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Prrow what a minx.
New posts on the horizon!
I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted something of substance. Cleaning out my e-mail inbox, I stumbled across a short story written for one of my short story classes about 2 years ago. I remember it being chosen by my classmates to be judged by my teacher, along with a few others to be analyzed and discussed by the class. While it didn’t get chosen, it was still fun to write.
The serene warmth of spring spreads blanket-like over the lush landscape of Osaka. The vibrant ocean of colors, verdant greens and lush reds are welcomed back into the scenery, acting as a lively reminder that the doldrums of winter have long since passed. Life is slowly being breathed back into the land. This timely change of season marks the beginning of a festival renown throughout the world as one of the most captivating and sensational events. It marks the time of O-Hanami, the viewing and celebration of the blooming cherry blossoms.
To the Japanese, the cherry blossom is an everlasting symbol of the governing principles of femininity. Yet it is their nature year after year to bloom, wither, and die, all within a short life span. Like all good things, an end must occur, but spirits and teachings, well, that lives on long after the life of the cherry blossom.
I am not new to this ritual here in the Land of the Rising Sun. Each subsequent spring since my arrival here from the States, I’ve found myself making the mass pilgrimage here with people from all walks of life. Natives casually stroll in amongst the crowds, some toting tots around by their chubby arms, catching a glimpse of the trees for the first time. Lovers stroll arm in arm, stopping briefly every so often to steal a kiss under the romantic pink flowers that bloom overhead. For this one moment in time, people move fluidly through the park, interacting solely within their own spheres.
It is a beautiful day for O-Hanami, and graciously I revel in the warmth and happiness that others exude. Modern bands play loudly beside traditional samisen players, juxtaposing harsh metallic overtones with the old-world mystique of handcrafted wooden relics. It’s taxing on your senses, but delightfully indulgent to take in all of the sights and sounds that immerse you in tradition. Walking casually down the worn, paved paths, an empty bench beckons to me, a rare commodity considering how many people are in the park. I settle into its aged surface, elbow leaning on the smooth armrest. Across from me, seated on the opposite bench is an elderly woman, sitting much like how I am, watching the people delight in the cherry blossom festivities. The woman, her presence, her appearance, all reminds me of a woman whose importance in my life knows no bounds.
Born in the heart of the Roaring 20’s, my grandmother was quite a spitfire. Margaret Jane Houston was a name many knew of without any prompting or coaxing. In a time where women had yet to have a voice, my grandmother found hers quite confidently at a young age. Women in this age were meant to be seen, not heard, like second-class citizens amidst their male counterparts. Though women weren’t supposed to have ambition, she had declared that one day, she’d experience the cultures of the world, visiting places one could only dream of traveling to. Margaret always had a knack, though for turning convention on its head. Never having a problem with telling a man he was wrong, my grandmother could never be called a shrinking violet. She commanded attention and demanded respect from everyone around her, man or woman, and never settled for less. This strength and tenacity always amazed me, even made me jealous at times of her will. Traits like these are so beautiful for a woman to possess.
The festivities are in full swing now. The newly appointed Cherry Blossom Princess has been raised high on a pedestal, meticulously kept in a soft pink kimono and hair knotted back in a simple, yet elegant bun. Waving to the crowd, she is met with cheers from men and women; young and old, happy to catch a glimpse and be near the symbol of youth and beauty. School must have just let out, as droves of teenagers carrying blankets have filtered into the center of the park, laying down their mats and unpacking their lunches to enjoy the scenery and company. Yet no matter what is happening around me, no matter how alluring or serene, my eyes drift back to this woman seated across from me, whose soft smile and pleasant demeanor almost overshadows the swaying boughs of the cherry blossom trees.
