In Japan, there is a national holiday in September called “Respect for the Aged Day,” when people express their gratitude for the elderly members of the society. For children, this is the day when they usually write a letter or do some special activities with their grandparents.
When I was five, one day in September, my teacher announced that we would be celebrating the Respect for the Aged Day by inviting our grandparents to the class. I saw my classmates getting excited upon hearing the news. I wondered if their grandparents were coming to the event, and thought of my maternal grandmother who would visit us a few times each year. Unfortunately, September was usually not the month she would travel to our place since she was busy harvesting rice and vegetables at home.
I recalled the welcome party of the kindergarten I had attended earlier that year where I was the only one without a parent. I pictured another event where I would become the only one without a guest. I didn’t feel like an outsider this time. I wanted to have my grandmother beside me on the day of event.
The Respect for the Aged Day was the next day. I knew in my head that it was unlikely that my grandmother, who lived more than a hundred miles away, would make it to the event. But as soon as I got home that afternoon, I told my mother about the Respect for the Aged Day event and that I wanted my grandmother to be there with me. As expected, my mother’s answer wasn’t positive.
“Sweetie, that’s tomorrow. It’s too short notice for your grandmother. Besides, she is busy this time of year.”
I would usually give up at this point, but that day, I couldn’t let go of my wish.
“I want her to be there with me!”
I whined and whined until my mother finally said that I could give a call to my grandmother and ask her directly if she could come.
My grandmother was delighted to hear my voice on the phone as always. But when I told her about the event and asked her if she could come, she hesitated. She must have had a list of things to do since it was a busy farming season. My grandmother didn’t decline my request right away, but she sounded at a loss by receiving such a sudden invitation.
“It’s tomorrow, is it?”
She repeated. As I started to feel that I was making an impossible request and that she was not able to come to the event, I couldn’t hold back my sadness anymore. I started weeping over the phone. That was when my grandmother realized how this event was important to me and made her decision against all the odds.
“OK, my dear, I’ll be coming tonight.”
There was not a hint of hesitation in her voice when she said it. And that evening, my mother and I went to the train station to meet my grandmother. As I saw her coming out through the ticket gate, I tried to look for any sign of strain on her face, but there was none. She looked organized and her face was full of joy upon seeing us.
One person who was most upset in the house was my father. He thought I had caused a big trouble to my grandmother, and as soon as I woke up the next morning, he started telling me how selfish I had been to ask my grandmother to come when she was busy. As I sat to eat my breakfast, I started to feel I had done something awfully wrong, and tears streamed down my face. My grandmother was quietly sitting next to me, but as soon as she saw me break into tears, she looked at my father with a scary face.
“Stop it right now! I came only because I wanted to come. There’s no need to make any fuss about it.”
That was the only time in our entire history when my grandmother scolded my father like that. My father apologized and there was no more drama after that.
Half an hour later, my grandmother and I left for the kindergarten together hand in hand. My parents waived and wished us a good day in front of the house. Feeling overjoyed and shy all at the same time, I was looking down on the street for the whole time as we both walked to the kindergarten that morning.