May dokyou help missing ‘Tazu’

January 18, 2006

Have you ever wondered how life can deal you the most incongruent experiences in only a few days? This last week has been one of those times.

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It started with the opportunity to serve on a jury trial, an experience I had long wished for, but never had the fortune to receive.

Who would have thought a person would wait until their 55th year before being called to serve? I was looking forward to being a part of the justice system, although believed my work in the courthouse would probably lead to my exclusion due to the number of people I come in contact with each day.

As the process moved forward, I began to feel less privileged and more concerned. As families from both sides filed into the courthouse you could see the pain and suffering in their eyes. It would be an emotional case, one in which many would continue to suffer regardless of the outcome; the alleged rape of a young woman.

It was disconcerting to see so many people asking to be excused from the process, their work too important, their lives too busy. What started as a very large pool of jurors, with significant diversity in ethnicity, education and economic level, dwindled rapidly.

As juror's numbers were called for questioning, more were excluded for their friendship with families or answers to the varied questions from the judge, district attorney's office and defense attorney. It seemed a fair process but difficult for families on both sides of the aisle to bear.

I was excused, as I believed I would be, but I continue to be haunted by the case from the look of pain and fear as family members file in and out of the courthouse throughout the week.

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The next news that rocked my life was from family in Portland who reported our "Auntie" Tazu Higashi missing early Wednesday morning.

We listened to the news on television, flipping from channel to channel to see if anything new had been reported. We hated to call the house, knowing what emotions the ring of a telephone triggers when a loved one is missing. The discovery of another missing elderly woman, alive in her car after a number of days, gave us hope and we were sure it would encourage a vigorous search by authorities.

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It seemed that Tazu, our Uncle Porky Omori's sister and long time resident of Hood River, had left her daughter's home in Lake Oswego, to mail a package at a nearby UPS store.

She had not returned home after the errand. At first it was assumed she had just attended to another errand, or given the darkness and rain that evening, perhaps had become disoriented and taken a wrong turn. While usually carrying a cell phone for such emergencies, this time she had left it at home on the counter.

The last thing Tazu would ever want is to be burden to someone else, or to have others worrying about her. She is a very independent woman, strong in character, mind and soul. In Japanese terms she has dokyou, in Finnish we call it sisu, inner strength, fortitude, guts.

We thought perhaps she had headed up to Hood River, her home of many years, first on the Parkdale farm with husband Sat Noji, and many years later in her home on Frankton Road with second husband Roy Higashi.

Tazu outlived both her husbands, taking care of them dutifully through lengthy illnesses. Perhaps someone had told her that her brother-in-law Mam had become ill and she was coming to lend a hand? That is Tazu's way. Always helping others.

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Flip met the search party in Portland on Saturday to assist the family in a grid search of the area. Response to their call for help was overwhelming, over 250 people showed up at the elementary school to help search for "Grandma" as Tazu is affectionately known to all who encounter her.

Without much knowledge of that area, my husband was told to backtrack the route to Hood River, driving through parks and pull offs she may have taken along the Columbia River. Nothing.

Weather reports takes on a different meaning when someone is missing. Is she cold, wet, hungry, suffering?

Agonizing thoughts when your imagination begins to run rampant. Surely no one in his or her right mind would hurt her. Not our Tazu. But my thoughts careen off to the number of people who are predators, who are mentally ill or diseased with addictions, whose actions make little sense. I force myself to stop this destructive course of thinking.

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On Sunday my son and daughter and their spouses and friends join the search in Portland. Our spirits are lifted when Sheriff Joe Wampler calls and says the clouds in the gorge have lifted and he would put an airplane in the air to see if anything can be detected from that vantage point.

I stay to help with the opening of the new dialysis center (details, page B1.) It is a comforting event to a heart that had been wrenched with each passing day. The kindness and compassion in the center was palpable. So many folks who helped build the first center, have proudly come to be a part of the unveiling of the new, larger version. My heart swells.

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Hopes are dashed once again as my children return from Sunday's search, eyes downcast, failure written across their faces. Nothing.

Although there has been a report of a sighting of a silver van in Albany, but almost simultaneously a similar report in Oregon City.

Hope springs eternal. Could it be her? Why can't anyone find her if she is wandering? Why doesn't someone recognize the van?

Then I think of the hundreds of other missing people and the number of times I have not paid attention, eyes blinded by unawareness. How thoughtless, careless, inhumane. I promise to be aware for others from this day forward.

Tazu is kind, physically strong and determined, with a great sense of humor, and a down to earth way about her. If someone asked her for her shiny new mini-van she would have handed it over to them willingly; if they needed money, she would have given them her last dime. She believes in the good of every individual, the very characteristics that a con man looks for in his prey.

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Keep your eyes open, for this wonderful little old grandma, all of four-foot-eleven inches, with the sweetest smile, and Asian Santa Claus eyes that crinkle up in the corners.

She may be driving a 2005 silver Dodge mini-van, license 476 BVG, or wandering the streets or fields somewhere.

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