I’ve never been a fan of the rain. To this day, I cry inside every time the clouds darken with moisture and drops of rain fall from the sky (why I’ve chosen to call Seattle home remains a mystery to me). Despite my deep disdain for rainy weather, my favorite memories of my maternal grandma have to do with rainy days.
As a grade school student, I recall early mornings when the scent of rain was in the air, and I would frantically pick up the phone and call my grandma to say, “It’s raining! Can you drive me and Chris to school?” Without hesitation, grandma would hop into her vintage 1983 Chevrolet Malibu sedan and drive all the way to my house from hers (all 1.2 miles) and chauffeur my younger brother and I to school (all 0.5 miles), just so that we wouldn’t have to walk in the rain.
On many of those rainy afternoons, grandma would pick my brother and I up from school and take us to her house where she would prepare our favorite snacks while singing, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.” Boiled peanuts, Diamond Head red cream soda, S&S saimin, Vienna sausage, chicken with hyotan, or my personal favorites, her homemade mochi and red bean sticky rice. These were local kine snacks that many Hawaii kids grew up on, and I’m thankful to grandma for introducing my brother and I to them.
Grandma has been there for 29 solid years of my life. She has witnessed and celebrated many of my life achievements, from my U.S. citizenship day in Washington D.C., to high school graduation in 2004. She met important people in my life including my significant other, Martin. I will never forget the afternoon in May 2013 when we drove up to her house and she greeted us warmly, pulling us over to her dining room table where she prepared snacks and eagerly encouraged us to “talk story” with her.
The Pratt-Murakami family in May 2013
Just weeks after her 93rd birthday, my grandma passed away on the evening of July 13, 2015. Never suffering from any major illnesses or injuries, she had been growing frail and weakening both mentally and physically, prompting my visit home in March of this year. Her memorial service was held on August 29, 2015 at Ewa Community Church, where she married grandpa and many years later would take me to church with her. Speaking of, I recall yet another rainy day in grade school when I went to church with grandma and we saved an injured toad from the church yard. Needless to say, that church holds many memories over the years. Her remains have been buried along with my grandpa’s at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as Punchbowl, located near downtown Honolulu.
Despite grandma’s passing, it is comforting to know that she no longer suffers and is now in a better place with my grandpa. I was fortunate to call her grandma.
My grandmother Lily Yuriko Murakami was born on June 29, 1922 in
Lahaina, Maui. She and her brothers Uncle Diamond and Uncle Taiki
were raised by my Great-Grandmother Shigeru Shinki in Kilauea Camp, a
sugar plantation camp situated right above the town of Lahaina.
Grandma’s early recollections of her childhood include playing with
the children of the Miyamoto family, walking down to the beaches of
hot, dusty Lahaina, eating lots of mango in the summer and attending
church with her mother and brothers. Life was difficult for her family
because her father was absent from the home for many years due to
tuberculosis that later claimed his life.
Grandma attended Kamehameha Elementary School in Lahaina and graduated
from Lahainaluna High School in 1941. She worked in the operating room
of Kula Hospital before she moved to Honolulu. There she worked at a
local YWCA and later became a hairdresser at Hilda’s Beauty Shop.
I heard she met my grandfather at a dance attended by many 442
veterans. She said Grandfather proposed the night they met…I don’t
know if that’s true….it sounds a bit like a fairytale to me, but I
wonder if she said “yes”…..
Grandma and Grandpa were married on May 18, 1947 right here in Ewa
Community Church, as were a number of you sitting in the congregation.
Grandma was baptized a member of the church on April 10, 1955.
They lived briefly in Ewa, then in Halawa while my Grandpa and his
father built their home in Ewa Beach. There they lived from 1950 to
1988, raising four children: my mom Cyndy, and my uncles David, Roger
Ewa Beach was another hot and dusty place, but it was a close
community where most moms stayed at home and did not drive, children
walked to school, rode bikes. played at the beach and climbed trees.
Boys were members of Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Pop Warner Football
and girls learned to cook at home and even attended sewing schools.
Annual camps at Hau Bush with the Ewa gang, socials with the 442-232nd
Engineers Band, elementary school functions, picking ogo with friends
and hibachi dinners at CPC Beach were the social events in the early
years of Ewa Beach living. At home, Grandma coaxed vegetables out of
the garden, cooked breakfast and dinner every day, washed loads of
laundry to be hung on the clothes line and spent a lot of time on her
Singer sewing machine. She was tired much of the time, but she said
her mission in life was to serve her family.
Grandma’s greatest joy was being in the yard: weeding, planting,
trimming and watering. She continued these activities well into her
early 80’s at both her and Mom’s homes in Makakilo. Mom’s neighbor Mr.
Lee remembers her as a feisty woman, meaning she probably scolded him
once or twice. Grandma always spoke her mind. So if you couldn’t humor
her, it was best to smile and turn a deaf ear.
When my Grandpa retired, both he and Grandma took several trips to
Japan on their own, each carrying a suitcase and a rail pass. They did
not have set itineraries, and instead traveled from town to town,
staying at inns and ryokans along the way.
My father, mother, brother Chris and I moved to Hawaii in June 1990 and
lived with Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle David in their home in Makakilo
for a year. Grandma was already providing 24-7 care for my Grandpa who
was diagnosed with cancer two years earlier. It was a very stressful
time for her and for the adults in our family.
After Grandpa died in September 1990 and my parents were at work,
Grandma was our after-school babysitter. She would serve us our
favorite foods and we often slept overnight with her on weekends. She
was my bus pal, taking me to Ala Moana Center for burgers and fries at
McDonald’s. She often cooked one of my favorite foods: Chicken and
Hyotan with hyotan squash she grew in her front yard.
The years seemed to slip away so quickly after Chris and I grew up, but
we enjoyed visiting Grandma when we came back to Hawaii. Each of us
traveled to Maui with her so she could see the places of her childhood
and to visit a few of her surviving friends.
In January 2014, Grandma tripped on a grassy curb during one of her
routine walks and fractured her right arm. The fracture was
indicative of overall bone weakness called osteoporosis. Later Grandma
experienced other fractures in her pelvis and hips, making it
difficult for her stand on her own and to walk unassisted. Uncle David
provided 24-7 care, hoisting her into and out of a wheelchair, tending
to her daily grooming needs and shopping for and cooking all the
meals, while tending to his own health needs. He did an incredible
job. He, like all care-givers, deserves much rest and time to pursue
personal needs and interests.
On the day Grandma passed, David placed her in her wheelchair near the
front door so she could enjoy the evening breeze and the last hours of
the day. She was more talkative than usual that day, rambling on about
people in her life, past and present. When David noticed it became
quiet he checked on her. Grandma had passed on. I believe her spirit
left that chair and flew right up into the heavens. Her fervent prayer
to be face to face with the Lord was granted that night. She had
passed from this life into eternal life.
My nephew Xylen says Gama “died” and when asked where she is, he points
to the heavens and says “moon and stars”. Grandma no longer teeters
on her wobbly legs, but moves about freely on heavenly wings. She
still looks over us. And by God’s forgiveness, mercy and future
promise, we will see her again.