On a visit to Yamada last summer, Ojiichan (Grandpa) met us at the door of their home with his usual big smile. Toshiaki brought our bags inside, while I started to walk next door to his brother’s house. From experience, I knew that my sister-in-law, Kazuko, had probably prepared some dishes to contribute to that night’s dinner, and I could help carry them over. On my way, I greeted Obaachan, who was watering her unusually dry batch of daikon, one bucket at a time. Unlike my homecomings in the states, there was no hugging or small talk. Instead, I quickly became her relay-woman, shuttling buckets of water to her fields of thirsty vegetables, as she grumbled on about not having enough rain this year. I tried to be more helpful and gingerly attempted to join her in the field, but she warned that my “city-slicker” shoes would get muddy (my words, not hers). I shamefully agreed and stuck to water patrol.
Later in the evening, another sister-in-law, Miwako, brought over additional dishes to add to the feast. The women knew that their husbands (my brothers in-laws), would all gather tonight to catch up with Toshiaki and their parents. Over the years, I have found my groove among the Horiai women. Somehow it was understood that I was excused from any cooking duties (phew), and I have gratefully settled into the role of setting the table with an assortment of tiny dishes then handling the washing and clearing afterwards.
After somewhat of a peaceful night’s rest (with only two mini-quakes to wake us), we woke to sounds of roosters squawking and people chattering. Obaachan and her 90-year-old sister, Setsuko, were downstairs in the kitchen. Setsuko usually made her rounds in the afternoon, but it was too miserably hot to walk around that August day. She knew we were visiting, and 6:30 am seemed as good a time as any to drop by to welcome us.
While Toshiaki and I joined them for a breakfast of fish, pickled vegetables, miso soup, and rice, it occurred to me what time it was in the States. I quickly contacted my mom via e-mail to set up a time to Skype then tried to explain the technology to my in-laws. They were intrigued and agreed to journey next door to Kazuko’s Wi-Fi’d house.
Then I asked Toshiaki’s mom if she had anything she wanted to ask my Mom. After a moment, she leaned toward the screen and said, “Do you get to see our grandchildren, Emi and Miki, and are they well?” My mother gave a glowing “proud grandmother” report, and I knew that nothing could top that connection. Cyberspace has minimized the distance between our two worlds, but maybe they weren’t so different after all. Everyone smiled and waved goodbye, and to me, it seemed both sides were changed. I know I was.