There is an airgramme from Hiro. I wish he could have come from Japan for this celebration. Hiro was the first person Mum took responsibility for by "moral adoption." When we met Hiromasa Hanabusa, he was a solemn schoolboy in a dark blue uniform. An only child, Hiro had been orphaned by the bomb. His grandmother made a meagre living for them both from the ruins of Hiroshima by selling soap door-to-door. She carried the soap on her back, with her grandson strapped on top of the load. He remembered the pride he had felt when at the age of four he could help her by collecting scrap metal.
By the time Hiro's grandmother died, Mum was already a stabilizing parent figure in his life. Now Hiro is happily married with seven children and a successful oral surgery practice on the island of Shikoku.
Mum became a mother by default to Miyoko Matsubara, an excitable young woman in her thirties who was 12 when the bomb dropped and is still twelve emotionally 66 years later. Miyoko's face was so scarred by the bomb her own mother rejected her, telling her it would have been better if she had died, that she was too ugly for any man to want to marry her. Miyoko has devoted her life to running a school for blind children.
And of course Mum adopted Dao, the orphanage worker she helped get out of Saigon during the Vietnam war, bringing half-American orphans with her so they would not be killed by the communists.
Rick, my first husband, and I were married in Los Angeles, where I knew no one but his family. Mum arrived from Japan by ship a few days before the wedding. I was so eager to see her. My eyes picked her out at once, surrounded by a crowd of young Japanese women on the dock.
"Mum!" I rushed up and hugged her.
"Hi, J!" she responded warmly. "I'd like you to meet Seiko--" She drew a timid girl forward. "And Mitsuko and Akemi. We met on the boat and we worked on English together." The girls giggled.
"How do you do?" I said dutifully and turned back to Mum. "Are you ready? Rick's folks are waiting for us. I know you want to meet them."
Mum hesitated. "Could we look for a phone first? These girls need to call the families they are going to be living with. They've never been to the States before and--" Numbness within me muted her words. I had wanted to draw her out of the crowd but I couldn't. The crowd was coming with her.
We got two of the girls taken care of. They contacted their American families and were spirited off by them. Seiko clung apologetically to Mum's side. Mum was saying something about Seiko, smiling fondly at the grateful girl.
I braced myself.
"--Just for a few days," Mum went on. My heart sank.
"Sure," I said, with an unconvincing show of hospitality. "No problem. She can stay on the Shavers' couch bed with you."
In the flurry of wedding preparations that followed, I was scarcely conscious of the extra, obsequious guest. But I was conscious of the familiar resentment I felt as Mum's attention was divided between the two of us, resentment I was ashamed of. Who would have helped Seiko feel at home in an alien culture if my mother hadn't taken her under her wing?
My mind snaps back to the present. Thanks to the Lord and my years of therapy, we've both come a long way in the last 17 years!
After that, Mum adopted people so fast they became a blur to me. A confused young girl whose boyfriend got her pregnant and split but who wanted to keep the baby. An unemployed veteran named Bob who delighted in doing odd jobs around the place and who slept on Mum's couch while Mum, Dao and her three children shared wall-to-wall beds in the other room. A middle-aged woman who had been in two mental institutions and who was so passive at first that she was like a piece of furniture; one forgot she was there. All ages, all nationalities.
It came to a head one day. Mum asked my brother Tim and me if we'd like to go with her to the L.A. airport to meet a Japanese woman whose name was vaguely familiar. Tim took me aside to ask, "Who is this woman? Are we related to her?"
I had to say, "I don't know."
For more about Dao, see
MUM and the Sergeant-Major's Daughter,
MUM and the naked man up the tree