Saturday, 12 November 2011

Down memory lane.

Send me your demented mothers!
Send me your aged parents who need feeding!
I'm getting good at this!
And smug.

Lunch in flasks on the table. OK.

Home at 6.15 pm to cook up another TV cooking show easy recipe - this time nira and natto, two of the smelliest foods in Okaasan and I can't kiss anyone today.
But it was fine. Natto/Nira and rice, and soup and some tomato salad.

Okaasan at home and ready to eat.
We sat down a deux at 7 pm.
What conversation to get her on tonight? I thought last night that she looked a bit tired round the eyes, and was it my imagination or was she having problems following my bad Japanese? I've read that dementia sufferers gradually lose their ability to follow conversations and of course poor Okaasan is having to deal with a foreigner massacreing her language - so it wouldn't be too surprising.
Dinner with me is probably as stressful for her, as it is for me!

I tried a few conversation starts but nothing took. She laughed and made the most basic responses, but nothing took off for chat. We ate in silence a bit. At least this meant she was eating and not waving her chopsticks around while talking.

Finally I found the conversation trigger - I'd talked about helping a friend take her cats to the vets, but there was no response - none of the questions you might expect on that (which friend? why? how many cats? where?...nothing), so I used the pet topic and asked Okaasan -"did you have a pet when you were a child?" - and she was OFF with a story about how she had no time for pets because she was the oldest of 6 siblings and had to work to help her mother. Of course.
Actually, it was interesting snapshots of a Japan long-ago, a different age before cell phones and Starbucks and noisy TV shows. Repetitive talk of course, but interesting.

Okaasan's father was a truck driver/owner - pretty unusual in those pre-war days. They lived in Kawagoe, an old city north-west of Tokyo. Kawagoe made tansu, the wooden chests with many drawers that now sell for vast amounts in antique shops around the world. Mr. Okamoto delivered these tansu to customers all over the Tokyo area - the wood was soft and scratched easily, so responsible delivery was important. They were often delivered to brides who were packing up their stuff to move into the husband's family house and all the neighbors would come out into the street to watch the new bride arrive and judge her family status by the quality and volume of tansu she arrived with.

Okaasan talked about the tansu makers bringing their valuable creations to her father's warehouse in the morning, how they were all lined up and then loaded and he set off to deliver them.

Her other chat was a wonderful personal snapshot - the reason why she never had time for a pet of course.

"I used to go to elementary school, maybe I was 5th grade, and I'd walk with my youngest brother strapped on my back, and holding my younger sister's hand, and I'd be knitting as I walked...but it was ok because there weren't many cars or trucks on the road, so I'd knit while I was walking...I made a sweater for my father, nowadays people have sweater patterns, but I just guessed the shape and maybe the teacher helped me?."

And so: we whiled away our dinner hour with all of that. Japan long ago.
Finally about 8 pm I used the one-cat-is-still-not-home-I-should-go-look-for-him excuse and brought dinner to a close. Minutes later Okaasan was back in her room with the TV, and my evening up stairs could start.

She's looking a bit crazy and wild at the moment, she hasn't had a bath in over a week I think. Tomorrow I have tickets to take her to a big band concert and I'll get her to have a bath before we go to that. She doesn't initiate baths anymore at all, just a bit of water splashed on her face and some occasional toothbrushing I think.

And so . Onwards into the weekend.


  1. Mmmmm Natto!
    I guess it is a small return for all of your care that you have a peek into Japan pre war through Okasaan's eyes. We can hardly imagine what was expected of children then.

  2. Quite fascinating and it's lovely that you are writing her memories down in this blog, I am sure her family will appreciate such a record in the future.
    You sure do have a lot on your plate. I hope you also get support. Where are you from in the UK? You don't have to answer, but if you want to, do it. ;)

  3. just both thumbs up for you!
    I know it is not easy to care a dement person..
    haha, and respect for eating Natto! I still don´t like it so much ~.~