New Years Day breakfast 2020

We started 2020 with a quiet New Year's Day meal.

As with other years, we had ozoni soup with rice cakes, kuromame black soybeans, datemaki seafood omelet, tataki gobo burdock root in sesame vinegar dressing, shrimp, lotus root in sweetened vinegar, grilled saikyo-zuke black cod, and so on. It was simpler than usual, mainly because the meal was meant to be for us only. No guests were involved this year, since my father passed away last fall.

After a family member's death, some families totally avoid the New Year's celebration; not sending New Year's cards is the most common response. Whether or not there is a special meal on New Year's Day depends on the family and their religion. A major mourning period is for 49 and 50 days after a death, according to Buddhism and Shintoism (the period is often extended to one year with many Buddhism schools in Japan). I took advice from multiple online sources, making sure that I would not do anything significantly against the Soto Zen school's teaching. Soto people are pretty relaxed in terms of mourning period, and it seemed okay to have our usual New Year's Day celebration. Some ceremony experts suggested, regardless of your family's religion, to avoid all celebratory colors and decorative cuts in the osechi dishes. I skipped kohaku namasu (daikon radish and carrot in sweetened vinegar) and made kinkan namasu (daikon radish and kumquat in sweetened vinegar). I included red and white kamaboko fishcake but without any decorative cuts. The shrimp, luckily or simply coincidentally, were on the small size (better to avoid expensive large ones due to a strong association with celebratory occasions). Despite all the rules, the main idea behind the special meal for us is to appreciate that we are here and to hope for the best for another year. I also thought that my father would like us to continue with our annual ritual.

My father passed away from acute cardiovascular failure at home in September. It was totally unexpected, as he sounded fine on the phone seven days earlier. He proudly told me that he had ordered a powered garage door to make getting in and out of the garage easier, and of his plan to switch to an electric bike after he stopped driving in the near future. He was also going to get some autumn-harvest cucumber starts soon. He had problems remembering words, such as his favorite ice candy's name, but then he explained its structure in detail, which made me think he really was an engineer. He could not come up with Tom's name and asked me how Mr. Editor was doing. I promised that I'd visit in a few months, and we ended our conversation feeling warm and cheerful, as usual. I thought that my sister was telling me a bad joke when she called me with the news. It still felt unreal as I told others that I was going to Japan for a while to take care of his estate, and the feeling continued even when I was finally at my parents' house. But somewhere I had become ready for the moment, especially in the last few years. Every time I went back to Japan, both my father and I felt it might be the last time to see each other, although considering his sisters' ages of 92 and 100, he seemed too young for this kind of subject. Compared to my reaction, my sister suffered a great shock. She had taken his presence in everyday life for granted. The same went for my mom, of course.

Going through his files was like a brief replay of part of his life. His first salary 65 years ago, a copy of the marriage registration, the first rent for company housing, blueprints and construction contracts for the house, at least several dozen bankbooks collected over all these years, notes from his coworkers, notebooks filled with handwritten mathematical formulas, schedules for technical certification exams -- he was an examiner for engineering certification. There were many pictures of school and workplace reunions spread out over the years, many in which he was photographed in outfits I had sent him on his birthday or father's day. For each reunion, there was at least one photo of him in the same pose holding a microphone on a stage; he must have sung the same song at all these occasions. There also were multiple pictures of my mom. He seemed to have kept the ones in which she looked most beautiful.

My father was a numerical sequence engineer, according to his self-introduction to Tom when they first met. That was when I discovered what my father's work was about, although vaguely, and that Tom was able to speak Japanese.

My father is gone, but he is always with me.
Every life is precious.

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