By Geraldine Shu, The North American Post
Christmas in the 1950s-60s was a time of great anticipation for the Inouye Family. Even though the family gathered for every single holiday of the year from New Year’s to Christmas, Christmas was by far, the MOST exciting.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, the kids were asked to make lists with a $5 per item price limit. Sometimes, $10 items were allowed, if it was something that we really, really wanted; two families could chip in together to buy it. However, this also meant that we would get one less present. So, we kids would spend HOURS poring over the Sears catalog to decide which items we wanted the most. Our names would be at the top of our lists followed by item descriptions, catalog numbers, and prices. These lists would be brought to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on a Friday for the moms to look over and choose from.
Each family would have a real Christmas tree decorated with ornaments, tinsel, and lights. The Christmas trees were often purchased from Chubby and Tubby where ANY tree was 99 cents — short, tall, narrow, full, good or bad. My dad would often bring home one of the tallest trees so that it would fit in the space encircled by the winding staircase.
Sometimes, we would say, “Dad, you bought ANOTHER Charlie Brown tree!”
By the time our Christmas trees were up, trimmed, and lit, we would each have 8-12 wrapped gifts under the tree. We would spend a long time looking at each one, shaking it, and guessing what was inside. We would prioritize which ones we wanted to open first. The ones that sounded soft and didn’t make any noise most likely were clothes and we put those behind or on the bottoms of our piles. Grandma usually made all the grandkids flannel nightgowns or pajamas which the girls LOVED and the boys HATED. As Christmas Eve neared, we would prepare a list of each present by giver in the order in which we wanted to open them. Then we would have one of our cousins write down who gave us what as we opened each present. It was an HONOR to be asked to scribe because it meant that you were trusted.
A big worry was in what ORDER we would visit each home. We did not want our house to be LAST because it would be sheer torture to have to wait that long to open our presents. It was usually best when Grandpa and Grandma were last because they opened their presents so SLOWLY. Part of it was because Grandma wanted to save the ribbons and wrapping paper for the next year. The day after Christmas, she would unknot the ribbons then iron them flat and smooth.
At long last, Christmas Eve would arrive and we would have dinner at the first house. Sometimes, we would have turkey which was always good because it meant that we could have rice with gravy. There would be a table of adults and another table of kids. Of course, we kids would be chattering about what we might be getting for Christmas. Once dinner ended and after endless waiting, the kids would get the signal from the adults for the gift opening to begin. The kids of that household would RUN to their piles of presents under the tree and RIP into each one while the designated cousins recorded what each gift was. Sometimes, the ones who were writing had trouble keeping up with the kids who were opening because the wrapping paper and ribbons would be flying around the room like a tornado. Soon after that family finished, we would all put on our coats, jump into our family cars, and drive to the next home. The kids in that household would run to THEIR piles and tear into THEIR gifts. Then we would continue on to the next house and the next. Sometimes, it would snow a bit, which was the one time that we DIDN’T want it because it would impede our progress.
At the last house, after that family had opened all of its gifts, we would relax a bit and have family games such as musical chairs or short relay races. Just as we settled down after the games, candy would start flying at us as Grandma did her traditional toss.
Everyone would be jumping up and down shouting, “Grandma, Grandma! Over here, over here!”
If you were well-prepared, you would have a paper bag ready in your pocket or your hand. Cousin Peter got very clever one year and had a butterfly net. Some kids, but more often the adults, would be DIVING at the floor for the candy. The best part was when she would toss MIKAN.
“Grandma, Grandma! Over here, over here!”
When it was over, we would share our candy and mikan with anyone who didn’t get enough.
At some point, Grandpa would settle himself down into an armchair and pull out his billfold. All the grandkids would line up at his side as he gave each of us a $1 bill. Sometimes, he would pretend that he ran out as I stepped up for mine. After all, it was hard to believe that he had SEVENTEEN $1 bills — and even more after the great grandkids were born.
Finally, we would sing Christmas carols. The Inouye sisters would sing their traditional “Silent Night” with two-part harmony, or three-part harmony if Uncle Howie joined in. It would signal the close of a long but happy night. We had no trouble falling asleep in time for Santa’s late arrival.
There was no Christmas like an Inouye Family Christmas back then. It wasn’t just about the presents but every bit as much about the family spirit in being together. Thanks to Grandpa and Grandma Inouye and their many sacrifices, that spirit lives on. We remember the importance of family, not just at Christmas but all year ‘round.
Editor’s note. Chubby and Tubby was a popular retail store in the Rainier Valley near Franklin High School that sold tennis shoes, fishing poles, rubber boots, and the like. It closed its doors in 2003 after 47 years.
Memories of the NAP
Please share memories of the NAP with us across this year. Example: “I remember my mom having copies of the NAP in her waiting room for her Issei patients to read.”
– Geraldine Shu (daughter of Dr. Ruby Inouye Shu)
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