Losing a True and Trusted Friend
By Shokichi Tokita
For The North American Post
After my father died in 1948, my mom used the bus to go from place to place including taking her children when occasions demanded. Fortunately, as she expanded her businesses, they were all located in areas where bus routes were available; she became quite skilled in the fine art of bus travel. However, as her children grew older and became of driving age, several also acquired cars and assisted in her travels as her destinations and their time permitted.
This was not much of a problem when the family home was located in Chinatown, or, as the area is now called, the Chinatown-International District. But it wasn’t long before Mom acquired an apartment building at 22nd and Main where she moved the family of eight kids in 1956. Mom’s travels from there always headed south and west to where her businesses were. However, as the children’s destinations migrated to the north and east where their high schools (Garfield, Immaculate, Holy Names and Seattle Prep) and university were located, the child-assisted car rides became fewer and fewer.
Mom must have become somewhat frustrated with the mixture of bus schedules and nonconforming children’s schedules because she suddenly arranged for driving lessons. All of us were shocked that our 50+ year-old Mom was starting to take driving lessons! Oh, my gosh, that “old lady” learning to drive? She’ll be in an accident in no time! And, whose car is she going to drive?!
Well, not to worry, because at this point, her business acumen had placed her in a position to purchase her own car, a used Chevy Nova. All of us were quite relieved after she slowly moved th car into traffic and started her driving career with growing confidence, without incidents and with increased notoriety among her non-driving friends.
The most telling characteristic was her spoofing of driving stories indulged in by her children. Now, she was their equal and did not need to sit and listen, but could participate in the discussions. It was a major achievement for her!
And so she drove for about 20 years giving her children very little to worry about. Towards the end of that period, I was working for Metro, the Seattle bus company. One day at work, a lady from the accounting division asked me if I knew a lady named Ann Tokita.
“Of course,” I responded, “that’s my mom.”
I was told, “Your mom broadsided one of our buses.”
As you might have guessed, that was, to put it mildly, a major concern!
When I asked Mom about the bus accident, she responded with shock and surprise that I knew about it. She indicated that she was hoping that no one in the family would hear about it. Then she proceeded to tell me about the incident. She stated that when she was entering Jackson Street from 7th Avenue, the bus was way up around 12th Avenue. Then she explained that the bus must have been traveling at an alarmingly high rate of speed because as she turned onto Jackson, there was the bus!
Shortly thereafter, my wife and I were invited to have dinner with her. Upon our arrival, she went scurrying out the door to purchase an item she needed for her cooking. She had to go to the Safeway at 8th and Jackson (which later became House of Hong Restaurant) while we sat and patiently waited for her return. After an hour had passed, we became concerned and discussed going out to check on her. Thirty minutes later, we received a frantic call from her stating that “I am in Vancouver, BC!”
After some discussion, primarily to calm her down, we convinced her that she was not in Vancouver and that she was somewhere in north Seattle. She had somehow driven onto I-5, and, unable to get off, had driven until she saw a northbound sign toward Vancouver. Then panicking, she forced herself to get off the freeway. Two hours later, after taking a number of side streets, she finally staggered into the house totally frazzled and completely exhausted from her ordeal!
At that point, the family started thinking that maybe it was time to analyze Mom’s driving abilities and an assessment needed to be made. So, I volunteered to ride with her on several of her driving trips to determine her skill level. When I did, there were definitely some very scary moments!
Having flown as an aviator in the Air Force and in combat conditions, I was not scared easily, but after about three rides to assess Mom’s driving capabilities, I decided that I was scared enough to determine that her driving career needed to be terminated.
I then sat down with her to explain what I had decided and that I thought — and the rest of the family agreed — that she should end her driving. Of course, she objected quite vehemently, but the family had agreed that it was best for her and the driving public to bring her driving to a close. Therefore, I proceeded to remove the rotor from her distributor and placed it on the radiator so she could not drive her car.
About a week later, as my wife and I were driving down Jackson Street on a Sunday afternoon and approaching the Rainier Avenue intersection, my wife stated, “There’s Mom’s car, by the Buddhist Church.”
I replied, “Impossible!”
She emphatically stated that if I didn’t believe her, to back up and look. Since it was a quiet Sunday afternoon with no traffic behind us, I backed up and sure enough, it was Mom’s car.
When Mom had found that she couldn’t start her car, she had phoned her mechanic, a close family friend, who came and took a look under the hood, found the rotor, replaced it and Mom was good to go again. Which she did.
Her explanation was that it was a Sunday when very few cars were on the road and it was quite safe. Needless to say, that was not the outcome the family desired at this point, so arrangements were made to remove the car from her possession and give it to one of her grandsons who was in the process of searching for a car.
When she was told about the arrangement that her grandson would be taking the car, she very reluctantly agreed. On the day the young grandson was coming to pick it up, my wife and I were there to provide moral support because we knew how attached she was to that car. As the time approached, Mom decided to go out to the car to wish it a fond farewell.
She went to the car, bent over, placed the side of her face on the hood, patting it.
She said, “Hontoni tanomoshi na otomodachi deshita ne.”
You were a “true and trusted friend.” She thanked it for all the times it had taken her various places.
My wife became teary-eyed. Even I was choked up at the sight and had regrets that I was the one who had had to separate Mom from her “true and trusted friend.”