The next day, we followed the hearse in my Uncle Hisao’s minivan. He was always ÄśUncleÄł to me, although he never married my Aunt Kazumi. When I was nine and living with my Oj?Ęchan and Kazumi, I always wanted to go over to Hisao’s house to play, but they always laughed and said that I really wouldn’t like it there. Was it a mess, I asked? They carefully avoided my questions, and I assumed that there was something they were embarrassed to talk about. Maybe his apartment was covered with playmate calendars like the ones in his office. It wasn’t until years later that they told me that he had a wife, children, and even grandchildren. Aunt Kazumi, his mistress, was on polite terms with his wife and even babysat the grandchildren on occasion. It wasn’t until a few years after my Oj?Ęchan’s death that I learned that he, too, had had a mistress and an illegitimate child.
The vehicle my grandfather was riding in was a typical Japanese hearse: it looked something like a polished black pickup truck with a large Chinese version of the Ark of the Covenant fitted into the back. This golden temple on wheels was covered with elaborate golden carvings of chrysanthemums, gates, sinuous dragons and menacing gods. Perhaps it was. I wondered how he felt to be riding in such luxury. There were no windows in the ‘Ark’, so he may as well have been riding in a large cardboard box, I suppose.
Christiansen continued to sulk next to me. He was probably still mad about last night.
When we finally entered the funeral home, we found Oj?Ęchan lying in his coffin and drowning in ivory-white chrysanthemums, every one of them blossom side up. All we could see were his face and his hands, which were folded over his chest. He was completely out of place. He certainly would never have subjected himself to a flower bath while he was alive. More chrysanthemums in ornate vases surrounded his coffin. Incense was burning.
We all sat down and a Buddhist priest, with flowing yellow and orange robes began chanting sutra in a resonant, monotone voice. He sat in front of us in an intricately carved chair. At certain moments, he motioned to a young assistant, similarly dressed, who struck a gong almost half his size. The bass of the gong blended well with the priest’s deep baritone. Ob?¢chan was crying but kept her head up, facing the priest’s back. I placed my hand on hers, and she gripped it tightly.
Did her religion offer her comfort? Would mine, I wondered.
After what seemed like an eternity of chanting my grandfather into Buddhahood, it was time to light incense and say our final good-byes to the deceased before his entry into paradise. As I prepared to stand up, Christiansen leaned over and whispered,
“DeGraw, you can’t do that!”
“Huh?” I had forgotten that Christiansen was even around. “What are you talking about?”
“The burning of the incense is how you salute a Buddha. It’s idol-worshipping!”
I thought about it for a second. For a moment, all of my missionary training, all of my religious zeal, hours of scripture study, prayer, and Sunday school bore down on me. He was right. It would be wrong for me to light that incense. I looked at Christiansen, who was waiting for my response. There was no doubt what he would do in my stead.
“I am Japanese. I will pay my respect to my Oj?Ęchan.”
I lit two sticks of incense and dropped them into the ceramic vessel prepared for it. I bowed my head and placed my palms flat against each other in the attitude of prayer.
I still felt a little guilty, and my salutation was half to my Father in Heaven and half for my newly enlightened grandfather. Did I want him to have a Buddhist or a Mormon/Christian salvation? In the end, I said in my mind,
“I love you, Oj?Ęchan. I’ll miss you.”
The third portion of the story will be posted tomorrow evening.