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The Giving Heart

On April 4, 2012, the East San Gabriel Vally Japanese Community Center in West Covina, under the direction of Mrs. Pearl Omiya, organized a ceremony to recognize the contributions of Mrs. Reiko Hirama Moreno, one of her most remarkable members. Two Japanese Cherry Trees were dedicated to her, in memory of her many contributions. Her husband, Ed Moreno, prepared the following remarks, delivered at the ceremony.

Plaque under one of the Cherry trees dedicated to her memory.

* * *

Reiko-san, 2001 - dressed for duty.

Pearl1 called me about the coming celebration for Reiko-san2, and asked for someone in the family to say a few words. What first came to mind was that day when Reiko-chan told me:

“I don’t want a eulogy. Anybody who wants to tell others how wonderful I was, better tell me NOW, so both of us may enjoy it together. No eulogy…Promise!”

I did. After all, being much older, I was sure I’d go first3. Baka! There was no eulogy when she left…and this is only a sketchy abstract from my memories…I’m keeping my promise.

-♥-

In 1963, our family moved to La Puente, where we had bought our own home. For a while Reiko-chan was very moody in her new community with no friends. But soon, she began volunteering at the St. Louis of France School where our girls were enrolled. She even took secretarial courses so she could help at the school’s office.

Then, we learnt about a Japanese Community Center4, nearby.

“If it is a Japanese-Community Center it has to be good,” she said. We joined it, and she began volunteering.

Everybody received her with open arms, especially the West Covina Sangha5…though she was a Catholic. She fell in love with its YBA6.

“I wish every child in America were like them: so warm, so enthusiastic; so concerned about the elderly…and so beautiful too!” she raved. So, she brought our two girls to help the Center…and to learn Japanese ways.

At Monterey Park, teaching origami to children.

-♥-

After some 20 years, she helped form the Leisure Club. By then, grandson Edward was living with us while Allys, his mom, could go to work. He was a student at St. Louis of France School; so, with Allys at work, Reiko-chan offered to substitute for her as volunteer. It would be fun to help both in the office and the kitchen. The St. Louis nuns adored her.

One night, around 1985, she had a surprise for me. She always addressed me as Daddy or Dana-san. If she used Ed-die, I shook in my shoes; but if she ever said: “Yes, MAN,” I knew I was in real trouble.

Daddy,” she said, “the Leisure Club elected me Second Vice-president.”

“Second Vice-President? Why not President?&hellipyou do so much!”

“Don’t you GET IT?” (Her favorite expression when I acted dumb). “They put me in charge of the kitchen.”

“That means you are stuck cooking for…?”

“…fifty, seventy people?”

“Will you have time to cook…for me?” I grumbled. Icy silence.

Then:

Ed-die…have I ever let you people go hungry?”

She spent a number of years as 2nd Vice-president. Her cooking became legendary:

Oden; macaroni; chirashi; curry- hot, or mild; beef stew…thick as a compliment; spaghetti with oceans of sauce; teriyaki; tempura; roast pork; turkey for the holidays; her incredible tsukemono…Whatever she cooked had to be de-li-cious—her own word. And she always bought extra portions for us.

Ms. 2nd Vice President with her crew at ESGVJCC's kitchen.

Time went by, Edward grew up, finished grammar school; and Allys, her husband, and him moved to the West side.

-♥-

At some point, noticing that the Leisure Club was getting smaller, and less people available for kitchen duty, she refused re-election, and became just a member of the crew.

“Oh, glory!” I thought. “She needs a good rest.”

Rest? How about Hanamatsuri, Obon, Akimatsuri, Oshogatsu; Mochi-making; St. Patrick’s day; the July special7; Christmas; the Capital Campaign for our local church; the LA County Fair8; KCET volunteering; and bazaars, boutiques, special occasions, and whatever else? Amazed at her ability to serve, I quipped one day:

“Love, it’s better to be your friend than your husband…”

Yes, MAN!” she replied. “I’ll remind you of that at the appropriate time. Why don’t you volunteer?”

So, I tried to learn to volunteer her way.

Reiko-san and one of her favorite creations.

With so many activities, did she have time for home? Well…She cleaned the house daily as if everyday were New Year’s Eve. Often, she made curtains for every room, changed our beds weekly, laundered and ironed twice a week, and cooked all our meals from scratch.

Then, she knitted or crocheted blankets for every bed in the house, and more for friends with new babies. She designed her own dresses, sweaters, stoles, shawls, and capes—and many other pieces for our kids, friends, or charity. She created several shirts, and a couple of hand-made nemaki, chanchanko, and two futon for me; and knitted me more than a dozen sweaters; another dozen pairs of socks; and booties and caps so I wouldn’t catch a cold. She also cut my hair—because she didn’t like barbers messing it up.

She grew her own tomatoes; onions; peppers; fuki, her famous persimmons, avocados, and loquats, and her shiso, chives, onions, garlic, myoga, shichimi. Every year, she made hoshigaki, persimmon yokan, a full case of kumquat marmalade, another of strawberry jam, another of cherry brandy, one more of chestnuts for the New Year, and eight large buckets of her famous pickles.

