Our mother, Rose Wenjen, passed away this morning after battling breast cancer for the second time. This cancer was unusual for someone her age; it was very aggressive. But, as we used to joke, it was like my mother was reverse aging. At one point, her hair actually was getting darker on its own.
A little about my mother. She was born in San Francisco’s Japantown. Her parents immigrated from Hiroshima and never learned English. She taught Buddhist church school there. Her family was forced to relocate during WWII for being Japanese American. Because we had relatives in a remote part of Utah, they lived in a tent there and worked their family’s farm. It was near the underground site testing nuclear weapons. It was like they could not escape the atomic bomb.
If you ask my mother about that time, she would joke that the Mormons would come to visit to convert her so she would have robust conversations about Buddhism versus Mormonism. She earned her AA degree at Weber College while in Utah which was nearby. When the war ended, she and her family relocated to Los Angeles. For the first time, Asian Americans could work for the government as Civil Servants and that is what she did. She did stenography in the courts. She met our father in Los Angeles and stopped working to raise us children in Seal Beach, CA. With the money she made, though, she purchased a two-family house near LAX for her relatives. Her parents lived on the top floor and her siblings and their relatives lived below.
When our father could no longer work (he was a math professor at Cal State Long Beach), she went back to work, again as a civil servant at Seal Beach Naval Weapon Station (again where nuclear weapons were rumored to be stored — this time Trident missiles). She also worked in the government program in the 70s to naturalize undocumented people. Her job was front desk receptionist. Can you imagine my mother as the front desk to people who may have been nervous or didn’t speak perfect English? My mom was the nicest human being. Always smiling. Always kind. Brimming with positive energy.
My mother also did a stint in real estate and her office was in Little Saigon. We joke that she didn’t sell many houses but she did take many, many people to experience her favorite Vietnamese restaurants there. She would save them up for us as well so we had a lot of great Pho and 7 Courses of Beef there.
We will remember her always for her belief of Forever Living Aloe Vera Products and Nikken healing magnets for their health benefits. I was always skeptical, but she’s made me a believer. And of course, for her “glass half full” disposition and cheerful personality. Many will remember her for her hospitality. She would always offer anyone in her house tea and cookies and that included my sister’s piano students as she taught out of the Seal Beach house.
She died like she lived. She never complained about her health or being in pain. In fact, if you ask her, she’s never been sick a day in life.
We will remember her legacy which lives on in us, her three children, and her six grandchildren. She had the gift of creativity and was a talented artist. She had formidable strength in keeping a positive mental attitude. She was a gentle hand as a parent — no Tiger parent here — and always supported our endeavors, even signing her house as a guarantor for my business start-up.
She died about a week short of her 96th birthday. She had a long and beautiful life and we are grateful for our time with her.
There will be remembrance services the week of Christmas vacation in Torrance, CA. For anyone interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be notified. My mom never wanted to bother anyone or take grandchildren out of school. Education was a big thing for her. So she will approve of services at year-end. A display of her artwork will be included and donated to attendees in her memory. She would like that. She was always a giver.