This is my jiichan. Jiichan. Japanese for grandfather. My grandpa. On my dad's side. Some of earliest and most dear memories are of jiichan . . . times we spent together, things our family did that included him. This was taken on Valentine's Day in 1974. His 85th birthday.
He spent time at our house watching television and watching us kids play games. He sat in a tattered old yellow chair and pretended to watch Lawrence Welk through glasses as thick as coke bottles. He's the reason for my name. I'm told that when I was born, my dad wanted to name me Debbie. My mom wanted to name me Kristen or Cristen. I came home unnamed and when jiichan came to visit, he said, in most broken Japanese, "what baby name?" Dad said Debbie. He gave out a har-humph. Mom said Cristen. He was Buddhist with a thick Japanese accent. He sucked his breath in and said, "ah, no Crist-ians here." They let my brother name me.
He made stuffing. I remember him sitting at the kitchen table in a wheelchair, with a knife like a machete. He'd sit there the night before Thanksgiving or the night before Christmas and chop. He'd chop and chop and chop. And when he was getting close to done, he'd chop some more. He chopped carrots so tiny that they looked like nothing more than little orange flecks in the stuffing. He chopped celery so fine that you didn't even know it was there. The smell of red onion will forever remind me of jiichan chopping for stuffing. He's stoicly sit there chopping, chopping, chopping, onion tears flowing down the deep wrinkles in his cheeks. He would sit at that kitchen table chopping like a mad man for upwards of two hours on holiday feast-eves. (True: I asked my mom today . . . how LONG did that take?) His stuffing was known in our tiny little town, at least in the Buddhist community where we attended an annual holiday buffet. It was massive . . . and the only place you could get turkey and dressing and at the next dish, sashimi & seaweed. I've been thinking about jiichan today. Started this morning when I was chopping. What took him upwards of two hours, I busted out in about 4 minutes flat, courtesy of my fancy-schmancy pampered chef food chopper. I love that thing. I wonder how jiichan would like my food chopper. I wonder what he'd think of the way we spend our holidays now. I wonder what he'd think. I wonder if he'd 'har-humph' my sausage & wild rice with pretzel stuffing that goes in the crock pot.
Hmm. I swear there are times that spirits of those past are hovering around. Jiichan is chillin' in the kitchen with me today. I thought of him when chopping. I thought of him when my hand was up the business end of a cold dead bird at 7 am. I thought of his stuffing today . . . I'm thankful that he paid me a visit today. Sometimes, the holiday drama comes down so fiercly and with such force that it is hard to stop and be thankful. I'm thankful for jiichan today. I'm thankful for the humble and poor beginnings that have made me who I am today. I guess today, on the day for all families, I'm thankful for MY side of the family . . .