On September 11, 1934, I was born. As far as I could remember, it was just my mother, Yumi, and I. I remembered her as a strange woman in my childhood. Mother and I didn�t really connect at all when I was growing up. She saw to all of my basic needs as a typical parent, but we just couldn�t bond like a normal family. We didn�t hate each other. The problem lay within her personality. I never could figure her out as a child. She didn�t talk much about her past. In fact, she didn�t talk much at all. My mother just kept to herself with her flowers in the living room. On occasion, I would hear her mumbling something. No matter how hard I listened, the words never made any sense to me.
�Mother,� I asked one day when I was ten. She didn�t look up from her dried irises. During the war, Mother had been buried in her ikebana. My guess was to keep what was left of her sanity. I still pressed on anyway.
�Why do you mumble to the flowers?� I asked. She still didn�t look up at me. Her small, pale hands kept with their work. I didn�t even think she had heard me. I took small steps over to her and leaned into the side of her face.
�Mother,� I whispered this time. �Why do you always mumble to the flowers?� She still didn�t reply. Her fingers passed over a dried deep violet petal to reach for the next flower. I knew she heard me that time. Maybe, I should try to get her attention. I clutched the dried irises in my hand.
�Mother,� I called once more. �Why do you always mumble to the flowers? You stare at them so much. What are you saying to them?� This time, her hands paused. Her head slowly drew upwards to see me. I had never seen her wine-purple eyes look so hollow before in my life. It was as if she was possessed at that very moment. I swallowed my concern.
�Mother?� I asked. Suddenly, it seemed her whole being sprung back to life, and she blinked.
�Oh,� she said. Her eyes turned back to me.
�Iwao-kun?� she asked. �Did you want something?� Frustrated, I shook my head.
�Never mind,� I said. I walked out of the living room to my room. I never could understand my mother. She was always locked away in her own world. I gave up trying to understand her by the time Obon came around in �44. What was the point? I wasn�t going to get anything out of her anyway. She�s just going to stay locked away in her head with her flowers and the TV going in the background or the occasion LP player playing some old European composer until it ran silent.
That was what I originally thought anyway.
In the summer of �45, four months before the end of WWII, my mother made a strange announcement to me. I walked in from school that summer and had just planned on doing my homework, having dinner, taking a bath, and going to bed�just the normal routine really. I took off my shoes and went inside. I walked past my mother in the living room. Chopin was about to wrap up another song on the gramophone. This time, she was working with dried plum blossoms and chrysanthemums in the sand bed. I didn�t even think she ate today. What did it matter? She�s not going to respond anyway.
�I�m home,� I said in vain. As expected, she didn�t respond. Mother didn�t even acknowledge that I was even here. I lowered my shoulders. Welcome home, Iwao-kun, I thought. Like that would make any difference. I walked past the open living room before I heard her pause.
�Iwao-kun,� my mother spoke up. I paused and looked into the living room. She had her back to me, still arranging her dried plum blossoms and chrysanthemums in the sand bed. I noticed something a little different about her demeanor today. Mother sat up straight like wild bamboo. Her small pale hands weren�t trembling over the petals.
�Mother, did something happen today?� I asked. Mother completely ignored my question as if she was talking to a stuffed doll.
�I think you should become a priest like your father was,� she said out of the blue. That sentence took out all of the words from my eleven-year-old mind. First of all, she never talked about my father, not once. She never said anything good or bad about him. True my mother barely talked at all for all I knew, but my father was the last thing on my mind. Even more so, considering my father was never around most of my life. I didn�t even remember him all that well. I did hear that he was a Shinto priest before the war. Like everything else about my Mother, I tried to ask her about him. As predicted, she wouldn�t give me anything. So, I just gave up on asking her about him just like I did with everything else.
�Why?� I asked. She kept her back to me as she lowered her hands into her lap. I was completely turned towards the doorway.
�I just feel that it will do you some good in these times,� she said. �Give our people something to truly hope for during this war. They are so sick of death and ruin.�
�Papa was a priest?� I asked, blinking.
�Oh yes,� my mother admitted. I could tell that she was smiling just by her tone of voice. �He was so good at his work. Many people always came to him for help or advice. In fact, he saved me.� I stood completely in the doorway by this point.
�Save you�how?� I asked.
�Study for the priesthood, Iwao-kun!� she said with a push in her voice.
�I don�t get it,� I said as I raised an eyebrow. �How did Papa save you?�
�Do it for me,� she pleaded. �Please.� I felt myself getting frustrated again. She�s not giving a straight answer as usual. The one time she gave me any information about my father and she went back to dodging my questions. I almost wanted to push her into telling me more, but I already knew how that�s going to work out.
�What if I don�t want to?� I asked with my arms folded across my chest. Her body tensed up from where she sat.
�Please think about it! At least do that. Please! For your father�s memory and my sake! Please do this for me!� she pleaded, her voice almost crying now. I rolled my eyes as I breathed out and dropped my shoulders. Something told me that she wasn�t going to let go of the idea and beat me over the head with it.
�Alright,� I said, defeated. �I will think about it, but my answer is going to be no in the end.� My mother turned around to me with eyes filled with life.
�Thank you, my son,� she said as she bowed her head to me. I tried to force a smile. I don�t know what I found more confusing�her request or the fact that this was the first time I had heard of my father in my life. What else was she holding out on me, and why? I had so many questions to ask her.
My family history had only started to unfold before me.