Whenever my family gathers is special, but this past week has been more so as we fondly remembered my Aunt Toshi, who passed away earlier in the month. To say Auntie was a force of nature wouldn't come close to the impact she's had on family, friends, and community. There were so many people there and so many things happened, it seems easier to not try to describe the trip in chronological order.
Since Aunt Toshi lived in Ohio, people arrived from all over, including California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and some of us from Washington. With so many people traveling, there are bound to be some interesting stories. One cousin flew to Chicago Midway, took the train to O'Hare, then drove over with a couple other cousins, who gave him a hard time about how much luggage he had.
Another cousin and his wife were supposed to go via Phoenix to Detroit, but ended up rerouted through South Carolina, arriving at the house at about 2am.
Yet another cousin and his wife took the red eye, arriving in Detroit at 6:30am, only to catch a flight back to California at 8:30pm the same day.
My flight went through Philadelphia, where I had a comfortable connection. As I was in line for a shuttle to my terminal, Air Force One came onto the tarmac, ceasing all other movement until it left the local airspace. We ended up sitting in the plane waiting to take off for almost a couple hours.
With so many people from out of town, Kathy's house was full. Upstairs was for Kathy's kids (three, two with spouses) and grandkids (four). On the main floor, my parents and I stayed in one room, while my aunt and her daughter and son-in-law in another bedroom. Kathy and Irland stayed in the basement, along with a few other cousins. Yes, if you count them up, that's 20 people.
Some other people stayed with other family, while the rest found rooms in hotels, etc.
Was there ever food. At times there must have been over 50 people in the house, yet there were always leftovers.
You name the food, it was probably there. Breakfasts included bagels, bread, fried rice, eggs, pancakes, egg casseroles, coffee cakes, and fruit. Lunches included deli platters, individually-wrapped sandwiches, and petit fours at the reception.
Then there were the dinners. Whether it be Chinese, BBQ, Italian, or a variety, it was all great and plentiful.
Of course, I can't forget the desserts. Cookies, cakes, candies, nuts, and even manju.
Normally Kathy cooks up a storm, but this time the vast majority were gifts from various people. Everyone was so generous (not just some cookies, but dozens; not just a lasagna, but three diffrent ones, including one the size of a quarter sheet cake).
The service was special, but only part of the all-day celebration of Aunt Toshi's life.
The day started with the family gathering at the cemetery for the interment. It was a short service but very moving. I was able to say goodbye to Auntie and thank her for all the good she brought into my life.
We then proceeded to the church, where we had a chance to talk with other guests. Pictures were on display, and it was great to look at them, thinking of Uncle and Auntie through their lives.
The memorial service reaffirmed everyone's love and respect for Auntie. Testimonials were touching, funny, inspiring.
The reception was another chance to meet other guests, this time while enjoying the petit fours. The kids' table was alive with activities, too.
After relaxing at the house, everyone gathered again for dinner. And dessert. By the end of the day, everyone was more than full.
Because there were several people arriving late, several of us sat around the kitchen and listened to my dad tell stories about the past. He talked about how his dad had to pay his bride's parents to marry her, and how his mom and her sisters learned to read and write, which was very rare for the other girls where they were in Japan. He also couldn't resist talking about Aunt Toshi, and how he and Aunt Aiko had to chaperone Aunt Toshi and Uncle Joe on dates. "It gets pretty cold in a rumble seat."
Stories came from everyone. How Auntie would tilt her head, smile at someone, and often get her way. How she would give haircuts. How she would know the right thing to say to make things better.
My favorite story is when I flew with Kara and young Toshi to Las Vegas. Kathy and Aunt Toshi met us near baggage claim, and when we walked up Auntie was putting coins into a slot machine. When she saw us, her eyes lit up at seeing her namesake for the first time. I was in the presence of four generations, always a special occasion.
My aunt's obituary appeared in the Toledo Blade, and afterwards my cousin got a call from the paper because they were interested in doing a longer story, which they printed. My dad wanted to frame copies for my cousins, so a couple people went to get copies, which my dad took to the room. Later in the evening he went back to the room to get a copy to show someone, turned to the page, and found it almost completely blank; the ink stopped right after her name. Dad wandered back to get another copy, which also was blank. All the others were, too. "Grandma was always modest."
A friend of the family was told the pond behind Kathy's house had fish. I can vouch for that, since I saw a heron pluck one up and gobble it down whole. The friend grabbed his fishing gear and while the fish nibbled, it refused to be landed.
My cousin Paul enjoys cooperative board games, and decided to try to develop one set in the world of cooking. I saw him trying it out with a couple other people and he was taking mental notes of things to change. He tweaked some of the cards, redesigned the playing area, and I was one of the people to give it another shot. This time there were six of us, and he was interested to see how it played with so many people. There were a few times we had to clarify rules or instructions on the cards, but we did get the hang of it. Fun!
Since we all went to Ohio for a funeral, it may seem strange, but there was a best part of the week: being with family. Whether it be the family from Southern California I see every New Year's, those I see occasionally around Seattle, or those I rarely see who are from other places, I cherish time with all of them. However, the people who were the most amazing during this whole trip were Kathy and Irland. They're not only consummate hosts who opened their home to everyone, they, along with all of Aunt Toshi's family, opened their hearts to all of us.