Silly Grins

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Last Wake: Great-granduncle Yo

Everyone just called him Uncle Yo. He was the kind of guy you knew who everyone was talking about when they were talking about him, which wasn't all that often. You see, he was kind of difficult to be around.

Instinctively, I'd wanted to go out to dinner with him. Get a chance to just sit and talk. The wifey said no. Regrettably, I listened. No one stopped me from trying to save what was left.

But first...

We actually first met when he'd stopped by to drop off a bottle of Merlot  or a "dry, red, and full-bodied wine" for the wine snobs in our audience. Uncle Yo had done a wonderful translation of the label, but had miss-translated 'bouquet' for flowers instead of what it really meant. Not like it really mattered. The family took up their chance to pounce on him and his pride after I'd been allowed to kindly point out his mistake.

"Big deal," I thought. But no, they rode him hard for this. In a way, someone might even be tempted to think that they must have fucking hated him.

You see, he was kind of difficult to be around.

The second time we met, he'd donned his kimono before coming over to join the family at the in-laws' place for part of the New Year's banquet that seemed to last for days. Only, Uncle Yo didn't last for more than a few hours.

Shortly after he taught me to dance, him leading all the way, he got into some kind of conversation with the in-laws. Uncle's conversation had turned into a monologue, which had Grandma and Grandpa looking at the floor until the cab they'd called for him arrived. I was volunteered to take him back to his place. Fortunately, he remembered the directions.

He just couldn't find his keys, so we ended up bothering the manager at his flat. Although I could tell Uncle Yo's irresponsibility would normally have bothered the fellow on duty, there was an old-school respect going on there that kept people from really letting it bother anyone. Old school tough because some people have earned it.

Mostly not letting it bother anyone...

He apparently had a habit of getting smashed in hopes of sinking. That afternoon, he only seemed to end up listing before the storm faded to a gentle and steady breeze of an old man's breath fading off into the horizon.

Smashed in hopes of sinking...

A few months later, Uncle Yo's grand-nephew had to pick him up from the police station. Apparently, he'd been forcibly detained for assaulting the cab driver who'd tried to wake him when he'd passed out or the cab driver somehow didn't know where he'd wanted to be taken. 

Or just smashing...

From the way the story goes, Uncle Yo had resisted the police to the point where the situation required they put the restraints on behind his back.  For some reason, I imagined it taking four officers to do this.  He had not been cooperative, at all. They had been surprised at how strong he was, especially when they managed to get him back to the station and saw that he was over eighty.

His grand-nephew had been called to come in and pick him up. Grand-nephew (a man who at one time thought he might have to seriously injure me - another story) was in his 50's. The nephew was the youngest of a lot of seven, so he was used to getting picked on and having to clean up. A good man.

Regrettably, I had listened...

The wake had been simple. He'd given specific instruction for it to be that way. Drink and be merry. That was it. So we did. The first time our kids got to see one of their relatives laid to rest.  

Why had I listened?

Grandma and Grandpa, they held the kids hands, took them over to say goodbye.  I know they did this as a way of preparing the kids for when Grandma and Grandpa have to go. Part of the cycle of life. 

God, I hate them. 

He never had children. His wife had been a dance instructor, possibly charmed by the young man's penmanship, ability to lead, or something...she'd married him, this younger man, younger by thirteen years. 

So, when she passed away at the early age of sixty-three, he still had a lot of life left in him. Close to forty years worth. 

He'd retired military. He'd been the one on ships, listening to radio. He'd also apparently been special, in some way. He never said, because I'd hesitated...

"Taken during a 10-minute break in Ohara Range. The four persons sitting in the first line are all interpreters. Left to Right: I; Yoshida; Yoshimoto (Frank); Hashikuni (Sam)."

This was in the early 60's, in Okinawa

Yes...he trained under him, apparently.

The rumor was that he'd hurt his back and that's whey he stopped.
His "U.S. Army Liaison School" scrapbook is dated 1960
Nameless faces
So familiar...

A lifelong friend...

By the time he was ready for retirement from the military...he'd more than earned it
 A few months after his wake, a set of relatives were talking about having his place cleaned out, which they eventually did. Everything was going to be taken to the dump and burned. 

I volunteered to take care of everything for the family, but they were hard-headed. I did manage to save a stack of scrapbooks and a few other things that would have been forever lost. 

Because I'd hesitated before...

Only a few weeks ago, the family started talking about how they should have held on to more of the gentleman's things.  

When I was loading up the scrapbooks, one with pictures in it from the 1920's, I played back the last message that had been left on his answering machine. 
One of his friends from the early days when they served together shouted in a lonely and almost deaf voice:

"I'm in a home. My legs are no good, 
so they've got me in a chair. 
Just wanted to check up, 
hear your voice. 
Looks like we're the last ones left. 
Hope you are okay." 

I've got six old scrapbooks to go through with the relatives. They promised. And I'm going to hold them to it. Good excuse to get together and share some memories and pay our respects to Uncle Yo, the gentleman who died alone and who was almost completely forgotten, maybe because he was kind of difficult.

 Or maybe he'd just seen a lot in life. 

(This has been a lot harder than I thought it would be...but it's all good)


  1. This is the kinda stuff that will balance your Mana, karma, whatever you call it. Simple folks give up on complicated ones and write them off because that's easier.

    I hope when I'm gone someone shines a light. Remembers I was more than just some asshole that was tough to be around. Uncle Yo probably had more rules and personal codes and policies than all the other relatives combined.

    Outfuckingstanding post! I feel connected. Very nice!!

  2. Nice post Will. Very touching.

  3. Chris: Sometimes the social path of least resistance heads in a direction I'm not interested in. I thought I recognized something in I have to work with only what's left.

    Hopes? Students definitely remember their good teachers no matter how old they are.

    (Sometimes I wish I didn't feel connected to anything...but I'm glad I am)

  4. Momotaro: Thank you. Your comment is appreciated.

  5. Morihei Ueshiba... Uncle Yo must have been a special man to be training there.

    Sometimes it feels as if there are less and less men like the one you describe. Especially in this effeminated country you and I happen to be living in.

    The men in my family... their moral and intellectual standards are set so high... sometimes it is difficult to get even close, let alone match.

  6. Bigg: Had you not made the comment, I would not have noticed where some of those dojo photos were taken. Yo had an out of print Aikido book by the late Koichi Tohei featuring similar photos.

    No one ever mentioned anything about Yo's background. Something in me sensed that he has some phenomenal stories to pass along. I dropped that ball.

    This 'effeminated country' has me torn. Sometimes the skittishness and roundabout-ness of not even getting to the point for fear of having to take responsibility is, how do we say, infuriating. Up-front and to the point is nice in that it is something to work with.

    Men in families...I do have a lot of respect for people with moral and intellectual standards. At the same time, I do catch myself wondering if the 'man-think' isn't somehow missing something, kind of like an unawareness.

    My paternal side has little, if anything going in terms of morals or intellectual standards in a way that a more educated culture seems able to comprehend. In that way, I am fortunate for not having had any set standards to live up to.

    Thank you for commenting. I don't think I would have made the dojo connection if you hadn't mentioned it.


  7. "wondering if the 'man-think' isn't somehow missing something, kind of like an unawareness"

    isn't that were - ideally, I agree - our women come in?

  8. Bigg: Yeah...women seem to have the ability to temper our spirits.