When I spoke with my cousin earlier this year and she told me that my Uncle Bob had cancer, I felt, in quick succession, surprise, sadness, confidence, and respect. It's easy to understand the first two emotions, but the latter two underscore how I saw Uncle.
While I was growing up, the Wada family was the one we spent the most time with. We would go to their house or attend various Scouting activities. What was most memorable for me, though, was our annual vacation in Mammoth Lakes. We would meet the Wadas (and usually the Shiozakis) at the Minaret Lodge (which is no longer there) and spend the better part of a week fishing, touring, and hanging out around the lodge. One year we showed up and Uncle was going around on crutches; seems he hurt himself playing badminton. What I liked the most was to have so many people to do things with. I wouldn't say I was lonely being an only child, but it was fun to spend the week with what felt like an extended family.
While I was growing up, Uncle was firmly in his nursery years. I remember seeing nothing but foliage once you got past the garage. I still have a J&J Nursery clipboard that I use at home. Even though he worked hard at the business, it seemed like he always had time for my cousins and aunt.
My funniest memory is the year we went to the Wada home to pound some rice to make mochi. Uncle had procured an usu (a dished-out stone which holds the rice) and a kine (mallet which pounds the rice), and rice was steamed. We had a couple successful batches, but there was one batch where, unfortunately, there wasn't quite enough water on the rice. As Uncle was pounding, the whole batch stuck to the kine, came out of the usu, and plopped right into the dirt. After the first round of gasps, Uncle was one of the first to see the humor and start laughing. He knew one of the purposes of making mochi is bringing family together, and that event certainly did!
Uncle and I shared an interest in working with wood. While I do things other than turning, that ended up being his passion, and he created beautiful pieces. I remember him talking with someone and pointed at me, saying I made square things, while he made round things. We often discussed different types of wood (and how expensive it could be) and different tools.
I do want to comment on the funeral, since it's been over thirty years since I've been to a Buddhist ceremony. I did remember the chanting from before, and at Uncle's service it felt very calming. The whole service seemed very fitting because each part showed respect not only to Uncle, but to his life, the family, and everyone present.
While Uncle had strong opinions, at the same time he respected other people having their own opinions, even encouraging them. He honored the past but welcomed the future. He wasn't an extrovert yet was a magnet to newcomers who were drawn in with his smile and went away feeling welcomed into the family. He had a quick wit, an infectious laugh, and a place in all our hearts. Which brings me back to the emotions I felt when finding out he had cancer. I felt confident that no matter what happened, he would not only welcome the support of all who knew and loved him, but there would be many people there for him. And I felt respect because he earned that support, one person at a time.