Point of Departure 7: An Intimate Memoir of a Person

Point of Departure 7: The earlier prompt, Point of Departure 3: A (Mostly Detached) Memoir of Person, calls for writing done in a detached, objective way. This Point of Departure prompt asks you to share intimate recollections of a person who was central in your life.


This excerpt from A Daughter of the Samurai conveys the author’s first impressions of her brother after a long separation:

The greetings at the door were very short. Brother and Mother bowed, he speaking gently to her and she looking at him with a smile that had tears close behind. Then he laughingly called me “the same curly-haired, round-faced Etsu-bo.”

His foreign shoes were removed by Jiya, and we went in. Of course, he went to the shrine first. He bowed and did everything just right, but too quickly, and some way I felt troubled. Then he went to Grandmother’s room.

Immediately after greetings were over, Grandmother handed him Father’s lacquer letter-box. He lifted it to his forehead with formal courtesy; then, taking out the letter, he slowly unrolled it and, with a strange expression, sat looking at the writing. I was shocked to feel that I could not know whether that look meant bitterness, or amusement, or hopelessness. It seemed to be a combination of all three. The message was very short. In a trembling hand was written: “You are now the head of Inagaki. My son, I trust you.” That was all.

That evening a grand dinner was served in our best room. Brother sat next the tokonoma [a Japanese reception room].  All the near relatives were there, and we had the kind of food Brother used to like. There was a great deal of talking, but he was rather quiet, although he told us some things about America. I watched him as he talked. His strange dress with tight sleeves and his black stockings suggested kitchen people, and he sat cross-legged on his cushion. His voice was rather loud and he had a quick way of looking from one person to another that was almost startling. I felt a little troubled and uncertain—almost disappointed; for in some puzzling way he was different from what I wanted him to be. But one thing I loved at once. He had the same soft twinkle in his eyes when he smiled that Father had. Every time I saw that, I felt that however different from Father he might look—or be—he really had the lovable part of Father in his heart. And in spite of a vague fear, I knew, deep, deep down, that whatever might happen in the days, or years, to come, I should always love him and should always be true to him. And I always have.


Sugimoto’s account provides her immediate impressions of her brother.  Contrast her account with this excerpt from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, in which Harriet Jacobs offers her abiding view of her grandmother:

I longed for some one to confide in. I would have given the world to have laid my head on my grandmother’s faithful bosom, and told her all my troubles. But Dr. Flint swore he would kill me, if I was not as silent as the grave. Then, although my grandmother was all in all to me, I feared her as well as loved her. I had been accustomed to look up to her with a respect bordering upon awe. I was very young, and felt shamefaced about telling her such impure things, especially as I knew her to be very strict on such subjects. Moreover, she was a woman of a high spirit. She was usually very quiet in her demeanor; but if her indignation was once roused, it was not very easily quelled. I had been told that she once chased a white gentleman with a loaded pistol, because he insulted one of her daughters. I dreaded the consequences of a violent outbreak; and both pride and fear kept me silent. But though I did not confide in my grandmother, and even evaded her vigilant watchfulness and inquiry, her presence in the neighborhood was some protection to me. 


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Women's Autobiography Copyright © by dixonk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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