An Immigrant's True Talent Blossoms

This was Taika's last day. He had been doing Grandma's garden for 40 years. To her, there was no gardener like Taika Isuda.

One day he knocked at her back door. "I must retire, Mrs. Wilson," he said. "I will get you new gardener, like me."

Grandma smiled. "There's no one like you, Taika. You have brought my garden from nothing to something very special."

Taika Isuda was 17 when he came from Japan to the United States to live with his uncle Akira Isuda. His father knew there were no opportunities for this bright young lad in their poor farm community.

At first, Taika was very shy, but soon he was speaking some English and helping Uncle Akira in his nursery.

His father had sent definite orders to his brother to get Taika educated and into the university so that he could be a "big man" and make "big bucks." But every time Taika was supposed to be working hard at this goal, his uncle found him puttering around the nursery - watering the plants and asking his head gardener, "What is this," or "How do you do that?"

One day Taika said, "Uncle Akira, why do I have to go to university?" Of course he knew the answer.

"What's the problem, Taika?" asked his uncle. "Don't you realize what a great opportunity you have here to become something?"

Taika hung his head, "I know I should be grateful, Uncle Akira, but I like to work in the nursery much better. Couldn't I just learn to be a gardener? I like working with beautiful plants and flowers." Sometimes Taika would daydream about being head gardener.

Uncle Akira had seen this coming, for his head gardener had told him of the boy's great love of the gardens and his ability to make things grow. "Maybe you would like to enroll in some horticultural classes," his uncle said.

Taika slowly looked up, "Do you mean that? Could I really?"

So this was the beginning of how Taika Isuda became my grandmother's gardener. She was at the nursery one day selecting some plants and mentioned she was needing a good gardener. Taika overheard this and said, "Excuse me, I am a good gardener and will take good care of garden."

My grandmother looked at this eager young man, "Aren't you going to school?"

"Yes, but I need job, too."

Grandma liked Taika, but the head gardener wasn't sure his boss would go for this. After a great deal of discussion, it was decided Taika could do this, because he needed a job to help pay for his education.

At first, Taika had worked for my grandmother on weekends, then as a regular job, turning her yard into a real showplace. After he received his degree in landscape design, he formed a gardening and landscape service. But Taika would not let any of his men do Grandma's yard.

Ever the perfectionist, Grandma was very particular about her yard.

When my grandparents bought their property, Grandma loved the house, but Grandpa said, "The yard is a disaster, I want nothing to do with it!"

It had not been cared for: The shrubs were overgrown, the grass was dying, and there was no particular theme.

But soon Taika had transformed their large yard into a lovely Japanese garden, complete with a rock river bed, stone pond fed by a bamboo pipe, Nara lanterns, bonsai trees, and even a lovely statue of Quan Yen. "She will bring you great happiness," offered Taika.

Each week after Taika finished his work, Grandma would come out to see the results. Sometimes she made suggestions, but most of the time she was pleased with his painstaking work.

Taika and Grandma grew to become good friends. Once a year she would invite his family to a picnic in her now-beautiful backyard. They would bring Japanese specialties in square red lacquer boxes: rice, fish, squid, and seaweed. She would make her old-fashioned potato salad, juicy ham, and of course her super-rich chocolate chip cookies. His children especially like these.

Each time a new baby arrived in Taika's family, he would bring out his wife, Yuriko, with the new little one. It was important for the proud papa to have Grandma meet his beautiful new child.

Now Taika had three children, two sons and one daughter. They were all through college. The daughter, Chako, was an artist doing illustrations for a publication. The two sons, Yoshiaki and Micheka, were computer experts. None of his children wanted to follow their father into the landscape business, which greatly disappointed Taika.

Finally, it was Taika's last day to do Grandma's garden. One of his workers had done it a few times, but Grandma said, "He doesn't have the love for his work."

As always, when he was finished each week, Taika knocked at the back door, inviting Grandma to inspect his work. A few months prior, Grandma had given Taika a lovely wool sweater she had bought on a trip to Scotland. He was proudly wearing it when Grandma came out, and he helped her down the back steps. "What a glorious day," she said, looking at the clouds drifting lazily across the sky.

Taika looked up and smiled. "This is a good day, but sad day. Come see your garden." They slowly walked around the garden and finally stopped by the bamboo and stone pond where the gently gurgling sound of the water added to the tranquil scene.

"As usual, this is very good, Taika." said Grandma.

Taika looked around, surveying his work. "One moment, please." He walked over to the flowering plum tree and gently shook it. Blossoms floated to the ground. "There," he smiled. "Now it is perfect."

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