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On Her Own

(by Annette Cade)

Living in California, I am fortunate to have my family close by, but at times it can be a struggle, especially with Mom. For my whole life, she was a stoic woman of Japanese descent, hard and at times insensitive to others, mainly her own kids. Her father was killed during World War II. He was an officer in the Imperial Navy of Japan, and Mom told us that he went down with the ship. Her mother, Toshiko Murikami, was left with four children: eight-year-old Uncle Kozo; six-year-old Aunt Yoriko; my mother, Misako, who was four; and two-week-old Aunt Keiko, who was adopted and raised by a family member. Toshiko would often be gone for several hours a day, trying to make money or get food, perhaps doing things many woman didn’t want to do, but had no choice if they wanted to feed their kids. The children were left alone to manage.

The children’s grandmother, Toku Murakami, would come around once in a while to bring a common dish called korokke, a potato croquette. They would get one each, and not every day. Their grandmother, who didn’t cook, was an alcoholic and not in good shape to care for four small children. She actually made things worse because she would take items out of the house and sell them to support her addiction. She had grown up rich (the daughter of a small-town mayor), was raised by a nanny, and never learned how to survive without help. My mother recalls her grandmother bringing them bird seed to eat when they were children.

Years later, a miracle happened (at least that's what Mom calls it). My grandmother was given a business loan. which was unheard of for a single woman in Japan. It was a huge risk for the bank; she owned nothing, had no collateral. But by the time my mother was a teenager, my grandmother had opened two bars: one for black men in the military service and one for whites. Money was no longer an issue. My mother recalls spending way too much time there as she grew up, taking money from the cash register whenever she wanted. A spoiled brat with a big mouth. That's where Mom met Dad in the bar for blacks. She was 17, and he was 21.

In an odd repetition of history, my mom raised her own children in the same way that her grandmother was raised, without domestic skills, which she despised. She controlled everything in the household, thinking it was her duty, and she even sat at the head of the table. She always cooked but never taught us how to cook (or how to do much of anything else). Years later, I asked her why. Her answer was basically that she had to learn to do things on her own, and so should we. I always thought of her as being frustrated, but now I see her behavior as anxiety, having to control everything, and I have come to look at her differently. There was also a benefit to having such a callous mother growing up. It made me stronger. I don’t let too much bother me, and I move forward more easily than most. I am not held back by negative words or a cold shoulder.

With my mom now in her late 70s, my family—two sons, their wives and children, and the families of my daughters-in-law—gather at her home in a safe “pod.” Dad passed away last year, but we keep his seat open for him. Mom continues to sit at the head of the table, controlling conversations, often talking about her money—her favorite topic. We’re used to it; sometimes we gather without her to have a more pleasant time.

I am not completely sure why Mom talks about money so much. Maybe she wants praise for how well she did everything by herself. She gives my dad very little credit, although he served our country for 21 years and retired from his second career after 20 more years. She definitely is an attention-seeker, all ears on her.

One thing about my mother: No matter how stubborn and insensitive she is, she is very generous. I believe she knows how hardcore she is, and money is love to her. It’s her way of showing she loves you (God forbid she say it). I make fun of it and am now very vocal about it. She gave me and my two sons $100,000 each, but there is always a catch and a way to control it. She calls me almost daily for something, anything. Basically, I owe her. My sons cannot use the money until they reach a certain age, even though they’re old enough to be married. Her money, her control.

Over the last couple of years, our family brings food (pot luck style) over to Mom’s so that she does less cooking. But recently she surprised us with a dish she used to make years ago when we were kids: banana pudding with vanilla wafers. Talk about good memories! I almost fell out of my chair when she took the foil off the glass dish. I instantly had the image of us in our bathing suits running through sprinklers in our front yard, going in and out of the house to take bites of it.

An uncomplicated memory for a complicated time.


Annette Cade is a military spouse, mother, grandmother, and voiceover artist who lives in California. She can be found at

Vanilla Wafer Banana Pudding

3 bananas, firm but ripe, sliced, plus additional for decorating

1 T. fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 c. cold milk

5 oz. package instant vanilla pudding

14 oz. sweetened condensed milk

12 oz. whipped topping, divided

30 vanilla wafer cookies

Optional: vanilla sugar or cinnamon sugar

Peel and slice bananas, and toss with lemon juice. Set aside.

Combine cold milk and instant vanilla pudding mix. Whisk or beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Add sweetened condensed milk, and mix until thoroughly blended. Let stand for 2 minutes.

With a spatula, fold in half of the whipped topping.

In a glass serving bowl or individual dessert dishes, alternate layers of pudding, banana slices, and vanilla wafers.

Spoon or pipe remaining whipped topping over the pudding.

Chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Garnish with banana slices, and sprinkle with vanilla sugar or cinnamon sugar.

(Vanilla Wafer Banana Pudding just gets better with time. That’s why I love this dessert. The longer it sits in the fridge, the softer the cookies get by soaking in all the moisture from the pudding.)


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