By Shokichi Tokita For The North American Post
As I mentioned before, my mother was widowed at age 41 with eight children, ages two to 14 (napost.com, Oct. 30). We lived in Chinatown, or the International District as it is now called, in a run-down old hotel named the New Lucky Hotel, on the southwest corner of Maynard and Weller (present location of Luke’s Pharmacy). Mom was fortunate that she was left with this hotel because it provided the income to support her family after Papa passed away in October 1948.
The period following Papa’s passing was an especially difficult time in terms of the money that was available for basic needs. When Papa died, Mom had all of $65 dollars to her name, so whatever income came in from the hotel operation was used sparingly. The general mode of operation within the family consisted of “going without.” Whatever the boys made was passed on to Mom for the family and the girls helped out with housekeeping because Mom was so busy with the business operation of the hotel. In spite of this, the children managed to save small amounts of cash obtained from various sources.
Christmas was an especially difficult time, but there always seemed to be gifts from Santa and makeshift gifts for each other. On one particular Christmas, my brother Yuzo, the fourth child in the “clan,” rounded up his younger siblings, sister, Yoshiko, and two brothers, Masao and Goro, to pool their meager collections of cash to buy our mother a gift for Christmas. He gathered them together and traipsed off to Higo Ten-Cent Store on Jackson Street, which was four blocks away, to shop for Mom’s Christmas gift.
All of them marched into the store to look over the possibilities in an attempt to determine what would be appropriate for Mom. After scouring everything in the store, they decided a little red clock radio would be appropriate. All this time, the clerks, the Murakami sisters, Betty and Masa, watched in amusement as son, Kay, patiently waited while the children were looking. Since they were longtime family friends and neighbors in the wartime camp days as well, the Murakamis were delighted that the entourage was there shopping for their mother.
When the decision was made, the children pulled out all the cash they had and laid it out on the counter to be counted. Kay meticulously counted the pennies, nickels, dimes, and an occasional quarter and triumphantly announced to the children that the total amount was exactly the cost of the clock radio!!
My mom treasured that clock radio for many, many years and always had it by her bedside. The family moved from Chinatown to an apartment Mom purchased near Garfield High School. Mom moved again many years later to an apartment she purchased on Queen Anne Hill; then to the condo on Beacon Hill that Yuzo and I bought for her; then to my house in Redmond when she couldn’t take care of herself. Near the end, when we couldn’t take care of Mom any longer, the clock radio went with her to Keiro, the nursing home where she passed away in 1990, at age 83.
Mom must have really treasured that Christmas gift because she took it with her to wherever she moved. And, it should be noted that while growing up, the kids found out that the clock radio actually cost four or five times more than the amount they had paid for it. It was a gratuitous act by the Murakamis that they never, ever forgot.