Point of Departure 9: Tell your version of a family anecdote that you already know or recount one that you sought out from a relative. The anecdote can be funny or serious, or both funny and serious at the same time. Whatever its nature, help a reader appreciate why it became memorable to your family.
Here is a dramatic story that Sugimoto and her siblings tell about their mother, the devoted wife of the samurai:
One afternoon Sister and I were sewing in my room when Hanano came in. It was warm weather and the paper doors had been lifted off so that the entire fronts of the rooms facing the garden were open. We could look across and see Mother sitting beside the dining-room fire-box, holding her long, slender pipe in her hand and gazing out into the garden as if her thoughts were far away.
“Mother is happy in this home,” said Sister. “Her face has the calm, peaceful look of the August Buddha.”
“I wonder,” said Hanano thoughtfully, “if Honourable Grandmother was ever really, strongly, terribly excited in all her life.”
Sister looked at Hanano with a strange smile.
“I never saw her seem excited,” she said slowly. “It was a terrible time when we left the old home, but Mother was calm and steady. She commanded like a general on the battlefield.”
“Oh, tell me!” cried Hanano, sitting up very straight. “Tell me all about it.”
Perhaps it would be well, Sister,” I said. “Hanano is old enough to know. Tell her all of Mother’s life that you can remember.”
So she told how Mother, when only thirteen years of age, was lifted into her wedding palanquin and, accompanied by a long procession of attendants, headed by spearmen and followed by her father’s guards, journeyed to her new home. Father was First Counsellor of the daimiate, and his bride came to a mansion so spacious that in all the years she lived in it there were rooms in which she never set her foot. She saw little of her husband, for his duties as ruler obliged him to make frequent journeys to the capital, and the young wife filled her time in writing poems on slender cards of gold and silver, or playing dolls with her attendants; for, after all, she was only a child.
In time, a son and two daughters were born; but the little girls, with nurses to take every care from their mother, were a good deal like beautiful playthings to her; and her son, the heir who was to carry on the family name, had so many attendants with various duties that she saw him only at stated intervals. He was like a precious jewel for which she had strong affection, but still stronger was the feeling of pride. So in the big, peaceful mansion the girl-wife passed the pleasant, uneventful years.
Then changes came, for clouds of war were gathering slowly over the land. Her husband gradually told her of many important things, and one day he left home on a mission that filled her heart with dread. She was not far out of her teens, but she knew the duties of a samurai’s wife, and with suddenly awakened womanhood she called her son’s tutor and they disguised in shabby clothing her small son, whose life as heir would be forfeit if his father came to harm, and sent him, in the care of faithful Minoto, to the protection of our ancestral temple on the mountain. Then she waited, while every day the clouds grew more threatening. One dark, rainy night there came a warrior to her home bearing the tidings that Father was a prisoner and on his way to the capital. Near the midnight toll of the temple bell he would pass the road at the foot of the mountain, and she would be permitted an interview.
She looked at the messenger steadily. If there should be treachery what would become of her son?
“Are you a samurai?” she asked.
Solemnly the man put his hand to the hilt of his sword.
“I am a samurai,” he answered.
“Whether friend or enemy,” she said, “if you are a samurai, I will trust you.”
Though she believed him, those were dangerous days, and so she washed her hair and put on her death-robe, covering it with an ordinary dress. Then, slipping her dagger into her sash and bidding her faithful servant Yoshita to be loyal to his young master, whatever happened, she told the messenger she was ready.
Through the rain and darkness they went—the warrior, his wet armour shining in the lantern-light, followed by Mother in her hidden death-robe. They passed through empty streets and along narrow paths of lonely ricefields until finally they came to the road which curved around the foot of the mountain. There they waited.
Presently lights came swaying through the darkness and they could hear the dull, soft thuds of trotting carriers, coming nearer and nearer, then to a stop. A palanquin covered with a rope net was rested on the ground, a warrior on each side. The carriers stood back. Mother looked up and saw Father’s pale face gazing at her through the small square window. The crossed spears of the warriors were between them. There was a moment’s silence, then Father spoke.
“My wife, I trust you with my sword.”
That was all. Both knew that listening ears were eager for word of the son. Mother only bowed, but Father knew that she understood.
The reed screen was dropped before the face of the prisoner, the warriors shouldered their spears, the carriers lifted the poles of the palanquin to their shoulders, and the little procession passed on into the darkness. The guide she had trusted raised his bowed head and turned toward the ricefields, and poor Mother followed, carrying with her the knowledge of a sacred trust; for those few words from Father’s lips meant: “Death is before me. I trust to you the son who will continue the name of Inagaki and thus insure the heavenly salvation of hundreds of ancestors.”