If Teacups Could Talk


Haru Matsuda (b. 1892).

I have a collection of some two dozen tea cups that belonged to my grandmother. When I got them, they had been sitting in a box, stacked and unwrapped, among other boxes that were covered by years of dust and dead bugs. I had each one wrapped in clean newsprint and I stored the new box away, this time for over 20 years. All I had to do was move three times and turn around twice and the cups went from vintage to antique.  I've done my part.

As I was unwrapping the cups and turning them in my hands, I tried to imagine how many times my grandmother would have washed, wiped and stored the cups. What words were spoken by the lips that touched the heated rims? Were promises made, jokes laughed about or sorrows shared? The cups will keep all secrets. Forever.

My maternal grandmother, Haru Matsuda, was born in Japan and came to Hawaii as a picture bride in her late teens. My mom believes that the picture of Haru was taken in a borrowed outfit, for the express purpose of finalizing the arranged marriage.  I wonder what she looked like walking down the freighter's gangplank after days (weeks?) at sea. If my grandfather was actually there to meet her, did he hold this image in his hand, as he anxiously scanned the sea of disheveled, sea sick, kimono clad women? Was he surprised? Disappointed?

"There are so many questions that I wish I had asked," my mom regrets. She blames her self-centered life as a young girl and later, wonders if her culture created that screen of silence.  I'm not willing to let blame or guilt settle.  Most of the time, we don't ask because we simply don't think to ask. Life happens, we build and look through our own frames of reference and then wonder, "How was it for you?" That's when you hold on to inanimate, old objects and wish they could speak.

Luckily, my grandmother left us some hints. She and my grandfather were devoted Buddhists and both kept journals, written in Japanese. Haru Matsuda wrote some 50 poems that her husband recorded in a small notebook, some of which were translated and published in a book in 1997 by a Buddhist minister. They speak to me in a language that I now clearly understand:

Guided as I am 

   with the crooked mind,

I was naturally made to be

   what I am with my crooked mind.

and,

Although I listen,

   nothing reduces,

nothing increases,

   I am saved as I am.

I'm going to hold on to just one tea cup to serve as a reminder to write. Write. Write and answer the questions that have not yet been asked.