In just a few days, my step-mom, sisters and I will be making a long journey over the Pacific to take my father’s ashes to be united with my mother’s in Japan. My mother passed away 30 years ago this coming January and it’s been a year since my father passed away in Palm Harbor, Florida, just a few days after his 93rd birthday. Like many retirees, he spent the last “third” of his life, living his life to the fullest, in Florida.
My dad was an avid, sometimes rabid, consumer of sports of the baseball and football variety. Long hours were spent watching college or professional sports, sitting close to his large screen TV while sipping on a malt whiskey and water over plenty of chipped ice. Whenever “his team” scored or made a good move, he would swivel his head in your direction and with a big smile, give an emphatic “thumbs up”.
Due to profound hearing loss, my dad relied on a variety of gestures or facial expressions to communicate during the last few years of his life. In retrospect, it would have been better for all of us had we established more of a sign/gesture language with my dad to ease our mutual communication. The raised eyebrows, tilted head, shrugged shoulders or a scrunched forehead – these all became the basic ways that my dad communicated, but the “thumbs up” was the highest form of approbation that he could offer.
An eloquent raconteur throughout his life, he also loved to listen to intelligent conversation and would often interject pithy observations. So, it must have been very frustrating for him as it became increasingly more difficult to participate in our boisterous dinner table discussions. We missed the provoking questions he would ask relevant to whatever political, social or economic issue of the day was forefront in the news. As rabid a sports fan as he was, he was as equally, a voracious reader – a trait and legacy that he passed on to his daughters. And so, we missed his thoughtful analysis of whichever book, non-fiction or not, he was reading at the time of our visit.
Writing was also one of his passions – the foundation of his life work as a teaching missionary in China and Japan. Soon after retiring in Florida, he joined a writing group and published a book called “My Three Worlds”.
He brought the “first” of his three worlds to life using wonderful stories and pictures from his childhood growing up in China, interspersed between transcriptions of letters written by his missionary parents during their geographic separation due to WWII and the occupation of China by Japan.
These densely informational letters became a huge treasure trove for my dad to draw on when he began to recount his own amazing life growing up as a young man and later as a young missionary in Foochow (Fujou) with my mother in post-WWII but pre-Communist China, after serving as a Navy Chaplain during the war. We are so grateful for this legacy and it was through this book, we discovered that his love of baseball and football started very early in his adolescence.
While my sisters and I were growing up in post-WWII Japan, the “second” of his three worlds, we had no idea how closely he kept tabs on his favorite teams in the US. These were the pre-internet and instant communication years, so my dad had to rely on delayed audio broadcasts on FEN (the Far East Network) or articles in the sports section of the Japan Times to find out who was leading in the National and American Leagues. No such thing as “live streaming” in those days!
So, now we will be making the long journey to bring his ashes home to Japan – to close the “circle of his life”. It may seem somewhat odd to you, but somehow totally natural to me, that my dad’s ashes will be in three places – with my mother’s in the crypt of a Japanese house-church to which we belonged; in the Inter Board Missionary crypt located in the foreigner’s section of the Aoyama Cemetery; and in a small niche near the mighty oak planted in his honor in Palm Harbor.
When I began composing this entry, I intended to write about sibling dynamics and how to navigate the inevitable tension that will arise during our trip. But, in homage to my papa, I started listening to the Notre Dame/Navy college football game and my writing went in a completely different direction! Now I can hear the strains of the Navy’s school song, indicating the completion of the game and Notre Dame’s victory over Navy.
No “thumbs up” from Dad this time!