Celebrating a century

I just got back from Southern California where a lot of my family gathered to celebrate my Aunt Haru’s 100th birthday. It’s amazing enough for someone to reach the century mark, but even at that age, she’s still doing amazing well physically and is extremely sharp and witty.

The party was on Sunday, so I flew down on Saturday afternoon. Several cousins were getting together for dinner, but I wouldn’t be able to make it in time for that. My parents had picked up sushi and chashu (what we’d consider comfort food) from Marukai for dinner.

Photo: Kathy Tashima

After eating and chatting, I headed out to my cousin Norman’s place where everyone was going for dessert. When I showed up, Susan was setting out a wide variety of snacks and people were starting to serve themselves. Perfect timing!

The Fujimoto cousins like getting together, and there’s never a break in the conversation. Mix together stories from when everyone was younger with recent ones, and there’s always an easy flow. And pictures. We all gathered around the couch for a group photo; we knew there would be more of us at the party the next day, but we still needed to have a way to remember the occasion.

Since the party was on Sunday afternoon, I took the opportunity in the morning to walk to Warren High School, my alma mater. The campus has changed quite a bit since I was there in the 1970s, and the first thing you notice is the west side (along Paramount) used to be a field with tennis courts on the southwest corner. Now the field is mostly a parking lot, with the tennis courts on the north side. The southwest corner is now a rainwater collection area.

There was an open gate, so I was able to walk around campus. Most all of the buildings from my era are still there and in use, but where there were temporary trailers and the parking lot, new permanent buildings were installed. The one really striking difference is all the lockers have been removed. They used to be lined up on almost every conceivable exterior wall.

In the afternoon, we headed out to the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel where the events going to be held. My aunt’s favorite meal is Knott’s chicken dinner, so it was no surprise where she wanted the party. We got there early enough that there was plenty of time to chat with people, especially those I don’t see very often.

There were several people who talked about what Aunt Haru means to them, and her generosity and caring manner were a common thread. There was a slide show with photos from her entire life, and her great grandkids made a music video for her. Both were very touching.

A lot of photos were taken, including yet another cousins portrait. This was the first time in several years we were all in the same room, so we didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

For several years, Aunt Haru single-handedly hosted New Year’s. She and Uncle Harold lived in a modestly-sized house, with dozens of people packed inside time. It was an open house, so people came and went, and if you stayed long enough, you would eat lunch, chat, eat dinner, then go out bowling.

Auntie would spend days beforehand cooking, and there was never a lack of food, even with all the guests. The highlight, however, was her ozoni. I couldn't tell you how many pieces of mochi she cooked over the years. The soup is for good luck, and it's certainly worked for many people.