneyland in Anaheim and a few other locales in Orange County but this was essentially our first time in Newport Beach.
After a day or two at Newport Beach, I called Mrs. G. She seemed happy to hear from me but told me she had developed a neuromuscular disorder and was still seeking treatment. We agreed to meet at a bakery in Santa Monica a few days later.
Before we went to see Mrs. G, we decided to pay a visit to the school I had attended and the house we once lived in. Seventeen years had gone by since we left Culver City and I was now 24 years old. The school was closed for the summer and there was not a single soul on the playground, the same playground where the Mexican classmate had scratched my face. Although the playground was fenced in, I could see inside clearly. Absolutely nothing had changed since I had been a student at the school. I almost felt as if I had time slipped to 1973 and could almost picture myself on the playground with other kids during recess. A feeling of euphoria overcame me as I stood in a stream of warm breeze. My father took two pictures of me on this visit. One shows me outside the playground, looking dreamy but happy, and the other shows me in front of of the school, arms outstretched and smiling. It was a short-lived but a happy moment for me.
We then drove over to the house we once used to live. The house, by contrast, proved to be a disappointment in appearance. We couldn't go indoors, obviously, but the garage was tiny and the front door, plain and shabby. Unlike my experience seeing the school playground, this view of the house did not at all match my memory, nor did it evoke any memories I may have had.
Suddenly, Mrs. J, our former neighbor, appeared at her door. She called to us. We had not contacted her in advance so she was quite surprised. She seemed happy to see us and invited us into her home. She told us she was originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin but she moved to L. A. because her daughter had rheumatic fever. "She had a 104 degree fever all the time". Mrs. J said. The cold Wisconsin winters were not suitable for her recovery and Mrs. J and her family wanted to live in a more temperate climate for the sake of their ill daughter.They once had the opportunity to visit Oshkosh again during the winter. Mrs. J remarked that after that visit "I decided I'm never going back there again". I guess the bitter cold was more than they could handle.
My parents and I went to see Mrs. G at a bakery in Santa Monica a few days later.It had been about 13 years since I last saw her and she looked older and a little tired from having gone to therapy for her neuromuscular problem, but other than that, she seemed really happy to see us. She told me the doctors were prescribing her all these medications which were not helping and after a while she was feeling "all druggie", so she started seeing a therapist in Garden Grove. She hoped that this time she was on the right track and on the road to recovery. She was transferred to another public school some time after I left Culver City but didn't like her position at the new school. "They put me up with fourth grade and I was really a primary grade teacher", she explained. She showed me pictures of her children, her two sons and her daughter. Her daughter and one of her sons was a twin. Her two sons were both tall and handsome.
I left L.A. and flew back to Madison after our vacation. My parents flew to Minneapolis a few days later. Later on, my father told me that right before they left for Minneapolis, he got a phone call from Mrs.J who asked whether or not they'd like to join she and her husband for dinner. Unfortunately, my parents had a prior commitment, so they couldn't get together. It was nice of Mrs.J to think of my parents and ask them out for dinner.
My father's position as visiting professor at the University of Minnesota was only a semester long so they were back in Tokyo by December of the same year. They were still exchanging Christmas cards with Mr. and Mrs. D who had moved back to Quebec City. "Mrs.D's English seems to deteriorate year after year", my mother said. Though Mrs. D had a neat handwriting, her English written on her Christmas cards she sent was often incorrect. It was obvious that she probably didn't have the opportunity to write in English. My mother remembers writing them a card from Minneapolis saying that "maybe we're a little bit closer to you than when we were in Japan". Unfortunately, my parents never got to see them during their stay in Minneapolis.
Los Angeles, 1991
In December 1991, I passed my M.A. oral examination at the Univeristy of Wisconsin-Madison and was in the process of returning to Tokyo. I decided that before I did so, I would visit a Japanese friend who had just moved to L.A. several months earlier. She had received her degree in May and had moved to a suburb close to Pasadena. I had come down with a bad throat cold and my voice was hoarse but I was still willing to make the trip.
I stayed with this friend for four days while we visited Santa Monica and a few other beach towns including Manhattan Beach. We had dinner at a Spanish restaurant in Hollywood, where we got to see the flamenco dancers.
I can't remember whether or not I contacted Mrs. G beforehand but we were able to set up a meeting. She suggested that we get together for dinner at her home in Pacific Palisades, a hilly area not too far from the coast. She lived there with her husband Mr. S whom she married in 1981. "That must be an area for rich people," my friend remarked.
When we drove over, I found that Pacific Palisades was a very hilly residential area with narrow roads which seemed endless. It didn't seem like a particularly "rich" area. Mrs. G's home was a rather small, two story house. Mr. S was a tall man of German descent. It turned out that it was his home and Mrs. G had moved there from another home in Pacific Palisades when she married Mr.S. Mrs. G seemed well, at least better than when I saw her in Santa Monica the previous year after she had had therapy.She also appeared more slender.
The lasagne that Mrs. G served us was delicious. As we sat in the family room, Mr.S remarked, "this room used to be the garage. I renovated it". There were no children between Mrs. G and Mr. S but they each had three children from previous marriages. In addition to this, I found out that this was the third marriage for both of them. Mrs. G had her three children from her first marriage which ended (I presume) in divorce, then she married Mr. G to whom she was married when I was her student. "It was a mistake to marry Mr. G," she remarked. Mr. S, on the other hand, divorced his first wife and lost his second wife to cancer. I don't know if his three children are from his first or second marriage. Mrs. G and Mr.S' second wife were close friends. "So when my second wife passed away, we started going," Mr. S explained matter-of-factly. Come Christmas, all six of their children and their grandchildren would visit Mrs. G and Mr. S. They seemed like one big happy family. I really enjoyed visiting them.