“A Clash of Humanity”

Roses East 3

(from my garden)

August 6th is approaching, the date of the Atomic bomb dropping on the Japanese people in 1945.  I have read and studied this history and it is beyond shocking to me.  I have great love for these people who suffered.  By the way, my father was part of the crew flying a B-24 in the Pacific around this time and he came home a convinced a pacifist.   I follow his lead.

Lady Nyo

A Clash of Humanity


Leah walked into Big Lots, the one where her mother had thrown a shit-fit and insulted an elderly Japanese lady. Her mother was close to 90, and had done so the day before. She had flown in on her broom and stayed three days. In that time she managed to berate, insult and offend quite a number of people, local people who her daughter would perhaps see weekly. She didn’t spare the daughter either, and though the lumps were invisible, they again went deep.

But this last assault was the worst. The Japanese lady had grabbed the sleeve of her mother’s sweater and said playfully: “Give me that pretty sweater”. Her mother raised her hackles. She turned on the woman.

“How dare you touch me,” she hissed. The Japanese lady did not back down, but backed up. She seemed to have common sense. Perhaps she knew about snakes.

“I’m only playing with you. I don’t mean offense.”

Her mother’s eyebrow arched, the expression she used with ‘inferior folk’ when she, a little woman herself, tried to make others submit.

“Hah! You lost the war!” As if this made sense of everything.

Her mother’s words were ridiculous, some 65 years after the fact, but to her, a fine logic. The Japanese woman turned to her racks of clothes and her mother stormed out of the store.

The next day, her daughter made the rounds, apologizing to the employee in the food store for her mother’s insults, at another thrift shop where she became irate when she wasn’t immediately served, and then the scene at Big Lots.   The Japanese lady was as gracious as her own mother outrageous, and she tried to laugh it off. But Leah had seen the ‘look’ before; the hurt in eyes of people who were attacked by her mother. She saw the ‘look’ since she was 15 and had been apologizing for her mother ever since. In her home town people, total strangers to her, would stop and ask: “What is wrong with your mother!” As if she, at 15, would know. Later, much later she would know, but at that age, her mother was a constant source of shame and embarrassment.

“Your mother. She is German?”

The daughter laughed.   “Yes.” (This was a lie)

“She was the Bitch of Buchenwald.”

That was the name her family, except her husband, called her behind her back. She was that bad.

“Oh, I see”, said the Japanese lady, but of course she didn’t.

The daughter had no idea how to deal with her mother’s behavior, and it took four years of therapy to realize it was a particular nasty brand of mental illness. It wasn’t the daughter’s fault, nor did her mother’s behavior spring from what she, the daughter, did.   Nor was it the fault of the grocer, the employee at the thrift store, nor the Japanese lady at Big Lots.

Four years later, Leah, now dressed in a new, hand made kimono, obi sash and a silk parasol, had her husband drop her at Big Lots to pick up a gift. They were going to a costume party and she had picked this kimono to wear. It was peach silk, with a navy blue wide obi, with large goldfish swimming in the background. The final sash was a thin red silk rope, doubled and tied in a samurai knot in front.

She was wearing geta, and the clack- clack of the wood soles sounded like a horse on the flooring of the store. She immediately found a silver plated picture frame, a perfect gift for the queen of the party….and there was the Japanese lady.

“Oh, you look beautiful! But you dead!”

The daughter thought she was nursing the previous insult, but no, the Japanese lady was referring to the way she had ‘closed’ her kimono. Right panel over left was how people were buried….Left over right for the living.

Meicho was her name, and she was all of 80 lbs and only 4’8”. She picked up the hem and looked at the hand stitching and marveled at the patience the daughter of the Nazi showed in stitching the kimono. Tiny little stitches and a lot of them. She opened her wallet and took out two small pictures, stuck together probably from age and handling. One was of her at 16 and the other at 32. Both were taken when she was made up as Geisha.

She was so beautiful, as ethereal as an ageha, a butterfly. This wrinkled, little crone was once as classically endowed with beauty as any famous Geisha. The passage of time had taken that outward beauty but her gracious and generous heart was untouched.

Something had to be done! This stupid girl couldn’t be allowed to remain ‘dead’.

So Meicho did what any sensible Japanese woman would do. There, in Big Lots, in a store almost devoid of customers on an early Saturday evening, she undressed Leah. Off came the first belt, then the obi sash, then the inner belt and quickly she opened, and properly closed the kimono. Leah was wearing a lace bra and panties and they both giggled at the ‘inappropriate’ underwear.

Inappropriate for wearing a kimono.

Meicho slapped the woman’s belly good naturedly. “You get too fat to close kimono!”

She redressed her, correctly bloused the kimono so the vertebra in the neck showed (the height of sexuality in Japan) and rewrapped the obi sash.

Success! She wasn’t ‘dead’ anymore! She got a quick lesson in important Japanese words and how to bow correctly. Meicho got two kisses and the eternal gratitude from this now ‘alive’ woman. She was given quick instruction how to walk with dignity in her high geta, like a geisha perhaps, or a poor imitation of one.

Meicho demonstrated for her the ‘sexy’ figure- eight walk in high geta, the trademark of a professional Geisha. The feet are dragged at a pointed angle forward, in a looping curve, wide out from the body, but with the knees together. One foot slowly placed in front of the other. To do this and still stand, a Geisha would need the support of a maid, so tiny Meicho was her walking support. Back and forth, up and down the aisle they walked, throwing her feet out at Meicho’s direction. The hips roll in a very strange, sexy way and perhaps is why an experienced Geisha will use the figure-eight: It advertises what is under the kimono.

