Mochi and pumpkin pie

Is sorrow transmissible by air? Can it float across the boundaries of property and walls, settling like a fine dust in my home? It would explain the weight I have felt all morning, moving slowly from laundry to washing dishes. Yesterday, I kept walking to the front door, thinking that someone was knocking, but the sound, like the sorrow, came from next door. It was the sound of car doors slamming, family and friends arriving and leaving as they prepared for the funeral, knocking on the door of a home with one less occupant. Eventually, I sprinkled salt across our entryway, the grains whispering a prayer as they fall, asking for a boundary between our life and the death of the old woman who had lived next door to our home for the past three decades.

The day after Mrs. Hashimoto died, I was delivering bananas I had harvested from my parents’ yard to all the neighbors. I visited their home last, meeting her daughter, Rosemary, as she was coming back from checking the mail. Before I could ask how things were going, she told me her mom had died last night, and she laughed. She told me the story filled with a sort of giddy relief after a year of caregiving, of waiting for the cancer to take her mother’s last breath. “How like my mom,” she told me, “to die in the evening, right after suppertime. So thoughtful.” When the hearse arrived, it was dark, so no one could she her being wheeled out, and the almost-full moon was rising behind the house, beautiful.

After I heard the news, I went home and made a double batch of banana bread muffins with Jillian. The half I had planned to deliver to Mrs. Hashimoto, I instead put in the freezer to save for her funeral. As we mixed the batter, I thought of all the times she had brought treats for us, before she was bedridden. A bag of mountain apples when they were in season. Baby lettuce in tiny pots which I could never keep alive long enough to harvest. She brought advice for keeping our yard alive, gentle admonishment to pay more attention to the weeds and watering. She made mochi for the New Year, and for Girls’ Day brought over crispy rice crackers in a cellophane wrapper that looked like a girl in kimono. She made her grandson deliver a bag of those crackers this year; even though she could not get out of bed, she wanted to make sure Jillian had some treats to mark the day. Unbeknownst to me, Jill took two of the crackers which were decorated with girls in pink kimonos and stored them in her music box, her place for her most precious things.

Over the past five years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve tried to bring over a few things in return, like liliko’i bars made with the fruits from the neighbor’s yard on the other side of us. I would pick the gardenia which grew on their side of our house and bring them over, especially after I found out Rosemary had been watering our plants to help keep them alive the past few years. In March, I brought over a pumpkin pie that I had baked out of season on a whim, and I made it again when Rosemary told me she had scolded her mother for eating nothing but slices of my pie for a whole day. And I brought over banana bread muffins, which Rosemary would freeze and bring out one at a time, placing in a plastic bag beside her mother’s bed for her to eat when she woke up hungry at the unpredictable hours of one who spends all day in bed.

At first, when I brought over treats during the year Mrs. Hashimoto was in hospice care, she would come to the door herself, aided by a walker and with an oxygen tank trailing behind her. Later, I would only hear her voice as she shouted at her husband, a man sometimes so folded in half by age it seems as if he’s looking on the ground for something he had dropped, years ago. Near the end, I would quietly leave our gift hanging from the handle of the screen door.

Her funeral was held today at St. John Vianney, a Catholic Church in Kailua. I felt out of place as my Methodist upbringing had a different set of call and responses, and included no kneeling or holy water. The words to the hymns were printed in the program without music, and the music I did hear was unfamiliar and uplifting. The service was centered on celebrating her ascent to heaven, all while her coffin stood in mute testimony to her body’s final rest.

One of the ministers at the church had been a neighbor of the Hashimotos when he was a young boy. He told a story of how Mrs. Hashimoto looked after him as a child, admonishing him when he got into trouble when his parents weren’t looking. “Love our neighbors as ourselves,” he reminded us. Later in the service, I watched as he placed his hand tenderly on her casket as he walked past, just for a moment.

There was piles of food to eat after the mass. Rosemary apologized for the sushi being store-bought, and not as good as when her mother had made it. She told me she had been talked out of ordering chicken feet, which had been her mother’s favorite, but her siblings had thought it would go to waste. I looked around the lanai and everyone’s plate was piled high with food, and there was still more left over. No one went home hungry, which is exactly what Jitsuko Hashimoto have wanted.