Mary starts every day with exactly the same pattern. She has long moved past needing an alarm clock; she wakes every day when the sun touches through her window and shines on her face and pillow. She wakes easily, rested, and ready to handle another day. She doesn’t understand those who want to “stay cozy in bed and make sleep last a bit longer”. As soon as she wakes up, she flips off the blankets and puts her feet on the floor. She looks about her small, sparse room, and finds her robe on the hook, where it always is. She’s very methodical and organized; everything in her room has a place and she puts it there without fail. She heads off to shower and dress for the day, braiding her hair that hangs long down her back.
Today for Mary will be like every other day has been for the past 8 years. She doesn’t spend time thinking and missing the moments from then. She and her husband had come to the US from Japan so many years ago. It was hard to remember that time, it feels like another life and the feelings and sights have fogged and become blurred from then. John and she were so much younger, ready to face the adventure of this new world, together. They left their parents and friends to come to America, where John’s skills with small mechanics and electronics could be well used. They took American names, feeling that their Japanese names would be a burden to their American friends and they never wanted to be a burden to anyone. So they became John and Mary.
They each worked hard, each with their talents and contributions and just knew they were together making a good life for themselves. Without discussion or debate or measuring on the scales, they both expected each to contribute, fully and to the best of their abilities. They never measured or weighed what each was bringing. They accepted what each brought, and enjoyed what was there. They didn’t look for what was missing, it was a concept that never crossed their sights. As a result, they were very content and comfortable with what they had.
He worked at Boeing, making airplane parts. She worked at home, in their garden, making meals, and keeping their small home fiercely clean. She sometimes gathered with the other neighborhood ladies and they sewed blankets or quilts for whoever needed them. Neither John nor Mary was extremely outgoing and social; they enjoyed their quiet and uncomplicated home. John learned some basic English more quickly than Mary, just because he was out in the world of America business and had regular interaction and practice with English. Mary’s English abilities could have been further developed – she was extremely intelligent and loved to learn, but it’s not what happened. And they didn’t spend time dwelling on things that didn’t happen, just those that did.
Mary and John had settled into an area that was comfortable because it was filled with other Japanese families who had also moved over to this new country. Mary’s social life was working with the other Japanese ladies who were also at home, working together to help each other. Sometimes a family had a sickness or an emergency and it was just a part of their fabric of mutual support, that the whole neighborhood picked up things that needed to be done and contributed, fully and to the best of their abilities. It was a good life and Mary and John grew old together, happy and satisfied.
A little over eight years ago, things changed. One day and her world was turned side-ways and never returned to the same way. John wasn’t feeling well, but rarely did he miss a day of work. He expected to contribute, to do his job to the fullest and best of his ability, so the only times he stayed home was when he was very ill. That day wasn’t the best, but he didn’t complain. He got dressed, Mary packed his lunch as she did every day, and he headed off to work. Mary didn’t see John again. There were people from work and the police and it was all very confused. The neighbors came over to help and it was just a flurry of chaos and unrest. The only thing that Mary fully remembers from that day is that John wouldn’t be coming home, giving her a kiss and squeezing her hand, as he had done every single day since they’d arrived all those years ago. Her partner, her balance was gone and she was silent in her grief.
After some time, the days settled back down into a pattern, a pattern that was different than hers and John’s, but still a predictable and reliable routine that made her feel somewhat more comfortable again. Neighbors expected to be part of Mary’s day and things shook out and draped again, with different faces and routines. Mary moved out of her and John’s home that she’d known and cared for for so many years and moved in with another family, a younger family where both parents worked outside the neighborhood. Mary helped with meals and cleaning, and she still got together with the older neighbor ladies to sew the blankets and quilts that had become tradition for milestones – birthdays and anniversaries and new neighbors.
The new family also had children – energized and fast moving children who fit with their American friends, who brought in noise and excitement, which was so different for Mary. Children weren’t something that she and John shared. They were never sure why, but since they always looked to what they had and not what they didn’t, the lack of children didn’t consume their time or energy. The children made Mary smile, even though she didn’t always understand what they were saying or what they were interested in. When they slowed down, late in the evening, they’d share their day, speaking Japanese, so Mary would hear about their adventures, triumphs and tragedies that are a child’s day. Mary enjoyed those stories and times.
As time went by and the children grew older, the family Mary lived with struggled with money and things weren’t easy. Older children need so many things that just cost money and the home ended up stressful. Mary knew she needed to find a way to contribute, fully and to the best of her ability. She found out that aluminum cans could actually be gathered up and sold, not bringing in a lot of money, but every bit helped and the family appreciated it. So this become a new adventure for Mary.
It was something Mary could do, so she began to search for aluminum – cans were everywhere and even though it took a lot of time, she was a hard worker and knew that helping in whatever part she could. She experimented and listened; she found that the trash cans around Pike Place Market were filled with aluminum. Tourists would walk by and drop off soda cans; the cans were not always empty, but they got tired of carrying them, so they threw them away. A man in the neighborhood made her a tool – a wooden pole with pinchers on the end, to make pulling out cans out of the trash cans easier and less messy.
She now has this down to a fine art and it’s part of her day for the past eight years. She showers and braids her hair; it’s still long, the way John liked it, and sticks out the back of her pink, wide-brimmed hat. She carefully ties the hat, making a small, perfect bow under her chin. She puts on her long sleeved shirt, and then another short-sleeved shirt over the top. She walks to the backdoor and puts on her boots that are standing where she left them from yesterday evening. She picks up her “tools of the trade” – her gloves, pole, and empty plastic garbage bags and starts to make her rounds. She takes the cover off of each of the trash cans, pokes around, pulling out the cans with her pole. She shakes out the remaining soda and drops the cans on the ground next to her feet. After she double-checks that the trash can has no more soda cans, she replaces the top. Then she stomps on the cans by her feet and puts the flattened cans into her bag and moves to the next trash can. She doesn’t notice people watching her, perhaps feeling sorry for her and whispering behind her back.. Mary is a hard worker and just keeps after her goal – to fill the bags and contribute to the family.
After she makes her round and fills up the bags she brought with her, she heads home, cleans up and starts to make dinner for the family. A very nice lady from the neighborhood, a younger independent woman, takes Mary’s trash bags full of cans to the recycling center once a week and gives Mary the few dollars earned and Mary gives that to the family, now her family.
Now winter time is when she sews with the neighbor ladies, since there aren’t so many tourists then so aluminum cans are hard to come by. And during the summer, sometimes Mary has to make more than one trip to drop off her full bags and pick up more empty ones for her continued search. She’s satisfied – she’s making her contribution, to the fullest and best of her ability. And her heart and world expects nothing more and nothing less.