And just for fun, she took additional courses: crafts, hand and machine knitting, citizenship…and driving for mature adults. Then, she was consultant, cheerleader, nurse, Mother Superior, and superior mother…and teacher…and FRIEND. Thanks to her, Japan has been—still is—my life’s daily magic…

Did she sleep, you may I ask? Like an enlightened guru! At night, after her late shows…and during the day whenever she felt like it, for as long as she wanted. Go Anshin kudasai!

At home, practicing different crafts

-♥-

In the early ‘90’s we formally joined Maryknoll, where she created her own group, along the lines of the Leisure Club, meals included…Guess who cooked?

One day, while washing the gigantic pot where she prepared her curry, she injured her back. But, as soon as she felt better, she was back at volunteering, all trussed up.

Dana-san…”she said one day, “Saturdays…we can have leftovers, or buy something; and, since we go to Maryknoll on Sundays, I won’t cook on Sundays either. We haven’t gone on vacations, and can’t go now…That is my vacation.”

She favored some funky places in Azusa, West Covina, or Li’l Tokyo. The best for me was Foo-Foo-Tei9. We sat there, at a little table, retelling our old stories…Or just holding hands, wrapped in each other’s glances, like wakamono living their first romance. When the food came, we shared from each other’s plate—Holy Communion…over a simple bowl of noodles.


-♥-

One day, the Center began its Capital Campaign, so she pushed me to serve in the Development Committee.

Daddy, you have experience in fundraising…”

“I can’t drive anymore, particularly at night,” I said, trying to escape.

“Oh, no problem, I’ll drive you back and forth.”

She contributed many ideas including that of building a sign outside.

“Mama-chan,” I’d said. “Don’t pester people. That is not in the budget.”

“Well, can you just add it? It’s the Center’s way to say: We’re here, come join us.”

She also joined the Ayame Kai10; persistently brought the matter to the group, and doubled her pickle production to raise funds. But it was difficult to start another capital project so soon. So one good day:

“Daddy, I’m tired…no one wants to run with the sign project. WE are going to do it, nee?”

She approached Pearl to get the project cost-estimated; and to lobby the Board and the City of West Covina for approval. And the sign went up.

The paint hadn’t even dried on it, when something else sprouted:

“Daddy. West Covina has its own cherry trees and this Japanese-Community Center not a single one. We need to do something.”

We began planning for one tree; then two, finally, THREE, for safety’s sakes.

Another day, she called me:

“I’m going to start teaching, after lunch, so I’ll come home later. The Crafts group is getting smaller and smaller…The ladies want to learn knitting.”

“Darn!” I said. “Mamma-chan you do too much already. You are again in the kitchen…and…”

Yes, MAN. Why not say: ‘Mama-chan, I’m delighted you are willing to share your talents with others…’”

The ladies wanted to learn knitting.

And later:

“Daddy, many people have to depend on others for transportation…Couldn’t we get a small van to transport those who can no longer drive? They could come Wednesdays, and any other days for some activity.” I nearly fainted.

“Mama-chan, that’s more than two hundred thousand dollars the first year alone: the special van, permits, insurance, maintenance; at least one care person;…AND GAS! And there’s the Gym11…”

“The gym has waited…it can wait a little longer. These people are old and need help now…Don’t you get it?”

-♥-

Her husband and most ardent admirer, Ed Moreno.

I don’t know when she began to decline. Suddenly, she’d come home very tired, and refused to eat. I’m told that sometimes she became impatient. However, to me, she was ever more loving and tender. Perhaps, she sensed that her time was short, while she still had so much more to give.

She left us last September.

She’s now resting in Heaven, you tell me…Perhaps. In my inconsolable solitude, sometimes I clearly hear her organizing the Guardian Angels, and teaching them how to knit bouclé capes out of strands of cirrus clouds.

-♥-

Before I forget…When she decided to cut my hair, I said:

“I’ll pay for my haircuts.”

“How much does the barber charge?”

“Eight dollars.”

“Eight dollars…? OK…for you.”

She saved the haircutting money in a fancy jar, as her very special heso kuri; I found $556 dollars inside it. So, half of it goes to the Center, and the other to Maryknoll, her other favorite place. Fair enough?

Thanks to everyone of you who helped her accomplish her many beautiful dreams.

Reiko-san, 2011.

Notes:

1. Ms. Pearl Omiya, Director of the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center.
2. Reiko Hirama Moreno; my kanai.
3. Mrs. Moreno passed away on September 28, 2011.
4. The East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, (aka) ESGVJCC
5. The West Covina Buddhist Temple, one of the ESGVJCC.
6. Young Buddhist Association.
7. St. Patrick’s Day and the July Special were celebrations at Maryknoll.
8. She created a program to organize trips to the LACO Fair, for seniors, at a discount rate. She also exhibited many of her creations and won several awards.
9. In the City of Industry.
10. Ayame Kai is a small Development Committee at the ESGVJCC for the convenience of its Japanese-speaking members.
11. Reconstruction and modernization of the ESGVJCC is the next major capital project.

© 2012 Ed Moreno

community ESGVJCC family volunteer