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Maybe he wants another tune?

Kenneth S. Fujii

... sensitive, personal, intimate -- a beautiful Mother's Day tribute through sharing of a mother's experiences.


My son is 4 and flips around and rolls over more than dancing. However my 2 year old daughter really put on a toe-tapping show for us tonight. Your post makes me treasure these moments.


Happy Mother’s Day, Dory! On May 14, -- for one day only -- loving family will rescue you from our growing nation of …


“Even the (Robin) has found a home … a nest for herself, where she may (nurture) her young – a place near (her Creator).” -- Psalm 84:3

Late in April of 1988, I had yet to give up on restoring our home, located in a historical Fresno neighborhood; and while studying the garage -- which still appears needy and forlorn today – a nearby crepe myrtle dropped a baby bird at my feet. As the fledgling struggled awkwardly, I noted its unusual crested head, formed by a cowlick of feathers. A mother robin chirped disapproval, warning me to keep my distance – as her chick darted into a thicket of low growing geraniums. After lunch, I checked to see if the two were still in the backyard – not spotting them, I assumed they had moved on.

Early next morning, I found the baby bird flitting about -- but still grounded -- as I was pruning dead wood from citrus trees and pulling peach and nectarine tree stumps. I put it in a shoe box, and tucked the package into a particularly thorny section of our pink grapefruit tree, to discourage the reach and curiosity of transient neighborhood cats. The mother returned and warily fed her baby for two days – then they left for an ongoing journey through summer, fall and winter nesting places of the San Joaquin Valley.

The end of March 1989 was memorable -- I finally talked myself out of the restoration project – at arm’s distance from overly zealous preservationist neighbors battling intransigent local building code officials. My energies instead addressed cleaning up front and back yards, with intentions of planting a summer vegetable garden. As I was turning soil for a limited first year crop of tomatoes and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) only, an unusual looking bird began squawking at me. It had the color and markings of a female robin; but it also had a crested head – ha! The shoebox baby had returned.

I laughed, flattering myself that the bird came back just to say hello; but more likely she was checking the damp, freshly dug soil for food -- and mud to finish her nest. I put the shovel down and moved away, to give my returning friend some room. She pulled a few worms and grubs; but the more pressing task was nest building – she left with a daub of mud. I couldn’t see where the construction project was underway; but she returned quickly to gather more material. This time I watched closely as she flew away, and then veered back … and into our pink grapefruit tree. Mother Robin’s new home was only inches from where the shoebox served as her temporary quarters last spring.

We repeated our mutually coordinated dance steps for a day or two – I continued preparation of the soil; and when I took a coffee or bathroom break, the robin moved in to pull worms, and also took mud to reinforce the nest’s twigs and grass. Then came the crucial incubation phase – although I did not climb the tree to check, I assumed she began brooding two or three recently laid, bright blue eggs.

Sometime in mid to late April, after two weeks had passed -- I heard an overture of full ensemble “cheeps,” “tuk-tuks,” and twitters from the grapefruit tree – the chicks hatched! I rarely saw Mother Robin while she was sitting on her eggs; but now she was seen everyday – a flurry of winged motion -- flying to the nest with worms, grubs, and other insects, and then a quick turn around to find more food. Papa Robin was now present more often to help with feeding, and to guard the nest when Mama was foraging – showing himself to be an attentive and very able parent.

Non-stop activity from sunup to sundown – nothing else mattered; and nothing interrupted nurturing her babies. Mother Robin’s primal instincts focused only on assuring survival of the next generation. However, three days each week when I top watered (sprinkled) the vegetable seeds and seedlings in early morning – Mama and Papa enjoyed some personal time to bathe with other feathered friends, California jays, crows, mockingbirds, sparrows, and woodpeckers.

Mother Robin’s daily routine was exhausting; but many immigrant women doing menial, physically demanding jobs of low pay, including my Mother (who is Nisei, or second generation) worked longer hours – rising well before the sun, and ironing or sewing into quiet hours of the night or morning, hoping their work ethic and faith-based values would assure a future for their kids. In our American free enterprise system, it’s widely accepted for immigrant parents to work two or more jobs concurrently -- often taking what’s offered -- to “labor one hour more, for one dollar less,” literally making life sacrifices, yet hoping to tell of success stories in the second or third generation.

Maybe early immigrant women, reared under old world customs, were typically better mothers than spouses, too often estranged and intimidated by social norms shaped and dominated by males -- the bartered merchandise of arranged marriages (also known as “picture brides”) -- where husbands were frequently much older, virtual strangers, sharing nothing in common. Children were their only friends, sole objects of their affection – by default -- their only hopes, and their only dreams for a better life.

There were many creative, commemorative projects for the US bicentennial in 1976, including inspiring oral histories of struggles and successes by our collective immigrant ancestors. In “The Issei (immigrant, first generation), Portrait of a Pioneer, An Oral History,” edited by Eileen Sunada Sarasohn -- Mrs. Takae Washizu, born in 1900 in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, tells of her early years traveling California with itinerant labor crews to work seasonal crops, “We … picked grapes … then went to another work camp. Sometimes we slept in a barn with horses and cows.”

She settled after her children were born – “While I was raising the children, I took care of a lot of farm workers as well. I got up at four A.M. and fed the workers and my children by seven A.M. The workers had to be on the farm by seven. I went to work on the farm after washing dishes. I came back home an hour before lunch and dinner to cook meals. I always bathed last and washed clothes every night by hanging a lantern on a willow. I usually went to bed at midnight. I had to work as hard as the men. According to a newspaper article, Issei females died young … We couldn’t ever afford anything fancy, and I didn’t have too much fun … When my children were happy, I was happy too … I was just patient and dreamed about my children’s bright future.”

Mother Robin left us before May arrived, moving to a cooler second home in the area, away from Fresno’s oppressive summer heat. We welcomed her return to our backyard and the grapefruit tree for 1990; but those two months to raise new offspring would be our last time together. Mother Robin, immigrant mothers, my own Mother and others are bigger than life examples of unconditional love -- no one keeps score for unspoken covenants of the heart; but the world’s supply of long stem roses and all Vienna’s best chocolates on Mothers Day cannot balance accounts. Yet our Moms will always measure success of their life’s work against the unmistakable signs of goodness and strength – maybe happiness, most of all -- visible in their sons and daughters.

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