For the better part of the last week, I was with my mom and grandmother together for the first time in I don’t know how long. Decades? My uncle, with whom my grandmother (Obaachan) lived, died suddenly. As is often the case, tragedy brings a family together, at least for a short time. My family is not close even in the best of circumstances. We had to pack up all of my grandmother’s belongings and prepare her for a cross-country move to my mom’s house. It was very traumatising for her, losing her only son, and basically losing all of her stuff in one fell swoop.
As we packed Obaachan’s things, we looked at old photographs and reminisced before placing them in back into boxes. My mother took charge of the packing, basically deciding what was junk and what was a keeper. Being very unsentimental and a minimalist, she was brutal. My grandmother would stealthily pull things from the donation and trash piles and sneak them back into the keep pile. It was funny, but also sad. I want to be a minimalist, but I understand the bond we have to our things. For my grandmother, every letter, every trinket, every dish has a memory and value attached. “Kore wa Obaachan no daiji (die-jee).” “This is Obaachan’s important/valuable thing,” in Japanese.
Daiji is a word that my whole family understands. If I tell my kids a thing is daiji they rarely disturb it. It is sacred. My grandmother kept asking, almost pleading “will you keep it?” Yes, we said, over and over again. My sister and I took her stuff back to my house, because I have a basement. Later, we will go through the process of sorting, dividing and purging a lifetime’s worth of collecting. I hope we do it soon, but the fact that my father’s stuff is still in boxes down there is not very encouraging. He died nearly 25 years ago. It’s hard to face all that STUFF and all of those MEMORIES, let alone split it between us. It seems wrong. What about the stuff that neither of us wants? Now I have a basement FULL of DAIJI stuff!
Someone snapped a photo of my sister and me with our children, Obaachan, and mom all together. Although we bickered and bitched at each other the whole time, that photo is special too-something for the daiji pile. In it we look happy to be together. In reality, it was stressful and a bit painful. But we were there for each other as much as we could be. Who knows when we will all be together again?
The table that I ate at as a child is now in my kitchen. It replaces an old fifties table and four ratty chairs that we supplemented with stepstools when we all decided to sit together. Finally, I can seat all of my family at once, plus some! I finally feel like a grown up, at 41 years of age, because of that table. If I could only pick one thing to keep besides photographs, it would be that. On it was set the lavish New Year’s dinners that we enjoyed when I was a little girl. My sister and I used to fling sheets over it and crawl beneath to play fort. My dearly departed father and grandfather, and every dear relative sat upon those chairs at one time or another. Though my children and my nieces have never met my father or grandfather, their precious little butts will sit on the same chairs upon which my forefathers sat. That table is my daiji.
I’m not sure what I am feeling right now, other than sad and thoughtful. I am thinking about all the smiling faces in those old photographs and our own smiling faces in that recent photo of us. Smiling faces hiding pain and loss or smiling faces expressing genuine joy…they all seem to look the same.