For Suma Kobayashi, the day began with an early morning wake up call at 5 a.m.
She knew a big day was in store for her, a day filled with friends, family, cake and presents. A mere five hours into the day, it seems as though it’s never too early to start one’s birthday celebration. Ask Kobayashi though, she would know. It is, after all, only the 104th time she has awoken to this particular event.
Adorned with a birthday crown, Kobayashi celebrated her 104th birthday at Parkhurst Place last Friday, Nov. 30. A banner hung in the dining room amongst the balloons and streamers commemorating Kobayashi’s big day as fellow residents and Parkhurst staff, along with family and friends, serenaded Kobayashi with the birthday song and cake was served.
Kobayashi sat at her special table with her son, Dick, and his wife, Joyce, where they ate lunch and birthday cake. Not a huge fan of the sweet frosting, Kobayashi was hesitant to eat much of her cake until Dick removed the excess frosting to reveal what she truly enjoys: The chocolate part of the cake. Since Kobayashi is obviously not a huge fan of frosting, this begged the question of what food does she enjoy most.
“I like hamburgers,” she said, “and Japanese food, which I don’t get too often here (at Parkhurst).” Dick and Joyce accommodate this request when they can, though, and bring Japanese cuisine to her, usually sushi.
One of the highlights to Kobayashi’s birthday celebration was a visit from her grandson, Ricky. His arrival was highly anticipated by Kobayashi, who insisted that he have a piece of cake before he had hardly settled in. Ricky did not come empty-handed and presented Kobayashi with a card. Apparently, for the last decade or so, Ricky’s cards are one of the most coveted gifts for Kobayashi.
Ricky goes out and finds quirky and fun cards to celebrate each one of his grandmother’s birthdays. One particular favorite was a card that was rigged to shower glitter and confetti all over Kobayashi when she opened it. Apparently, it was quite a surprise and it took Kobayashi a second to acclimate to the glitter assault when it happened, although this was nothing compared to the time it took to clean it all up.
These cards are the gift that keeps on giving, as Kobayashi takes great pleasure opening them again and again, usually until the battery runs out. This year’s card featured a singing taco, margarita and chips and salsa as they danced around inside the card each time it was opened. Ricky’s selection did not seem to disappoint this year, as Kobayashi kept inquiring with a laugh as to where her grandson found these kinds of cards.
Although Friday was Kobayashi’s actual birthday, most of Kobayashi’s family visited the day after Thanksgiving to celebrate her birthday this year. Her daughter’s family, as well as her son’s, were all in attendance as they catered in Chinese food for a party to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Kobayashi’s distinction as a centenarian. The majority of those 104 years have been spent right here in Hood River.
Kobayashi was born in Hood River Nov. 30, 1914. She is a life-long resident of the valley, living here her entire life, except for a two-year stint when she went to school in Portland, and when she and her family, as well as the rest of Hood River’s Japanese population, were forcibly relocated to internment camps during World War II. After the war, Kobayashi returned to Hood River to raise her own family and has remained here ever since. In fact, up until two years ago, Kobayashi lived in the house she and her late husband shared up on Binn’s Hill on the west side of the valley. Dick and his family still reside on Binn’s Hill while Kobayashi’s daughter lives out of town. Kobayashi’s sister, who is about 10 years younger, lives in California.
According to Joyce, longevity runs in the family as Kobayashi’s mother lived one month shy of her 105th birthday. “She was bed-ridden though,” Joyce said, “and not anywhere near as healthy as she (Kobayashi) is.”
As the afternoon celebration began to wind down on Friday, and with her card in hand, Kobayashi returned to her room with her family. It was time for a nap.
According to Joyce, friends and family have little doubt that they all will be celebrating Kobayashi’s 105th birthday in a year. After all, Kobayashi will have a new card from Ricky to look forward to.