30/30 Project Working Draft 4: Grace Fujitani

The early version can be found at the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project blog.  Please check it out and tell me what you think.

My grandmother shows up a lot in my poetry.  She was a force of nature.  She was a force of will.  Stubborn, hard, and tough.  My mother taught me her story very early in my life, and it’s been a major influence over the years.  Here’s the short version:

My great-grandparents came from Fukushima Prefecture in the early 20th Century.  My great-grandfather took his wife’s name, Ishikawa.  Sometime around the dawn of the 20th Century, their house burnt down.  The Ishikawa had money and land and they could have provided for my great-grandparents, but my great-grandfather wanted more. He wanted to do it himself, which was a fine Meiji-era moral.  So he went to Hawaii.  He settled on Maui, and eventually, my great-grandmother and great aunt were brought over.  My grandmother was born in 1914.  A few year last, my great-grandfather died.  In 1930, my great-grandmother died.  My grandmother’s older siblings by this time had married and had had families of their own.  My grandmother did a lot of stuff for her younger siblings.  She became a seamstress, and in few years, she married my grandfather as had been arranged earlier.  Life wasn’t easy for her, and through grit and determination, she built a pretty comfortable home for my mother and uncle.  My grandfather, for the record, built the house.  My grandmother found the land.

As a boy, she was tough and strict with me.  But I loved her.  In many ways, she was my favorite grandparent, and the last to die.  That was tough.  I kept that to myself at the time. Because of her, I went to Japan for the first time.  I worked hard in school because of her.  Yes, she could be an enormous pain in the ass, but she had been through the wars and I wasn’t going to fail her.

This poem is about a few pictures I saw of her at my parents house on my visit in 2013.  In most of the pictures, she’s a teenager.  She’s got the face and cheer of someone whose young and has her whole life ahead of her.  Some are in those early days of being an orphan with younger siblings at home.  What struck me was something I hadn’t seen before:  my grandmother as a girl hanging out with friends, having a normal life.  It’s part of the reality of her life, but something I never fully thought about before.  It was wonderful to see.

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