Home History JCCCW Omoide Mom’s Lesson

Mom’s Lesson

by Lori Matsukawa

As financially modest as we were, I would soon learn what poor really meant.

“Let’s clean out your closet,” Mom suggested. “There are surely some clothes you no longer wear.”

Mom started pulling dresses I had outgrown in first grade one by one off the lead pipe that served as a closet rack. I pretty much agreed with all the ones she suggested we give away.

Except the one with bunches of cherries on it.

“I like that one!” I whined.

“It’s too small for you!” Mom replied, folding it and putting it into a paper shopping bag.

“No! I like it!” I begged. “Don’t give it away!”

Mom would not budge. “Let’s go,” she said, placing the bag in the car with several others filled with bedding and canned goods.

Clueless, I huffed and sat in the back seat, with my cherry dress sitting right next to me. Mom drove to a part of Wahiawa I had never been. She stopped in front of a house with weathered blackish walls. There were rusty screens but no glass in the windows. From the backseat of the car, I could see spaces between the rough, splintered wall panels and it was dark inside the building.

There were at least four young children playing in the yard, which was just a patch of weeds, really. A thin, young Hawaiian woman with several missing teeth approached the car as Mom got out.

“Hi Mrs. Leahi,* I heard Mom greet the woman.

Mrs. Leahi grinned broadly. Her toothless smile frightened me a little. As the women chatted, the children carried the paper bags up the sagging wooden steps and through the crooked doorway.

I watched as my cherry dress disappeared into the blackness.

“Okay, goodbye!” I heard Mom say. “See you in school!”

I waved shyly, as it dawned on me that some of Mrs. Leahi’s children were Mom’s students.

“Mrs. Leahi has ten children,” Mom said matter-of-factly as we drove away.

A couple days later, I saw my cherry dress at school. It was being worn by a girl named Donna Leahi.* I smiled at her and she smiled back. I thought briefly about saying something, but decided not to.

Mom had given me a lesson in kindness and dignity.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Lori Matsukawa is best known as a journalist, historian, and community volunteer. Since her recent retirement, Lori joined the JCCCW’s “Omoide” [Memories] writing group. The Omoide program is open to all who wish to develop their writing skills to record their family histories or memories.
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Omoide is developed under an umbrella of organizations supported in part by the Nikkei Heritage Association of Washington and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington. To date, the Omoide team has introduced the project to several thousand students, 200 teachers, and 400 members of the general public over the past 12 years. These personal accounts have encouraged open dialog and discussions of constitutional rights, personal history, cultural development, immigrant experiences in the US, family values, multi-cultural issues and much more.