from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven

An old, old man lived in the home of his son. The son had a wife and a young son of his own. At meal times the old man sat at the kitchen table. His eyes were dim and he barely saw; his ears were dull and he barely heard, and his hands trembled. He had difficulty holding his spoon as he tried to feed himself broth from a bowl. Now and then a few drops fell from his spoon on to the tablecloth, or the bowl tipped too far, spilling.

His son and his son's wife were disgusted at the sight of him. Finally, one day, after the old man's trembling hand caused the bowl to fall to the floor and break, they gave him an old wooden bowl, and made him sit with it out of sight behind the stove. At mealtimes, they put food into the wooden bowl and left the old man alone to manage as best he could.

One evening, after dinner, they were all in the sitting room. The old man's son noticed that his own young son had gathered few pieces of wood and stored them in a corner among his playthings.

'What have you there?' The youngster's father pointed to the wood.

The child looked up. 'I am making wooden bowls,' he answered quietly, 'for you and for Mommy to eat out of when I am grown, and you are both very old.'


I received a letter from a woman of Japanese ancestry who read the preceding story. She wrote that her father, who had passed along to his children much of the lore and tales of old Japan, had another version:

In many villages of old Japan, the townsfolk suffered deeply and often the extremes of hunger and cold. It was vital to the survival of the able-bodied that those who were in their final hours of life be taken to the nearby foothills and left there to die. This sorrowful task belonged to the senior son.

So it was, indeed, that a dutiful senior son, at the appropriate time imposed by illness and tradition, wrapped his dying mother in the family blanket reserved for such sad occasions. He lifted her gently, cradled her in his arms, and made his way to a sheltered place among the nearby foothills' rocks and underbrush.

Lowering his mother to the ground, he kneeled beside her and tenderly made his final good-bye. She listened silently, breathing shallow, eyes closed. Finally, he stood, bowed deeply and, tears in his eyes, turned to leave.

'Wait, my son.' Her voice was barely a whisper. 'Do not forget the blanket. The day will come when it will be needed for another and, in time, for you.'

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