It might be silly, Thomas started pretending hesitating through the
telephone, but I miss the two of you and your new Japanese family in
the manuscript. It's not my intention to be witty, but without your
parents-in-law: NO Fumika ! He paused for a dramatic reason. Indirectly
you-two come down handsomely, but I assume, that a straightforward
portrait would be adequate.
We know Thomas already for ages. Sometimes we don't hear from each
other for a year or longer, but that proved in no way a hindrance. Time
anyhow is a construction, a fiction, which -it is
true- occupies a dominant position in our lives, but
nevertheless a fully fledged fiction. Also in terms of space we find
ourselves in far remote positions. Turns out to be no obstacle either.
Our 'contact-line' remains. Thomas compelled our opinionated characters
respect in a systematic way.
He made us blush with this invitation to present ourselves in a direct way. That's also one of our angles.
If this chapter will be criticized, I'll point to you, I try to grumble weakly.
I have a mother in law,
That's not so exceptional if a person is married. I am married with a woman who has the Japanese nationality.
My mother-in-law is born Japanese and her name is Setsuko
. She was a teacher.
Fumika, my spouse, told me, that her mother was in a great state,
when she confessed to feel love for a non-Japanese, a gajin. Setsuko
knew, that all dutch persons have a brown skin [....] What that had to
mean never became clear. Fumika caught it, understandably too, because
she wanted a divorce. Except being disgraceful and non-moral, Fumika
was supposed unwise as well, marriage defining as a life-insurance.
After all -difficult to get the precise picture- there was something
diffuse around a foreigner as such, in principle however
not trustworthy! rapists also. Anyhow not a Japanese standard.
During world war II the Japanese population was systematically
indoctrinated about what kind of beasts Americans would be. Better to
die than to admit them on Japanese soil. Among others on Okinawa many
citizens are unnecessarily perished with this warning in their memory.
Could it have a connection with this ? I will never be able to find
out, because Setsuko-san now, six years later, keeps in the possible
blessed state of Alzheimer's company.
From the time the unavoidable proved to be inevitable, Setsuko-san
sulking fixed a strong requirement: first I had to put my pedigree on
Do I have a familytree ?
It is to say, your father and your mother, their parents and your sister who has a child.
To be honest I thought it would be quite chic to construct my own pedigree. Fumika had a useful form available for it.
We needed a large sheet of paper: A 1.
My father came from a stock of 16 children, who all were pretty active
in reproductive terms, later on. But also a couple of them had passed
My mother's mother has passed away at a very young age. As a toddler my
mother was sent on a holiday and returning, there suddenly was a woman
she had to address with 'mamma', my grandfather's second
wife. The past was not anymore subject of conversation.
My father, though he preferred to forget this, -this subject was
taboo- had been married before and was father of 2 children, whom
he choose to neglect. From the marriage with my mother also 2 children
I myself got married on my twentieth and got 2 children! one of them
unfortunately died before his first year. Some years later I divorced.
I have a third child, but never married his mother, as was a pretty
common habit in the seventies. This woman was completely independent
and a 'husband' was not exactly 'necessary'. However unexpectedly and
unfortunately she died all of a sudden, my son being 14 years of age.
Actually I had an active role in his growing. up
My sister was divorced, had a son and lived together with a man, whom she did not marry.
Pretty normal Dutch relations, I would like to say. Altogether the tree became a wide crown.
On a certain afternoon I paid my respects in Setsuko's old and draughty
house, where already several generations had lived. She sat at a low
table near an extremely disorderly, really not clean, that is, a
Japanese kitchen. The large paper was spread in front of her. Fumika
began the explanation. After having listened for some time, Setsuko
apparently lost the thread! she was baffled. The paper had to be taken
from the table, she decided determined.
This topic was [definitively] removed from the agenda.
After this presentation we -formally were expected to eat
in a distinguished restaurant. On my account; not a no token for an
answer. Setsuko-san suffered from her hips and had
trouble walking. Getting out of the taxi, having to make some
steps up, as a reflex and spontaneously my hand laid hold of her
uncovered under-arm as a support. As by undergoing a wasp-sting she
averted me fiercely.
Later I understood the full ambit of this occurrence. Setsuko-san had
been widowed unexpectedly at the young age of 47. Since then she never
did touch another man's skin and surely not a man her naked skin. This
skin-skin-contact, though meant for the best, was an affront and
something that was banished from her live.
Several times I blundered again, spontaneously and by reflex, it goes without saying, wanting to help her.
During the dinner Setsuko was restrained. May be she also did not know well how to handle all that.
