Kimonos and Paper Parasols

As much as my visits to see my grandparents in New Jersey planted the seed, it was my grandmother on my father’s side who nurtured the soil and inspired me to see the other side of the world.

Grandma and Grandpa H were one of those Edward Albee couples, constantly bickering and jabbing at one another, unless you could get them talking about one of their past or future vacations. Then the magic happened: their faces would light up, Grandma would share stories and photos, Grandpa would sometimes lean his head back and start humming or singing (he had substantial opera training), and it was enough to forget the George & Martha atmosphere just moments prior.

More than that, Grandma H was an overt influence in my love for Japan, where I would eventually spend three years of my young adult life. Grandma H’s family had temporarily moved to Kobe when she was a young girl, during which time her mother collected all sorts of souvenirs. So when they would visit us on Thanksgivings, she’d occasionally drop off a handful of them — fans, parasols — and eventually I inherited a closet full of kimonos and a stack of block prints to celebrate my upcoming work in Japan as an English teacher. I was fascinated that she had experienced such a different way of life, so very far away, and couldn’t wait to follow suit.

In lieu of a long reminiscence, here is the verse I wrote for her memorial a couple of years ago. Thank you, Grandma, for everything.

Something strange happens 
With time gone by
And your brain bends and your thoughts melt
Around the edges of platforms you used to stand on
And music you used to hear 
And lights that used to make you squint

Something sad happens 
With losing someone you love
With saying goodbye to someone who
Changed you 
Altered you
Pushed you
Scared you
Awed you
Inspired you

Something sweet happens 
With dressing like cats
In ears, nose, and whiskers
With playing with paint
With soap operas and Law & Order
And puzzles and crosswords and hearts

Something inspiring happens
With kimonos and paper parasols
With a glorious ebony black sweet songstress piano
With reflections on theatre and the art of performance
With sucking the marrow out of exploring the world
And savoring every taste of every morsel
With daring to dress in bright patterns and colors

Something grand happens
Something real and true and eternal happens
Watching you boldly make your entrances 
Onto the scenes of every part of your life
And then quietly make your exit
As though each exit is simply an entrance somewhere else
Which is something that happens

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