Shiho Shinoda Nunes
From “Growing Up with Ghosts”
The story of Sanae and her mother’s ghost I heard some years later from a girl from Mälua who lived in our dormitory.
Sanae left home when she was fifteen to go into domestic service with a haole family in Hilo. Her mother had died the year before and the mother’s income as a field hand was sorely missed.
It was a big jump from a dirt-floor kitchen to a linoleum-laid one, from a cotton pallet on a floor crowded with brothers and sisters to a soft bed of her own in a room with ruffled white curtains. But Sanae made the jump with ease. She quickly learned to use every electrical appliance in the house: the toaster, which popped up bread the likes of which, with butter and jam, she had never tasted at home (their toast was browned — or often burned in a frying pan over a kerosene flame); the electric iron, which made a joy out of a weekly chore, unlike the charcoal–heated one at home. And the washing machine! How could she have endured the boiling of soiled field clothing in a galvanized iron tub outdoors, the endless hours of hard scrubbing in the washhouse behind her house? Best of all, she quickly learned to prepare American dishes: spaghetti, meat loaf, macaroni and cheese and other casseroles, Swiss steak, chops and many others. Sanae found them all absolutely delectable after the sparse diet of rice, vegetables, miso soup and dried fish she had known. And the desserts! Cakes, pies, cookies, puddings, the delights of which were never–ending, now that she was mastering the art of baking.
After two years in this domestic heaven, Sanae was called home. Her father, who had managed his household quite well after his wife’s death, suffered a stroke, and Sanae was needed at home. Her brothers were working in the fields and her sisters were too young to care for a bedridden adult.
To return to the primitive home was a trying letdown for Sanae, but she did the best she could. Determined to give her family the best of the domestic arts and skills she had learned, she prepared casseroles and other dishes that could be cooked on a kerosene stove from ingredients she could find at the plantation store on her biweekly trips to the village, or from the peddler’s truck that made the weekly rounds of the camps. Her siblings loved the change of diet and begged for more.
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“The Silent Lesson” is from the late Shiho Shinoda Nunes’ unpublished book, “Growing Up With Ghosts.” Born in 1917, she was the daughter of Japanese immigrants who worked in the plantation village of Hilea in the Ka‘ü District of Hawai‘i Island. Her family moved to Hilo when she was a child. Shiho Nunes earned her degrees in education from the University of Hawai‘i in 1939 and returned to Hilo to teach. She enjoyed a long career in education, working for the state Department of Education and later at UH-Mänoa, retiring in 1977.
She was in her late 70s when she began to write. Her first book, “The Shishu Ladies of Hilo: Japanese Embroidery in Hawai‘i,” was published in 1999 by University of Hawai‘i Press. It is a tribute to her parents, Yoshio and Ima Shinoda and their students of Japanese embroidery. That was followed by “Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayer and Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom” (2013, Tuttle).
In 2007, Nunes moved to Berkeley, Calif., to live with her daughter, writer Susan Nunes (who shared this story with the Herald), and her husband. Shiho Shinoda Nunes died in March 2016.