Shared Stories: Mother

Kay Okino grew up in Hawaii before World War II. Her mother was from a generation when the oldest daughters were often expected to stay home and help with the family. Kay is now a retired RN, and she is her mother’s daughter – a gentle woman who looks after others. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Kay Okino

Recently in our memoir writing class we were asked by our instructor Mrs. Mansell to write on the topic “One Thousand Steps.”

“Hmmm,” I said to myself. “How many steps have I taken since my first step? Was I nine months old or a year old when I started to walk?”

My mother will know, but she is gone.  I cannot ask her, but this Sunday is Mother’s Day. I will think of her. She was a very lovely, kind mother.

She was born in Hilo, Hawaii, to my grandparents Itaro and Tsune Nakao.  She was the eldest of five children.  After finishing sixth grade, Grandpa would not allow her to continue school.  She went to work as a maid in a Caucasian home.  The rest of her siblings defied Grandpa and went to the States to study after high school.

As it turned out, none of Grandpa’s children returned to Hawaii, so it fell on Mother to look after Grandpa in his old age. He lived to a ripe age of one hundred, a holy terror.

Everyone gave a great sigh of relief when he finally went to join Grandma. This sounds like a harsh statement, but truly, Grandfather was a large part of Mother’s life in her old age. Looking after him was taking a toll on her life. His behavior resembled today’s Alzheimer’s illness.

My mother married my father Aigoro Uyeno when she was twenty and he was twenty-seven. It was an arranged marriage, a custom of that era.  She had married into a very difficult family which included a father and mother in-law, and three grown brothers-in-law to look after.
One of them left to get married. Another, the eldest and my favorite uncle, got sick and Mother looked after him. Father had built a little room for him next to the house, and I remember Mother caring for him until he died.

As I write this story, I wonder how Mother did everything – cooking for the family and washing clothes. I cannot remember Grandmother helping her.  I was too young to help. There was no electricity, no washing machine.

My mother had children every two years, yet I cannot remember her scolding me or my siblings.  I have never heard her or Father utter harsh words.  That shows how peaceful she was.  In the last years of her life, she and Father had come to live with me, and died at my home.  I had never expressed this sentiment or thanked her.  I wish I had.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers here.