My mother loved to tell stories of her childhood in pre-World War II Japan – such a different era and culture from the white-bread Midwest of the sixties I grew up in. In my teen years I realized I should capture those stories somehow, but it took a great many years and the prodding of a family friend to get the project going.
Over a period of ten years, with me for the most part living far away from her, I worked on and off interviewing my mother, writing and editing. My mom often resisted me, saying, “My life was bad, nobody wants to hear about it.” I told her people liked to hear how others survived bad times. She would get so annoyed at my thirst for details – “who would want to know that?” I told her I wanted to know and her grandchildren would, too. Many times we laughed together, and sometimes we cried. I saw how her personality reflected hurts she had suffered and I wished I had known of them earlier so I could have had more patience and understanding. For the first time I heard the stories of how she lived through WWII, running for bomb shelters and diving under tea bushes to avoid getting shot by swooping warplanes.
Finally, ignoring my kids and housework for three months, I pushed hard to finish the book in time for the sixtieth anniversary of the end of WWII. By this time I had moved my aging mother to St. Louis to be near me and noticed her memory was failing. At the end of August 2005, I placed the book of her early life into her hands in time for her eightieth birthday. She was astounded by how well it turned out. Our whole family was thrilled. My mother’s friends and even strangers told us how fascinating her book was.
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years later. The stories in her book became a comfort to her. The present was a confusion, yesterday never was, the distant past was what she remembered. Now I am the one who reminds her of the stories, and we sing her childhood songs together as I tuck her in bed.
Linda Austin is co-author with her mother of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight: Memories of a Japanese Girl. With her blog, Linda encourages others to write their stories. She also ghostwrites life stories and creates edited DVDs of interviews via Moonbridge Publications.
Linda lives in St. Louis, Missouri. She can be reached at moonbridgeblog.blogspot.com and moonbridgebooks.com.
Photo courtesy Linda Austin.