Monday, January 25, 2010

Elizabeth "Beti" Sadako Yoshida

The hospital said Ma was gone as of 9pm, but I know it was sooner than that; Deb and I were on the 405 headed back from UCLA and a strange sound came into my left ear; I thought of Ma...

I can't say it enough, but Ma, her siblings and the extended Yoshida clan are the last of their kind. There's a great quote by Little Richard that by analogy says it better than I can:

I think that when people want joy and fun and happiness, they want to hear the old-time rock & roll. And I'm just glad that I was a part of that. There's only a few of us left: myself, Bo Diddley, Chuck, Fats, Jerry Lee, the Everly Brothers. It's getting thin. So I think this is the last of it, the last of the good days. Soon there'll be a totally new thing. But it won't be the same. Never.

That's EXACTLY the way I feel; glad to have been brought up by her, the one I point to who gave to me one of the greatest gifts - the gift of knowledge.

There's a great picture - somewhere - of Ma, taken of her lying on a couch reading a book, her chin propped in her hand. It's one of the ways I remember her as a kid, always reading. Our den was a testament to her habit with books everywhere; it was a great resource for me.

Like many of her generation, she grew up very poor, with the twin shadows of the Depression and post WWII sentiment about Japanese. Race was something the Nisei never really addressed openly, at least to us Sansei, but given how crazy America's racial melting pot was and is, this silence shaped us in ways too numerous to list. But you can imagine.

As a kid she lived briefly in Iowa with Uncle George, her eldest brother, but I'll always associate Ma with Lindsay. In many ways, Lindsay is the heart of the Yoshidas; I think I'll scatter her ashes there.

Her stories about being young at that time still paint vivid pictures. They didn't have it hard like the pioneers, but they had it hard. Recently, Auntie Kathy told me she hated that time, which is sad given the way our youth is romanticized in this country. When I asked her why, she said simply that they were so poor....

Ma told me: One day I was sooooo hungry, and Frances or May was cooking. But all we had was cabbage. So when the food came, it was just cabbage and some kind of white sauce made from flour or something. And even though I was hungry, I couldn't eat it.

We are descended from farmers, plain and simple, and if you want to get down to it, country livin'. It's not Alabama, but just because Cali has LA and Frisco doesn't mean it isn't country out here.

Ma again: Mama would tell George, "We need something for dinner," and he'd walk out the door and grab his rifle on the way out. He'd come back with maybe a couple of rabbits, and I'd sit there transfixed, watching him string them up, skin and clean them.

Now that's country.

That wave that Tom Brokaw calls "The Greatest Generation," would go on to create the greatest middle class in history, and Ma was right there in the thick of it. Here're some snippets:

-I remember the drama in her voice when she told me about being at UCLA and the fear struck into everyone because of McCarthy. It was like a cloud over everything.

-I found out about one of the greatest, most extensive mass transit systems in America, right here in LA, the red car, from Ma. It was great; my girlfriends and I would catch it downtown and ride all the way to the harbor, eat lunch, have some fun, then ride it all the way back. For a nickel.

-She seemed to know who everyone in old Hollywood was.

But by far, her greatest asset was her sense of humor, and that was most definitely one zillion percent genetic. Plainly, the Yoshida sisters were legendary for busting up at family gatherings. Whenever we had a large family get together, it was just a matter of time before the fuse was lit and the bomb would explode.

That would prompt everyone else to stop what they were doing and look on in bemusement, as if some new show were on TV. As a kid, I remember the uncles playing cards, and a Yoshida sisters bomb went off, prompting Uncle Mack to hoist his jigger and matter of factly remark, Those Yoshida girls, there they go again.

The Yoshida sisters and their penchant for laughing till it hurts. And I thank heaven I'm descended from that stock, because if you can't laugh with others, at life and yourself then the party's over. And don't worry, Renee has the Yoshida laughing gene in full effect.

There's another great series of pics from our reunion that cousin Judy organized in Visalia back in '89 or thereabouts. I had grouped the Yoshida sisters for a photo, and then, yup, someone lit the fuse. As the photos go on, Ma finally ends up on her knees and Auntie May is doubling over while Auntie Frances looks like she's crying. Auntie Ross, prim and proper, would always laugh along heartily but she was too much the lady. Auntie Kathy, nutty like Ma, would crack up too but I remember her looking on at her big sisters with bemusement. And Auntie Nellie, the matriarch, seemed pretty entertained by the den of young hens beneath her.

That was the best of Ma, fun loving and not a mean bone in her body.

When Beti Yoshida laughs the mountains shake.

I'm glad that I had her as a mother, from a special generation and breed - tough as nails. Truly American.

And to paraphrase Little Richard:

There's only a few of the Yoshidas left... It's getting thin. So I think this is the last of it, the last of that special breed. And I'm just glad that I was her son. Soon there'll be a totally new generation and time.

But it won't be the same.


See you later, Ma. I love you.