In 1979 Molly and I moved across the country for the second time, from San Diego California to Arlington Virginia, as I took a job at the University of Maryland. An immediate benefit was international travel, when I was assigned to teach classes on a U.S. Army base in Japan. We stayed more than two months in Japan and in addition to exploring Tokyo we enjoyed a wide variety of Japanese restaurants. We also had an incredible tour of China, where we were among the first western visitors in decades. Besides hitting the big cities — Shanghai and Beijing — we also stayed in a yurt in the Gobi Desert. Molly rode a camel; I cussed at the restroom facility, a trench. But we both developed an appreciation for Chinese as well as Japanese cuisine.
It was a pleasant surprise, after moving into our new home in Maryland, to find a great restaurant in Rockville, called the “Taipei Tokyo Café”. This was unusual, as there is little love lost between the Chinese and Japanese, who have fought various wars over the centuries. Not only did the Café serve excellent dishes of both cuisines, but it was also inexpensive, too — an important factor as we worked to rebuild our finances after two cross-country moves.
Of course, being both good and cheap it was a very popular venue and was usually crowded. To deal with this the owners opened a couple of branches. One was just down the street across Rockville Pike and was named “Hiro Sushi”. Adjoining it and physically connected was a Chinese “sister” restaurant. You could order from either menu and be served at either restaurant. This was a step up from the original where everyone lined up to order and pay at a front counter, then collect their food and find a place to sit to eat. We had many lunches and dinners at the new branch, often ordering carry-out for dinner at home.
Over the years the branch became independent of the original Café. The Chinese and Japanese segments became independent of one another and finally parted company; the door between them was permanently closed. Eventually, the Chinese restaurant closed. However, Hiro Sushi, now independent, kept going. It was managed and, I think, owned, by an older Japanese individual who also did much of the cooking. Everything was freshly prepared to order, including the sushi which was made — as we watched — by a Hispanic woman who we guessed had been trained by the owner-manager. And almost everything, from sushi to tempura shrimp and vegetables to the seafood udon bowl, remained fixed at $5.
There were, and are, better Japanese restaurants in the Washington DC area, and many with better atmosphere and style. Diners at the Taipei Tokyo Café are now seated by a host and servers take orders. But we kept going to Hiro Sushi where the sushi chef knew Molly’s standard asparagus sushi was to be made without the usual creamy sauce. Even after we left Washington and moved back to Memphis — to have better support from friends and family for Molly’s advancing Parkinson’s Disease — we always returned to Hiro Sushi on our trips back.
Our last visit was in 2015. Molly had managed to get an appointment at NIH with the world’s expert on muscle problems in Parkinson’s. The medication she needed to keep moving also produced painful muscle spasms and we were hoping he might tell us how to improve, if not resolve, this problem. As it turned out he was of no help whatever. She was actually there only to serve as case material for his group of international students. But, since we were there in Bethesda and not far from Rockville, we went to Hiro Sushi afterward.
As always, we ordered a variety of dishes, planning to take some back to the hotel for later. But I noticed that Molly wasn’t eating much of her stir-fry green beans or asparagus sushi. I asked why, since these were among her favorites. Her answer startled me. She said that she never really cared much for the food at Hiro Sushi. She came, she explained, “because you like it so much”.
I understood this better two years later, after Molly died. She had choked — a common side-effect of Parkinson’s, which interferes with the function of all voluntary muscles. I was out of town and her caregiver, who turned out not to be as capable as had been promised, didn’t know how to do a Heimlich. The caregiver panicked and by the time she called 911, it was too late.
When Molly was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s she joined a long-term research study. She donated her brain, after death, for examination in the hope this might add to knowledge about the disease. A few months later I was surprised to receive a copy of the detailed brain autopsy. It showed that Molly had advanced Lewy Body Disease, which often accompanies Parkinson’s.
Lewy bodies are clumps of protein that can form in the brain. When they build up, they can cause problems with the way the brain works, including thinking skills. In her last years, I noticed that Molly’s social skills had become less sophisticated, and that she had come to rely more on simple straightforward comments in her interactions. So I believe that when I asked why she didn’t seem to be enjoying her lunch at Hiro Sushi she just told the truth, that she was there not for the food but for me. I realize that even as her brain was failing Molly continued to express her loving kindness, as she had initially done so many years ago at the Taipei Tokyo Café.