Wednesday, February 24, 2016

TOP STORY >> Grandma’s special birthday

Tokiko Ackerman celebrated her 90th birthday last Wednesday, surrounded by friends and family. She still leads an active life.
Special to The Leader

At a glance, one probably wouldn’t think much about the tiny Japanese woman sitting across from me. She’s no taller than 4 feet, 8 inches. Her soft, brown eyes, which are momentarily behind her glasses, focus on the sushi roll she’s finishing up. When she’s done, her eyes settle back on me, and she smiles.

My grandmother, Tokiko, who celebrated her 90th birthday last week, is an amazing woman. If you asked her to tell you about herself, her answer would be riddled with self-doubt and self–deprecation. She has always been this way, no doubt a relic of her strict upbringing and the Japanese values she was taught as a little girl.

Sitting in her kitchen in Cabot, I begin to look around at the random items stacked around her on the table. One could use these items as puzzle pieces, using them to shape together parts of my grandmother’s life and the things she holds dear to her heart.

Sitting closest to her is her Bible. The worn, cracked surface and the wrinkled pages filled with notes and neon yellow markings mirror her love and reverence for the Lord. When asked about her faith, she instantly lights from the inside out and speaks with a mixture of enthusiasm and regret.

Her love for Jesus is so strong that she feels guilty because, in her eyes, she cannot disciple to people. She knows her accent is so thick it is difficult for people to understand her. What she cannot see in herself is that she is one of the best disciples of Christianity that I have ever encountered.

The Bible lists the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. These qualities beam out from her soul and shine a light on everyone she comes in contact with. I have never heard her speak unkindly of anyone, and I have never heard her be ill-tempered with anyone. She has a genuinely kind soul that does not envy others. It is a rare quality few people in life have, and she embodies it quite perfectly.

Next, my eyes come to rest on a rice cooker. That might seem like an odd thing to feel sentiment toward, but it reminds me of both my cultural behaviors and her wonderful cooking. Although she came to America almost 55 years ago, my grandmother still holds on to many Japanese customs.

She will always place her shoes neatly next to the front door, no matter whose home she is in. When visiting friends, she will always arrive at their home with a little gift, usually food, to show respect and appreciation for the invitation. The most noticeable value she holds on to is being submissive. She will not eat or sit down when we are at her house until everyone is finished eating.

She instead will tend to everyone else, making sure they have everything they need and that the food tastes pleasing to everyone. This would not be unusual if she were hosting strangers, but she has done this each time we eat over there for as long as I can remember.

Even when we fuss at her to sit down and get off her feet to join us at the table, she waves us off with a dismissive hand.

I finally settle my gaze lovingly on my grandmother herself. She is tiny is stature, and joyful in all situations. Her infectious smile and playful attitude make a lasting impression with everyone she meets. I always know I can talk with her openly about anything going on in my life. She is the best listener and seems to always offer the best advice while not being judgmental. This is only a part of her virtuous character that I hope to inherit.

I feel extremely lucky to still have my grandmother in my life. On Feb. 17, she celebrated her 90th birthday. She has always been very active. She loves to walk and to garden.

She still drives, attends church every Sunday and lives alone with no assistance. I am in awe of her tenacity and grit. Even at her age, she still has an almost childlike wonder when experiencing things you and I would take for granted. She makes sure that she gets the most out of her life. She appreciates the little things in life, and is thankful for each day she is given. I hope I always show her how much I appreciate her and how thankful I am for each day I share with her.