My Mother’s Story

Posted on Sep 24, 2020 in Hiroko's Blog

great sun setting; appreciation

The world has been dramatically changing under the Covid-19 pandemic.  Once upon a time life was slower, more mellow, and gentler for me.   I was a boomer.  I begin to feel that I am a dinosaur. And my mother turned to 93 this year.  She had health issues but was happy and in good spirits and had a healthy appetite until 6 weeks ago.  She led her life even at her late age in the same way she has been doing for the adult part of her 93 years.  This means that she did her daily chores, including washing the laundry, apartment cleaning (it is small space, though) and making meals four times a week.  Shopping was no longer her chore and she missed it a lot. Luckily, she was living with my sister.

Suddenly her health declined and she was admitted to the hospital.

If I were asked right now with whom I wanted to have my last meal, my answer would be my mother.  And I would add my Mom’s parents, my grandparents as well if they were still alive.  Maybe this answer was driven by today’s Covid-19 situation that I, with an American passport, cannot easily visit Japan right now.  Who I am, what I have accomplished in the past and what I am doing today is because I am the daughter of my mother and the granddaughter of her parents.  So, I decided to post my food-and-my Mom memories before it gets too late.  And here is the first entry.

  1. My Mother’s Story: Grandma Plucking Chicken and the Omelet

My Mom has always made everything taste delicious at our mealtimes.  One of her favorite dishes to prepare when I was young was fried chicken, Tori no Kara-age.  She loved this dish.  This was before the 1970’s introduction of KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) to Japan.  Tori no Kara-age is a dish in which marinated chicken is dusted with potato starch or flour and then deep-fried.  The first dish of this kind appeared at a restaurant in Tokyo around 1932.  It was a dish whose preparation techniques were adopted from the Chinese kitchen.  At the dinner table with Tori no Kara-age my Mom often repeated the story of how she developed a taste for chicken.

My Mom’s parents lived in the town of Takada, in Niigata Prefecture, facing the Japan Sea and it was a strategic military port town in the past.  My Grandpa was a rather well-to-do, highly respected pediatrician.  In addition to his busy workday he served as the kindergarten doctor at a nearby church’s Sunday School. That church and school was operated by an American missionary, and my mother was a pupil in that kindergarten.  My mother was never quite sure if the missionary couple was American or Canadian, but my Grandpa’s published poems which I read recently indicates that they were American.  At their home Grandma took care of and fed over 30 people.  This included her 6 children, live-in nurses and house maids.  When my Mom came back from the school, she often found my Grandma plucking chickens one after another in the garden.  She jumped for joy because she knew what the dinner would be that evening.  Back then many patients who were too poor to pay my Grandpa in cash, paid with some of the foods they produced on their farms.  Chickens and eggs happened to be the most welcomed and most frequent gifts at my Grandma’s home.  After deboning the chickens Grandma made a huge pot of chicken stock with the bones together with onions and carrots.  My Mom still remembers the aroma of that pot of chicken stock and the wonderful taste of the broth.  The meat was cut into bite sized pieces and deep-fried in Tori no Kara-age style, her children’s favorite.  Eggs were always reserved for her husband’s favorite omelet.  My Grandma learned how to make a perfect omelet from the missionary’s wife, Martha.  I am sure that precious and rare butter, which was always secured and carefully stored in small quantity at my Grandma’s kitchen, surely made the omelet taste authentic.  My grandma died when my mother was just a teenager, so I did not have an opportunity to meet her.  But, whenever I debone chicken and prepare chicken dishes, Gramdma’s image appears in my mind.  I wish I could have known her.