"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for new and richer experience." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

"Stop and smell the roses."

I don't know who coined that phrase. Some say it originated a hundred years ago. Whatever the case, I remember my mother using a similar expression when my brothers and I were kids.

Mom worked all day helping out in dad's grocery store and still found time to cook for the family. Every dish she prepared was made from scratch -- none of that instant stuff.

During dinner she would constantly admonish my brothers and me to eat slowly ("isoganai de") and enjoy our meal. But boys being boys, we usually scarfed our food before excusing ourselves from the table and running off to play.

As I reflect back on those days, I regret how much more I would have enjoyed my mother's cooking had I focused on what I was eating like she said.

I believe we all agree that everyone who works full time is entitled to vacation with pay. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "vacation" as: "a period of exemption from work granted to an employee for rest and relaxation" ... and a time to smell the roses.

I don't think my immigrant parents knew the term "paid vacation." They operated a corner grocery in a modest-income area of Oakland during the Depression. Taking time off to them meant having to close their store which they could ill afford.


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As it were, mom and pop kept their grocery open six-and-a-half days a week to make ends meet. They weren't alone. Most families struggled just to make a living during those hard times.

But not everything was all work and no play for them.

Among my parents' favorite escapes on Sunday afternoons was spending the time at Lake Merritt, less than five miles from our house.

Mom could be counted on to prepare our favorite finger foods like rice balls (musubi) and shoyu chicken. Meanwhile, pop always found a shady place to nap. And even though we'd been there a hundred times, my brothers and I never tired of those weekly family outings.

On most Friday evenings pop took mom to the cinema after closing shop. Since the theater was only four blocks away my folks didn't seem to mind walking. And although their English was limited, that didn't stop them from enjoying the show.

Besides, it was one of those treasured moments my folks could sit back, relax, and let their imaginations take over!

My parents returned to their native land of Japan for the first time in 1959. By then, most of their relatives and friends had moved away or passed on and the neighborhood wasn't the same as they remembered it when they set sail from Yokohama some 40 years earlier.

But they took that opportunity nonetheless to smell the roses one last time knowing they would never be back again.

My parents weren't into traveling for long distances. Trips to Yosemite or a weekend stay at Gilroy hot springs with the family suited them just fine. Although invited to move in with either of her sons outside California after pop passed away, mom opted to live out her life in the Bay Area that she called home.

Mom and pop loved their adopted country and took every opportunity to stop and smell the roses along the way. My parents had the right idea. I think I'll step outside and do the same!

Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident. Contact him at transcript@bayareanewsgroup.com.