Sunday, October 30, 2011

On the road with Annie Nakamura

On the road with Annie Nakamura
Part I of a series

“Can I ask you to do me a big favor,” Annie queried. It was a simple opening question. “Anything for you, Annie,” was my response. What followed was anything but an ordinary favor. Annie’s request: “To be taken on one more road trip” following her death. Annie had made the request years earlier when my husband, Don and I, were visiting her in Hilo, Hawaii. We, of course, consented on the spot. But when the second request came in January 2010, Annie was in the hospital and not expected to live beyond the week. Having been resuscitated, Annie was weak but in her usual remarkable good spirits.

Annie not only survived the week, but was also released. Upon her return home, she began the task of “sorting out” her life so that her family would be spared the responsibility for doing so following her death. And sort, Annie did. In typically Annie fashion, she went through all of the correspondence she had saved in the course of her life; plowed through her wardrobe to donate clothes; went through every nook and cranny to do a “clean sweep”; made funeral arrangements; and put everything in order. She wrote a postcard recalling many of places I had sent her postcards from, with the entreaty to “keep those postcards coming” so that she could be on a road trip vicariously.

Annie and I met when her first cousin, Yvonne, married my brother, Fred in 1982. Both of us were in the wedding party, and that began a life-long friendship based upon food, chocolate, travel, postcards, food, chocolate, fun, food, and chocolate. She and her best friend, Ann (aka Kawa), took “road trips,” and they began the tradition of sending postcards from the various places they visited. I joined the “postcard club.”

Annie and Ann roomed together in San Francisco, and whenever we visited, we would stay with the “Annies” and eat, eat, eat. Being “chocoholics,” we would always include some sort of chocolate venture during our eating fests; there were nightly dessert runs as well. Kawa was a wiz on public transportation, and our quest for food involved trips on trolleys, subways, buses, and lots of walking. Fun, food, and chocolate were plentiful.

From January to July 2010, whenever I called Annie, she was always upbeat and would reconfirm that Don and I were still on-board for the final road trip. She even managed to send a few postcards from her “cache” of left-over postcards from previous trips. I reassured her that we were not only willing to do the road trip but were also honored that she would make the request of us.

Kawa called us with the sad news that Annie died in July 2010, just weeks prior to her 60th birthday. Per her arrangements, she was cremated, and her remains stored in a “biodegradable urn” (so Annie!) At what was a moving final memorial services, the church Annie had attended and had been so active was packed with members saying their farewells. Kawa was in attendance.

Two weeks after Annie’s death, a priority mail package in Annie’s handwriting arrived at our door. Don and I were stunned to see the familiar handwriting but even more so to find a letter accompanying two Koa wooden boxes—one Don had made for Annie years following our visit; one was purchased by Annie to store her “Las Vegas” cash. Annie wanted to return the Koa jewelry box because it had meant so much to her, and she wanted to return it because, she “could not take it with her” and she wanted it to bring us “as much pleasure” as it had her. We still cannot read the letter without crying.

As we planned the trip, Kawa, Don, and I were taking and making some decisions as to the places we would scatter her ashes, Kawa sent us a letter that left us all stunned. Annie had taken a life insurance policy to “pay for the road trip.” True to end, Annie did not wish to be a burden on any of us; consequently, the insurance policy was to pay for expenses. She did not want us to have the “$1.99” as-you-go Nakamura tours she was known to have but, instead, to have one where we would stay at nice hotels and eat great meals in her honor. Annie loved eating so much so, that one of our favorite “Annie-ism” is “If I couldn’t eat, I would DIE!” We still laugh at that saying that rivals Yogi Berry.

The ashes were left with the family for a year; on the anniversary of her death, Kawa contacted me about planning the road trip. The plan was that Ann would come out in October for a 12-day journey. Joining us would be Janet, from Honolulu, who worked with Annie years ago and who had experienced a “Annie road trip” in the past. Yet another surprise was to come. While Annie’s brother was going through more papers, he came across a letter to Kawa about where Annie wished her ashes to be placed. Kawa, Don, and I had intended to scatter her in numerous places where Annie had visited and in a few places that Annie had told Kawa where she wanted to be buried and/or scattered. This letter was one that stated that she wanted to be buried on Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Forest, Washington OR in the Anza Borrego Desert (as a back-up). Once again, in death as in life, Annie did not want to inconvenience anyone. Since Don and I live in San Diego, the Anza Borrego location would have been easier if we were on any time constraint. Annie, Annie, Annie! Is there anything she did not think of?

Annie arrived priority mail on Monday, October 4, 2011. Nestled in the middle of the box was a beautiful red gourd wrapped in a brightly patterned cloth bag. Her “biodegradable” urn was the red colored gourd. Once again, Annie thought of everything.

On Thursday, October 7th, Ann arrived from Baltimore; Janet joined the group on Friday, October 8th; with Don at the helm, all took off bright and early on Saturday, October 9th in our rented Nissan Altima. After a round of picture-taking to document the journey, Annie was nestled comfortably in the console cupholders. The journey began.

-To be continued-
Judith Liu
October 30, 2011


Kathi Diamant said...

I'm traveling with you, Judy. Thanks!

Laurel Corona said...

This is wonderful--can't wait for part 2!

Post a Comment