Sunday, November 21, 2010

Here's the story...of a lovely lady

that's my mom in the middle
My mother was born in Sapporo, Japan. I can’t tell you what year because I think she stopped aging at 40. Sapporo is on the northern-most island of Hokkaido, known for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics and more importantly, producing Sapporo Beer. My mother was the second of Chuichi and Shizuku Ogawa’s three children. For the most part, hers was an uncomplicated childhood filled with friends and family. At a time when not many of her female peers went on to higher education, my mom received an Associate’s degree in English Literature/Education from Hokusei Junior College for Women.

My father was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1933, but grew up in Staten Island, New York. After an unsuccessful year at college, he enlisted in the Army. He had a life long fondness for all things German and hoped the Army would send him there; instead they sent him to Chitose, Japan, one hour south of Sapporo.

While in Japan, a friend asked him to help with an English language club, my dad being a bonafide Yankee and all. My dad’s Army boss, hearing he was part of this club, asked my dad to invite two students to come to the boss’ house for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. My dad picked the boy with the best English skills and the only girl in the class who spoke up without being spoken to first. I’ll give you a guess who that girl was. Now I wish I could say they fell in love and everything went swimmingly after that but that wouldn’t make a good story now, would it?

The fact that my mom was dating my dad did not make her father happy. He was quite concerned about having his daughter marry this big, loud American. And on the other side of the Pacific, similar concerns were voiced by my father’s father. He actually put pen to paper requesting that my mom have nothing more to do with my father. Thankfully, she did not heed this advice.

After a year or so of dating, my father returned to the US. He had fulfilled his obligation to the Army and both my parents thought a little time and distance would help them figure out if their marriage was truly meant to be. Stateside, my father returned to Staten Island and worked various jobs trying to save up money so he could return to Japan. Back in Japan, my mother’s father set about trying to find a proper Japanese boy for her to marry. Being a dutiful daughter, she would meet these boys as requested by my grandfather. Being the woman she is, she would promptly tell them she had no intention of marrying them.

After two years of this long distance romance, my mother issued the following communique to my father; come back and marry me or cut me loose. Gathering what savings he had, he bought a ticket on an “unscheduled” airline to get back to my mother. “Unscheduled” meant the plane flew when it needed to; basically, a “you’ll get there when you get there” flight. He departed the US on a Monday and arrived in Japan on Saturday with little in the way of money in his pockets. This must be genetic because family legend has it that my great-grandfather departed England and arrived in Baltimore, Maryland with only $.82. My mother said when her father came home one evening and saw that familiar pair of huge shoes in the foyer, he sighed and said to her, “I guess you were made for export.”

And so a wedding needed to be planned. And a tuxedo to be found for a 6’-1” American in a country where the average male height is 5’-8”. Thankfully, one was found as I shudder to think what he would have had to wear if they couldn’t find a tuxedo.

My parents were married at a Shinto shrine in a traditional Japanese wedding. They married again at the U.S. consulate as the U.S. government didn’t consider the Shinto ceremony to be legitimate. In 1964, while pregnant with her second child, my parents decided to move to the US. They figured America was probably a better place to raise ‘mixed’ kids than Japan. I cannot imagine the challenge it must have been for my mother to relocate to another country with a toddler and a baby on the way.

Eventually settling in Long Island, my parents raised their three kids (two boys and a Domestic Goddess) and today enjoy the pleasures of spoiling nine grandchildren and traveling the world (they’ve been to Germany at least four times).

Today is their 48th anniversary. Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad, here’s to many more chapters of a good story.


GE is me said...

AWWW! Happy anniversary Aki & John!

Anonymous said...

I love the post. I didn't know all the details myself. I did hear one anecdote from Dad which could explain another Grattan family trait. According to Dad, when he completed basic training he was allowed to list his 3 choices for a duty station. He listed 3 different places in Germany. The sergeant noticed the obvious desire to be posted in Germany but apologetically explained that there were no openings in those units for my Dad's specialty, computers. He offered to assign my Dad to a paratrooper unit in Germany. My Dad answered in typical Grattan fashion....he questioned the intelligence of anyone who would jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Then he notice the paratrooper jump wings on the sergeant's shirt and that's how he ended up going to Japan.

Happy Anniversary!

JT said...

Happy Anniversary "Dad" and Mrs. G! I loved reading the details I was too self-absorbed to hear about as a teenager befriending the Domestic Goddess.