In Diner Escargot, Rinko left her small village home at the age of 15 for Tokyo and lived with her mother’s mother in the city. Her mother ran the village nightclub and made ramen from a packet for meals. Her grandmother, on the other hand, was very traditional, elegant, reserved, quiet, gentle and yet stubborn in her own way. It was through her grandmother’s incredible cooking that Rinko discovered her own talent and passion for preparing food. In the absence of husbands and fathers, Rinko concluded that her mother acted out to defy a traditional mother, while Rinko herself acted out against a frivolous and wild mother and became exactly like her grandmother.
A year before reading this in Diner Escargot, as a struggling and exhausted new mom, I had wondered if I’d just made two of my life’s biggest mistakes. What people say turned out to be very true, that when you marry someone, you are also marrying their family. That was the first mistake. Then the second was to have a baby with this man, which was literally handing his family a piece of my own flesh and blood and beating heart. It turns out that letting them take a piece of me killed me. It turns out that we have known each other for years but we barely knew each other, because we’re masters at acting nice and acceptable.
When I was little, I learned that the reason I didn’t have a maternal grandmother is because she left. She left and abandoned her six children while they were still young. I thought about this grandmother. Might some things like personality trait and fate pass on every two generations? How much did it take for my mother’s mother to leave her children?
In the movie Anna Karenina, Anna’s husband pressured his unfaithful wife to stay in the marriage, not just for social and economical reasons, but also for their young son. Anna replied, “I can die for [my son], but I won’t live like this for him.”
Just as not every woman wants to have children, not every woman likes being a mom above being a woman and being an individual. Fathers and husbands who walk out seem to get away easier than women would. Mothers and wives are held against an impossibly high standard that can drive women crazy and possibly away from their families.
After Rinko’s grandmother and mother died, she found out that her grandmother lived in the city because she abandoned her young daughter to elope as a politician’s mistress. She loved Rinko dearly, perhaps to compensate for leaving her own daughter. Rinko’s mother, on the other hand, was, deep down, the opposite of the woman she knew. When she became a single mom, she accepted the job at the village club so that she could live a simple life there together with her daughter. Rinko also learned that her mother had never given herself to the man who was widely known as her boyfriend, because she devoted herself only to the first man she’d ever loved and sworn to marry.
At a young age, I didn’t care much about the absence of my maternal grandmother because I have a loving mother. As a new mom, I ache for the little girl who lost her mother. I don’t know that mother’s story but I did have a glimpse of a desperate impulse to leave.