Eulogy for Uncle Fudo


This eccentric man was my beloved uncle. Born in Idaho, and the first of Kogoro and Harue’s five children, he was named after a deity. In 1921, that wasn’t done. But his parents knew their son had a magical spirit.

As a boy, he was a voracious reader, and rubbed a red apple against his pant leg while devouring every book. By the last page, that apple was shining. His passion for the written word grew every day. In fact, his high school librarian was sure Fudo had read every tome in the place at least once. Same with the San Diego Public Library.

I was Fudo’s youngest niece. But he was much more to me than an uncle. Helping with my homework, he was proud of everything I did. As soon as I could talk, we spoke on the phone every night. And he taught me to love books, just as he did. When I went away to college, we wrote weekly letters to each other. His included detailed weather reports, and that week’s “Dennis the Menace” and “Marmaduke” comics, which we read together since I was four.

One of the books my uncle devoured was about Native Americans making bows and arrows. Mesmerized, Uncle Fudo crafted his own hunting tools, duplicating what the tribesmen had done, treating the wood over an open fire.

A machinist by trade, and a valued employee at Convair, Fudo’s meticulous fingerprint appeared in everything he created. He made me a doll house, a rocking chair, and I’m wearing the peach pit ring he carved for me. See? Then, of course, there were his trademark model planes and all those toys. In fact, one of them, which he created for his little brother while they were prisoners in the relocation camp in Poston, Arizona during World War II, was found ten years later, and was displayed at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. Down the road, it was donated to their collection.

Then there was his garage. Doesn’t this hanger remind you of it?

From my early childhood, I gathered memory after sparkling memory of me jumping out of my parents’ cream-colored, 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, which was as big as a boat, and pulling up in front of a large, ‘20’s house with a white picket fence that always needed mending. I’d run up the front stairs to the porch, racing breathlessly through door after door after door, to the back porch. Ducking under the clothesline, passing the fig, guava, and loquat trees, the roses and one pink camellia bush – I ran to the garage. Most people would write off that man cave as a catastrophe, but those of us who knew Uncle Fudo, realized that miracle after miracle was coming to life in there.

Wearing grey magnifying glasses, he never seemed to move from his stool. Sometimes I wouldn’t interrupt him, preferring to stand by quietly and watch him tinker. But I think he knew I was there. And when he finally acknowledged me, he insisted I wear safety goggles.

It was in that mindboggling mess crammed with precariously stacked tools, packages, wood and papers, that we played Scientist.

Our task was always the same: to create the best weed killer in the world. My assignment was to go through the yard, gathering berries, leaves, petals and mint. Then Uncle Fudo and I would carefully mix them with varying amounts of baking soda, mouthwash, and cayenne pepper, put the concoction in a plastic squirt bottle and spray the stubborn weeds. We had to change the formula over and over, but we finally got it. No weed in San Diego County could defy our cocktail!

Using the darkroom he built in another corner of the garage, Fudo took photographs and developed the film himself, which inspired his younger brother, Hideo, to study at San Diego Community College with Maurice Roy, the world-class portrait photographer. Hideo learned so much from his eldest sibling that he enjoyed a long, successful career with Eastman Kodak.

Hideo learned so much from his eldest sibling that he enjoyed a long, successful career with Eastman Kodak.

Fudo looked like a homeless man in the frayed, brown sweater that had been patched and repatched until Auntie Ty threw up her hands. My uncle wore a blue baseball cap that he probably got, for free, from the machinists’ union. Since he didn’t drive a car, he believed in walking everywhere, which wore his leather shoes down to the asphalt. Zipped all the way up, his jackets were thin nylon, with pockets full of junk that anyone else would quickly discard.

His shirts were either tan or plaid, and no one ever saw Uncle Fudo without a white, plastic pocket protector holding one red pen, one standard graphite pencil, one black pen and a retractable razor.

A frugal man, Fudo saved his money. He lived with Auntie Ty, who absolutely kept the promise she made their mother to take good care of him. Eating rice most of the time because it was cheap, along with some veggies, he flabbergasted his devoted sister by finishing a whole rice bag full of beetles, shrugging it off, saying, “The boiling water will kill them”.

And of course, it did.

Nobody could speak about Fudo for a Nano-second without mentioning his model planes. They fascinated my dad so much, he worked on aircraft his whole career.

One of my favorite stories is about the competition in Finland that my uncle just couldn’t attend. But his model was flown to Helsinki anyway. Later, he travelled all across this country to fly his models competitively. And the entire workspace behind our family home on Newton Avenue was stuffed to bursting with his supplies, equipment, plans and finally the proud planes he made by hand.

Fudo also made special gifts of original, hand-crafted wooden toys, banks, musical instruments, puzzles and jewelry. Some of the most memorable are his giraffe bank and the mini thumb piano. A shrewd collector who knew how things appreciate, he bought and gave away newly minted coins and stamps. Saving his pennies and precious, extra change in little Sucrets tins, he made presents of them, too.

When it was finally time for Hospice, the staff there said he’d live one more month.

Having the final say in his destiny, he lived one month and one more day.

I am blessed with an overflowing basket of happy mornings, afternoons and evenings with my uncle. The earliest one I remember happened when riding in the car seat in the back of my dad’s Cutlass, where uncle Fudo was sitting next to me. I had just learned the word “boyfriend”, thinking it meant your most favorite person and someone you’d like to be with all the time. That wispy afternoon, I asked him if he’d be my boyfriend. But he didn’t answer. So I never knew if he loved me or not.

But after he died, and I opened the blue file box full of his important papers – a lapsed insurance policy, his will, and Social Security documents – I also found the weathered, but neatly folded paper on which I’d written the final recipe for our weed killer.

Eulogy Example - ©Anything With Words - Molly-Ann Leikin