She left Meicho that evening with an overflowing heart. Maichio’s kind gestures had given her much room for thought.

Sometimes the borders between humans disappear, even when great wars are fought and there is bitterness lasting generations.   There will always be victors and vanquished. The human heart is capable of great evil and greater compassion.

Meicho had come from Hiroshima, had lost her family and had been burned in the fires of 1945. From this land of death there was always life to be honored, and she would find a way, even in repairing a badly closed kimono.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

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14 Responses to ““A Clash of Humanity””

  1. Hélène (Willow Poetry) Says:

    Jane, I enjoyed reading this connection with the two women. Thank goodness she was not dead anymore. Your roses are fantastic, perfect in all aspects of a rose.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kanzensakura Says:

    This is so beautiful Jane. So very dear and strong. My mother dud not like the Japs, did not like the southeast Asians. When she was in the nursing home, one of the aides was Japanese. She was very kind to mama as they all were. One day out of the blue when the aide was changing mama’s diaper and cleaning her mama said to her, I am sorry. The aide said not problem, this is my job. I followed her into the hall and explained what my mother was apologizing for. Mioko smiled and said she figured as much, knowing mama’s age but decided to downplay it. I went back into the room and told mama it was okay. That Mioko understood. Mama smiled. One of her last smiles

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ladynyo Says:

    Oh, Toni. You have written one of the most tender stories that stands in its own right here. Thank you so much for telling me this. I will remember this forever. I love you, Toni. You are very special. Thank you.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Helene! Thank you so much. That story is about me….and my mother. She is And Meicho I haven’t seen in a few years and I would suppose she is dead. What a beautiful woman she was in all aspects. It is rare you find a person like that who makes such a memory for you. And Meicho made me live again out of her rearranging my kimono and her pure kindness. What a contrast between both elderly women.


  5. ladynyo Says:

    Helene…the rose is “New Dawn” I couldn’t remember its name when I was writing to you. I have about 50 or 60 roses here and these New Dawns (I have two) are fantastic roses. In the spring they are heavy bloomers. A mass of this pale, tender pink. And through the summer another spotty blooming…but if I fertilized them, I would probably get more constant blooms. They are about 15 years old, and massive. I have them on both sides of a seated arbor and they bury the arbor. I think they would do well in your area. I would even plant one in a big container on a balcony for the blooms!


  6. Hélène (Willow Poetry) Says:

    Your writing makes it all the more beautiful knowing the story behind it. I remember you sharing about your mother with me. You did this so well Jane. I hope you are well and having a good summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Helene. I actually had a short but decent phone call from her. At 98, she is rather fragile, emotionally and physically. I feel so sorry for her as my youngest brother, Chris, and her second son, is in ICU in a coma. Diabetes induced. It up ends the normal situation of the parent dying before the children. It does not look good for my brother. Summer is ok here, but very hot. It is a shame that we have to miss so much of it because of the mosquitoes and the heat. I hope for you the same. With love. Jane


  8. Hélène (Willow Poetry) Says:

    So sorry about your brother Jane. Diabetes is such a tricky disease to deal with. Summer is too hot over here too. We live inside with the windows closed, the air conditioner on full blast. I miss being outside and a breeze coming in through the windows. The heat is unbearable and tires me so. love to you Jane.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ladynyo Says:

    Oh Helene! I love the cooler weather, and even the rare snowfalls we get here in the south. It was strange this past year: 2 gorgeous snowfalls that crystalized on the branches and when the sun came out, it was like a fairyland. Everything sparkled. I was raised in the north and my dear father would turn off the heat at night, or at least down to 60 degrees…and some days we woke up to snow or frost on the inside of the windows and floors. AC is necessary here in the south and it seems, even after 45 years….strange way to live. Regarding my brother: it is strange with this family as we don’t hear anything when it happens, just (if at all) when it is at a crisis level. Talking to my mother this weekend…a very short phone call, she was very fragile. Her voice was shaky. 98 years old. She tried a bit of insult, but it didn’t go over very well. LOL. You can’t change the stripes on a tiger after all. thank you, Helene. Love to you.


  10. Hélène (Willow Poetry) Says:

    Families are peculiar. Mine is weird. Whenever I’ve desperately needed help, I don’t hear from any of them for months at a time. The message is clear. Your mother doesn’t know how to be nice if ever she did know. Sad heart she has.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. ladynyo Says:

    Exactly. It takes such energy to be mean and rotten. I think that people like this don’t know how they are perceived, but at least those of us who do, will sum them up at the end of their lives as cruel. Quite a legacy, huh? I think we share some of the same mentality in our families, Helene. Some only contact you when they want something.. LOL. Otherwise they can’t be bothered with you. I think about what I am leaving behind, not in material goods, but what impression I will leave in people’s minds. We have a choice while we are breathing. And only then, unless we hope people can forget. LOL>Love to you, Helene.


  12. Hélène (Willow Poetry) Says:

    It is sad when a whole family (siblings) care only for their own little circle and no inkling about what is happening to any of their siblings I do have a close relationship with my daughter and her family, also with one sister ( but she cares more about what I can provide for her than what I might need). Oh well, now that my husband is in a nursing home, my priority has been to be there for him, everything comes next if and when I have energy left, or that I feel like it. Have a good week Jane.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. ladynyo Says:

    I understand, Helene. Families are weird. And religion can make them weirder. It’s good that you have a close relationship with your daughter and her family. I do, too, with my one son. He has been my rock along with my husband. It seems that most family relationships are uneven…and even predatory. I am glad your husband is in comfort and that you have time for yourself. Bless you, Helene.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hélène (Willow Poetry) Says:

    Thank you Jane.

    Liked by 1 person

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