I never artificially took efforts to try to ingratiate me with her. Her
peevishness never touched upon a tender string at my side.
Fumika and her mother often vigorously collided with each other. They
were well matched and pretty able to upset the other, fast and
effortless. I was surprised by what I saw, but also felt, that Fumika
loves her mother. In the course of time Fumika had told me how her
mother had helped her very realistically, going through thick and thin
with her. Not to give myself a little feather, but several times I let
Fumika have it and stated that she should take up her position. Fumika
changed and her relation became smoother, less explosive [the fuse had
been taken out] and more enjoyable. Stress disappeared.
Fumika and I were in Holland for a longer period of time, actually we
lived there. Female-fully Setsuko endured that, though Fumika being her
only one 'child', but also, not unimportant, her confidante. Financial
matters she did not understand and also her aptness to forget raised.
Sometimes she made a call to the Netherlands just for a social talk.
Being back in Japan we sometimes took an outside dinner. Fumika tried
to clean Setsuko's house regularly, however not requested service
was not appreciated- "it is my house!". At this point Setsuko was
right. We took her often to the supermarket were she studied anything
carefully, leaning on her shopping-trolley. She took her time
liberally; a real outing. Sometimes she ate at our place and afterwards
she sat the other way around, her knees on the couch, watching me.
My view is, if Fumika cooks, the least thing I can do is washing the
dishes. Setsuko could not stop looking at me doing the dishes.
Some help came from the social service; sometimes also being picked up
to enjoy a nice afternoon with others. Conform her condition she was
entitled for more help, but, during the social-service-head's visit to
test her condition, health and mobility, Setsuko-san always boasted
perky, that as a matter of fact, nothing was wrong with her.
At that time she got a wheelchair and sometimes we took a walk for
quite a time. Riding, riding in a cart....We halted for any excuse: a
flower, a tree, a garden, a person. Setsuko volunteered into a role,
teaching me whatever name and i. e. the function of something. My
Japanese is under-minimum and from little I had, I regularly answered
with hay, hay.
Fumika often said: this is a perfect marriage: you are
driving her around, Setsuko does the talking and you never contradict
her. Such a thing never happened in her life before, a person always
agreeing with her and for sure Fumika not. Together we were the perfect
example of wa
. I always enjoyed to have a stroll with her. It never
felt like a task.
More and more and without any planning we became
In the beginning of December 2004 we had to travel to Japan head over
heels. Setsuko was found alone in her house, laying on the floor for a
long time; a stroke.
Her second one. She had to be admitted. All did not look very pretty.
Fumika was a beauty of care and coordination. Setsuko stayed in two
hospitals, recovered and got a privileged space -without a
waiting-list- in Helios, a care-house, beautifully located, around the
corner, so to say.
A huge break. More and more Alzheimer came in sight.
One day we visited her house with her. Bored and loudly she asked
herself what for heaven's sake we were doing at this strange and
Finally we emptied her house, cleaned it [not having to ask her
permission..] and did some repairs. There was no way of return anymore.
August 1st  we would definitively immigrate into Japan. Two
days earlier Setsuko had to be admitted again as an emergency: water in
her lungs. Heart worked badly. Intensive care. An almost dead body
connected with rubes and wires. To a miracle she became conscious and
could return to Helios. The doctor-director decided for unknown
reasons, that she could make a leap over forty waiting patients.
Setsuko was admitted into a luxury, Japanese-style care-house at the
same ground. My hypothesis is, that the director just likes Setsuko.
Now our communication is solely physical and direct. Touching a naked
arm and stroking: that's the most common thing on earth. Tickling her
side makes her chuckle and move in a comical and playful way. Massaging
her neck and bring her hair in order is routine. She forgets her
grandsons' names or interchanges them. Especially the youngest cannot
stand that. All the time Setsuko forgets with what they are occupied.
The lady also cheats continuously,. When Fumika talks about subjects,
which Setsuko has forgotten -and there are many, if not almost all- she
pretends to know everything very well. Also staff-names mean nothing to
her anymore. On the sly she inspects first the name-cards being
attached on everybody's revers and then acts memorizing. Everything is
forgotten and forgiven.
Tickling under her feet, she always reacts very energetic. Good to see, that there is live in her.
When I don't join Fumika, she always asks where I am and what I am
doing. Most of the time Fumika answers: Dolf is studying. Then she nods
and feels satisfied; that is the way it should be.
I have a mother-in-law. We have a good time together.
If anybody would get the evil idea to tell a 'mother-in-law-joke', then
I will stand firm in front of her and announce, that she does NOT fit