Friday, September 05, 2014

The Finished Product: Auntie Frances

Frances Sumiko Yoshida-Wiley

Since the Wileys lived 2,000 miles away, we rarely saw one another, but the news of Auntie's passing of course still hurts us all out here in Cali. So, I told my cousin Kim that while I wanted to memorialize her mom, it then hit me; with such limited interaction, what would I say? I'd pretty much committed my Wiley recollections when writing about her son, cousin Joey.

Given that my approach would have to be wide-angled, where's the hook? More, is such an approach worthy? In the end, ascribing thoughts and feelings to someone you've affection for and have very limited interaction with is tough.

But this is Ma's sister.

The ego pushes on, but honestly, because I feel so strongly about the Yoshidas, and in this moment, my mother's sister, that generation and their time.

So here's to some reaching, some talking about Auntie via indirect lenses. After quite a bit of pondering, I think the heart of it is this American story whose great chapter is coming to a close. Like Ma's passing, the Yoshidas – the Nisei -- mark a unique time in American history, where rising from the depths through a get it done attitude into cool, fresh air was done en masse. I, and all of my cousins, are the fruits, the living embodiment of an America that was. Not earth shattering, but it's our story.

The saying is, you can't choose your family, but the Yoshidas are lucky; we come from solid stock. The family huddles don't happen anymore, so, yes, here's to nostalgia. Really, it isn't so much about nostalgia, but reverence. I can see how that sounds corny, but I'm long past the point where what the Yoshidas slogged through impressed me. Romantic, yes, and not wide-eyed, but a bit misty-eyed.

There's all of that and the practicality of speaking from the heart about a woman I barely knew but am bound to through blood and affection. My mother's sister.


Auntie said something the last time I saw her in Chi: I'd kill for my kids, and it's something that's always stuck. While the context is lost, the intensity isn't; she meant it with every fiber. I'm agnostic when it comes to astrology, but it does seem that the nature of us Cancers is to feel intensely; you see, here's something Auntie and I share besides blood: we have the same birthday.

Having read Auntie's bio forwarded by Kim made me smile: intellectual prowess, artistic bent and a touch of precociousness – chutzpah, maybe...? – stood her out among 7 brothers and sisters.

Auntie on the left bent over leaning on May, Ma on the ground. The BEST.
Her siblings shared that penchant for cracking up duly noted when writing about Ma. Seems whenever the Yoshida sisters got together something would set them off, and Auntie Frances, Auntie May and Ma seemed to always be removing their glasses at some point, crying tears of laughter. Since I was an only kid, the Wileys or any family that rolled through LA, would
May, Frances, Ross, Ma, Kathy. Auntie's already got the bug!
invariably stay with us, so ringside seats seeing these scenes play out are enduring memories. Luck's given us Yoshida cousins a great family – and stor
ies -- separated by geography but united by such a great spirit.

When the Wiley brood rolled through LA back in the day the cousins stayed with us, and I went from an only child to swimming in cousins. There's a couple of good stories in there. Here's one; Ma and Auntie had us boys in the bathroom prepping us for a bath. So, I stripped down to the tighty whiteys and then stood up straight. Auntie, a shock of hair across her face, was bent over, going through the task that for her was by now routine, busily pulling up Larry's or Jimi's – or both! -- t-shirt over his head. I think Joey was already butt naked.

Auntie: C'mon Geoffrey!
Me: Uh....
Auntie: (not missing a beat) Oh! You haven't got anything I haven't seen, and if you do, show me!

Amidst her intellect and artistic leanings, I think that straightforward pragmatism is something her generation had, but in many ways, is lost today. Yeah, life's uncomfortable at times and can be tough. Shut up and play yer guitar!

America recently crossed a milestone: More of us now live in cities than rural areas. Coming up in Lindsay, the Yoshidas were country as all get out, and so it was with Auntie developing her dislike of chicken from plucking them. There's much more, of course, even in the face of my romanticizing the Brokaw dubbed 'Greatest Generation.” Bottom line, I'd bet that not one of the 25 Yoshida cousins has ever plucked a chicken (at least willingly), much less experienced a day of hunger.

Despite the betrayal of her country to her family, Auntie Frances got on with it. She couldn't have been happy about the prison camps (let's call them what they were), but her drive to excel was evident; her masters from Chicago and especially her 8 kids, the ones she'd kill for. And a gaggle of grandkids.

It's funny how getting older brings the essentials into focus, nearer, and yet still beyond reach. Why are we here? Auntie Frances and her generation didn't beseech the heavens from rooftops, nor did they indulge in selfies much less in “finding themselves,” but just got on with business. “No monku-ing” was their motto. They are the last of an America that needs some of that old school grit now.

We watched Michael Jordan perform jaw-dropping feats, but hidden away are the endless days and nights of practice. The Malcolm Gladwell codified "10,000 hours" minimum practice it takes to become good at something.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.
--Muhammad Ali

So, there's the finished product that was Auntie Frances, a drive to excel and the bevy of good people she produced and helped. It's not the spotlight or in the championship ring. It's pulling off my cousin's t-shirt as a little kid to get ready for a bath. It's being mad at Joey and trying to whup his butt but giving up and flopping in a chair because he was making her laugh so much. A shock of hair and the Yoshida love of laughter. 

No, it's not the bright lights, it's answering life with getting down to it. Being a country girl from Lindsay, what's hidden is the practice, those plucked chickens.