The year I was thirteen, my maternal grandmother celebrated her 77th birthday. In Japanese tradition, a person’s 77th birthday carries a special weight and it’s typically celebrated in a bigger way than usual. When my grandmother turned seventy-seven, her family organized a large birthday party on a long weekend at a local restaurant inviting all the close relatives. My family also drove there to attend this special gathering.
We were about thirty people in total, and at the restaurant, a party room was rented to accommodate everybody in one place. We ate and chatted, and halfway through the party, somebody suggested that we should take turns in sharing the most cherished memory with my grandmother.
One by one, we stood in front of everybody and shared the memory. One of my elder cousins told a story when he was a little boy and riding a bike one summer. He accidentally smashed into a bush full of caterpillars, and when he came out of it, his body was covered with caterpillars. At the time, my grandmother was working in the field.
“Granny, Granny, I’m in a big trouble! Caterpillars are on my body!”
My cousin shouted to her in panic. My grandmother came to check his situation, then simply whisked off all the caterpillars with her hand, and said,
“Now you are all good!”
Everybody in the room roared with laughter, including myself. I pictured the scene in my head and thought how fearless my grandmother was!
Then it was my turn. I had so many cherished memories with my grandmother that I wasn’t certain which one to choose. I walked to the front, looked around the room, and saw everybody’s eager face looking at me. My grandmother was there, too, in the middle of the crowd, smiling.
Suddenly, my mind travelled to the future and thought of the time when my grandmother would no longer be with us. Before I was able to speak anything, without any warning, I burst into tears. Nobody hadn’t cried that day except for my cousins’ babies. It was supposed to be a happy occasion. But there I was, crying like on the saddest day of my life.
People were surprised. I heard my father say
“Why on earth are you crying?”
With kind look in their eyes, everybody was trying to figure out what had just happened to me.
“Why on earth are you crying?”
I heard my father say again. Then my uncle – my mother’s elder sister’s husband – leaned and hushed my father.
“She has so many things to feel right now,” he said, his face a little red from beers. “Let her take her time.”
I knew what he must have been referring to. In my early childhood, I was separated from my parents a few times and stayed at my grandmother’s house while my little brother went through his heart operations. And that little brother I had adored so much passed away when I was turning six. My grandmother was there to help us through that, too.
“She is so kind-hearted,” my uncle said. “Such a kind-hearted child.”
While I was unable to speak, my mother came to the front and played a CD of a song that I had recently written and won a prize at a contest. It was a song about an imaginary conversation between a cantaloupe melon and a watermelon in my grandmother’s vegetable garden inspired by the time I stayed with her in my early childhood.
My father explained to everybody about the origin of the song in detail, and everybody laughed. I also laughed. Then I knew which memory I wanted to share. I told the story of the time when I was four years old and accompanied my grandmother to purchase a new one-wheel garden cart at a local DIT store, and came back home sitting on the cart while my grandmother pushed it.
“I felt as if I were a princess,” I said to everybody. “It was so luxurious.”
Then I added,
“If I get the chance, I’d love to do that again, Grandma.”
My grandmother laughed and said,
“Oh, I don’t think so, my sweetheart. You are now too big and heavy!”
Everybody laughed, and my turn was over.
It was such a memorable birthday party, and I can remember everybody’s face from that day like yesterday.