Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Hidemi’s Rambling No.425

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I answered the phone from my grandfather on my mother’s side one day when I was in junior high. I sensed something wrong at once from his unusually somber tone. He wanted to talk to my mother and she began to tell him repeatedly to wait right there. My grandfather called her to let her know he was going to kill himself. He picked up the pay phone at the train station before he took a train to a place where he had chosen to die, and said goodbye to my mother. My father rushed into the car to get to the station while my mother stayed home in case my grandfather called again. My father caught him at the station, asked him what was going on, and persuaded him not to take the train. As he didn’t want to return home, my father checked him in at a hotel near the station. My mother joined there and they talked him out of killing himself. She came home at night and told me what had happened. As an old custom in Japan, a married couple used to live with the spouse’s parents. My grandparents on my mother’s side lived with their another daughter and her husband, and they had tackled everyday arguments and disputes. The center of their domestic troubles was often my grandmother. She finally got mad at my grandfather who had always steered himself away the troubles and stayed out of quarrels. He was a war veteran of WWII and had a reward certificate from the government. She picked it up, said “Is this peace of paper making you some kind of honorable man?” and tore it before his eyes. Without saying a word, he left home for Atami, which was a Japanese popular seaside resort where my grandparents once visited on their honeymoon. Thankfully, he ended up staying at a hotel with my father instead of committing suicide there. When my grandmother called my mother about his disappearance that night, my mother made her worry all night to punish her, by telling a lie that she didn’t know his whereabouts. Next day, he calmed down and went home safely. He just told my grandmother he had been in Atami, that she had believed until she died. He was always a quiet, gentle, tolerant man who never seemed suicidal. The war reward certificate must have meant a lot to him, probably a token of his desperate survival for his beloved wife. His choice of a place to die showed their honeymoon was the best time of his life…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.424

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One summer in my childhood, my grandfather on my mother’s side invited my mother and me to lunch. The restaurant’s specialty was eels. An eel is an expensive treat in Japan. We arrived at an awfully old-fashioned Japanese restaurant where we took off our shoes and sat on the floor at the low table. Except for us, only one table was occupied by a woman with a small child, who was busily stuffing the leftovers into a tin box she had brought. Every time my grandfather needed a server to come to our table, he clapped his hands twice and called out, “Hey, sister!” It was an obsolete manner no longer practiced, which embarrassed my mother and me. When our house was rebuilt, I had my own room for the first time. That time, my grandfather took my mother and me to a furniture store to buy me a bed and a wardrobe. After we chose the items, a young salesperson calculated the total. My grandfather naturally asked for a discount but the salesperson’s offer didn’t satisfy him at all. He was an old patron of the store and had bought every piece of furniture there when my mother got married. He was used to special treatment and assumed he would get one there. But the salesperson declined the further discount, as he was new and didn’t know my grandfather. Even so, my grandfather persisted and decided the total amount of his own. He handed bills to the salesperson, and told him how much the change to be brought back should be. My grandfather’s way apparently perplexed the salesperson. Standing next to my grandfather, I was so embarrassed again. Eventually, a long tug-of-war was over and the salesperson brought back what my grandfather had told him. My bed and wardrobe were successfully discounted, but I learned my grandfather’s style was outdated in the modern world…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.423

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I loved my grandfather on my mother’s side so much. He lived in a small town that was a 20-minute drive from my family’s home. We used to visit him quite often, and occasionally he also came to our house with my grandmother. At times they stayed overnight in which case my sister and I would scramble to sleep next to him. I won the place one night and he offered his arm for my head. I slept with my head on his arm, which wasn’t so comfortable, to be honest. I woke up with a slight pain in my neck. After they left, I began to feel sick and skipped school the next day. As my condition worsened with a fever, my mother tried to find the cause. I told her I had been sick since I slept with my head on my grandfather’s arm. She picked up the phone and reported it to my grandmother for a complaint. It took me a week to get well, but seemed nothing but a cold after all. I concluded my grandfather’s arm didn’t cause my illness. When I met him again, he told me he would never sleep beside me. He explained how relentless verbal attacks from my grandmother had been. She had blamed him for causing my illness everyday although he knew his arm had nothing to do with it. For him, it was an exact situation of biting the hand that feeds you. True to his word, he had never let me sleep beside him ever since no matter how much I pestered. I wondered how severely my grandmother ranted him…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.422

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I had a nightmare last night that a room flooded and I drowned in the cold water. The sense of water was so real and I actually passed out in the dream when I gulped in too much water instead of air. I think the nightmare has something to do with my new custom. The communal spa in my apartment building has a sauna. While I love to take a sauna, I had never stepped in a cold plunge sitting next to it. Running water is pouring into the small bathtub and icy water is overflowing. I looked with wonder at some residents jump into the cold plunge after getting out of a sauna. One woman soaked herself in icy water completely from head to toe. I didn’t understand how they could do so without having a heart attack. I tested the water with the tip of my toe once, and almost screamed with its coldness. But as I regularly saw someone sink in the cold plunge, my curiosity had grown bigger. And three weeks ago, I finally summoned the courage to give it a try. I gingerly put my leg into it and found that the small bathtub was much deeper than I had thought. I lost my balance and my other leg splashed in. Although I was just out of a sauna and very hot, the extremely cold water froze my legs instantly. I tried to get out but the tub was too deep for my height. The fear that I could never get out of freezing water seized me and I began to panic. Swashing water clumsily, I struggled to climb out. I sincerely wished nobody was watching. Strangely enough, I couldn’t forget the sensation afterward and wanted to try again for some reason. Next time in the spa, I dipped my legs in the cold plunge again. Then, I tried to soak up to my chest. In a few days, I found myself submerge to my neck. Now, taking a cold plunge has become my custom. Every time though, a fear of having a heart attack crosses my mind. It seems I’m attracted with a narrow escape from death. I imagine I might be dead in a cold plunge someday…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.421

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When my uncle got married with my mother’s cousin by an arranged marriage, my grandfather paid for his new house. He was proud of having his own darkroom in the house. His hobby was photography and he used to have the latest models of a camera. He planned to enrich his hobby by developing pictures by himself. After he quit a job at a gas station, he found a job supplying ice cream to small candy stores. He finished drifting jobs, had two daughters and finally settled down. I visited his house with my parents one day, and found that his darkroom had been converted into a family closet. He explained he no longer spent so much time taking pictures as before, with a weak smile. Several years passed and I had become a student at a private Catholic school. The school was a prestigious girl’s school that included from the elementary school to the college. I had been there from the junior high and had acted as if I had been from a rich and noble family to fit in. By the time I advanced to the high school, I had been quite popular among the snobbish students. Most of their parents were rich, and they looked down some students whose parents weren’t so rich. One of those girls we looked down came to me and said, “I saw your uncle yesterday.” And she started talking about my uncle to my friends. “Do you know what her uncle is? He’s an ice cream man!” she giggled. Her parents ran a grocery store and my uncle went there to refill their ice cream case. He noticed her school uniform and told her I was his niece. Her point was that I was a niece of a funny, loud, rude ice cream supplier in spite of my snobbish attitude. She went on spreading her encounter with my uncle to other students and they all laughed at me. I was indignant rather than embarrassed…

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