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.