Figure Eight On the Waves


In 1919 Yoko Hara arrived in Honolulu carrying all her belongings inside a paper carton tied with string she made herself. Inside was a photo of the husband she was going to meet and a bolt of indigo-dyed fabric stenciled in a pattern of repeating waves. Her mother had handed Yoko the material without saying a word and wept silent tears when they said goodbye.


But Yoko’s groom, years older than the matchmaker’s photo, died cutting cane just days before her steamer arrived from Japan. She had no choice but to return home.


Before she left on the Omi Maru, she gifted the bolt of fabric to Satsuki Katayama, a picture bride like herself. Satsuki, embarrassed by extravagance, insisted on cutting off a piece to give to Yoko. The makeshift handkerchief swallowed Yoko’s tears in its repeating waves all the way back to Fukuoka.


Satsuki married a tiny man who was mercilessly teased by the other workers because of his bald head. When he put on the blue and white yukata his wife made for him, he puffed out his chest and called for sake. He was certain the robe with its rolling blue waves, made him look taller.


When daughter Miyeko was born, Satsuki secretly admired the infant’s copious head of black hair. As the new mother nursed her baby, they floated like a figure eight on a futon covered with a patchwork of endless waves.


Miyeko turned three and Satsuki discovered there was just enough fabric to make her a tiny jacket. After she stitched the sash by hand, she folded up the remaining pieces of blue and white material and stored them inside a cardboard box in the carport.


There the fabric remained in its protective casing, hidden and forgotten during the war, surviving the death of Satsuki’s husband and outlasting her daughter’s two failed marriages on the Mainland.


It was not until Miyeko fell ill many years later and she moved into a nursing home that she sold the house she inherited from her mother to a wealthy couple from California. Before the house went into escrow, Miyeko asked her cousin to clean out the house and do whatever she wished with its contents. One of the items, a dilapidated cardboard box was removed from a shelf in the carport and donated along with everything else to the Thrift Store in Waimea.


Leslie Richards, part of the volunteer crew who tagged donated items on Wednesdays whistled through her teeth when she opened the crumbling cardboard box. The faint odor of mothballs rose as she removed a panel of cotton fabric—its vibrant pattern of repeating blue waves appeared almost like new.


She held up a swath to a woman pushing a stroller, “What do you think?”


“Placemats. Coasters,” the young woman suggested.  “Maybe a bib? How much?” she asked.


“Here,” Leslie said, offering her the folded remnants… their stenciled blue waves seemed ceaseless. “You can have it for free.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s