When my mother became pregnant with me, I was told that my grandmother was overjoyed with the idea that she would have a grandchild. She was always present at the ultrasounds, watching my hands and feet blip across the screen and evolve from a cluster of cells into a kicking, feeling, and wriggling human being. When they found out I would be a little girl, my grandmother cried, craning her head down low to kiss my mother’s swollen belly. Before she had even met me, she knew I would be something special, something to make her proud. When the day finally came and I arrived kicking and screaming into the world, I was brought out to my grandmother, swaddled in fleece and still pink and wrinkled from months inside my mother. She took me into her embrace, looking down at me, her granddaughter, for the first time. With a smile, she cooed softly into my ear, “Darling, you’re destined for greatness.”
Despite my rough and often moody teenage years, my grandmother stuck by me. Even the awkward transitional years from dependent youth to an often prideful, independent young adult were surprisingly easy for her to deal with. One day, while sitting out on the front porch of my parent’s home, she questioned me about my plans for the future. “If there’s anything I’ve learned, above all else, venture into something that will make you happy.” It was almost funny that she brought this up. Stuffed in the pocket of my beat-up University sweatshirt was an acceptance letter to teach English as an assistant in Kanagawa, Japan. I had yet to tell my parents that I had even applied to the program, which may or may not go well, but in that moment, I looked at my grandmother and out rushed a disjointed stream of hopes and dreams and aspirations. Her weathered hands ran over the official letter, over the raised seal of the Japanese Consulate, and she smiled. “Some opportunities come once in life, my dear. Don’t ever leave yourself with the option to ask what could have been.” Three months later, I was on a plane to Japan with a sobbing, yet overjoyed grandmother to send me off.
The sun is slowly beginning to set, but the people are dying to stay. Spectators lounge, even nap beneath the flourishing branches of the cherry blossom trees, the subtle fragrance weaving through the open fields. The scent is so light and fresh that it’s no wonder people were being lulled to sleep. Sprite-like children bounce down the path that my bench borders, and a small girl stops in front of me, rustling through a basket she carries on her arm. With a tiny bow, she presses a small folded cherry blossom made of paper into my hand. With a smile, I thank her, running my thumbs over the patterned paper with its crisply folded edges. Simple trinkets like this could really make a person smile. As I look up, my eyes catch those of the elderly woman across the way, smiling at the small gesture the child has done for me. I cannot let this go. Slowly, I cross the path and make my way over.
Things went swimmingly for me as the years progressed in Japan. When the teacher I assisted decided to retire, I was graciously offered the position, effective immediately. I wrote home to my grandmother, overjoyed with the news, spilling my excitement with each frantic scratch of my pen. I couldn’t quite get my message out quick enough. We had been in correspondence for the past few weeks, planning a trip for her to come experience my life here in Japan. I had insisted upon this spring, as the beauty of the cherry blossoms would set the stage of her first impression of this strange new culture. It was weeks before I heard a response, and the envelope waiting in my mailbox was not in my grandmother’s handwriting. It was postmarked January 12th. Slowly, I let my eyes graze over the words, and my fingers began to tremble upon the edges of the paper. I could only take in snippets of the news, words like “Margaret” and “heart-attack” and “fatal”. The paper fell, and so did I. I shook out of anger, a white-hot rage releasing inside of me. I shook out of sadness, as a piece of my life was now tragically missing. Most of all, I shook out of fear, as that resilient source of support could support me no longer. My neighbors must have heard my ghost-like wailing, as they rapped furiously on my door, pleading in broken English for the silence I just couldn’t give them.
Her funeral had been January 5th and it was apparently quite a moving ceremony. For the woman who had given me everything and shaped me into the woman I had become, I could not even go to her funeral, to send her off like she did for me years before. Though I tried not to hold regrets out of respect for her, I couldn’t help but feel overcome with guilt and shame and the sense that I’ve let her down. The idea of her being disappointed in me is the worst punishment imaginable. If only I could have seen her before she passed on, just five minutes of her time.
As the viewing park becomes shrouded in the evening twilight and the crowds of people begin to gather their belongings and head home for the night, I take a seat beside the woman. Without a word, she smiles, placing a hand on mine. In the silence we sit, gazing out in front of us and in silence I struggle back tears. It’s as if the clocks have turned, and I’ve found myself here once again, beside my grandmother. Softly down floats a lone cherry blossom, coming to rest atop our hands.