PORTRAIT Vintage Hawaii

My grandmother Mitsue

While I get back into the swing of things over here after the long weekend, I wanted to dedicate a post to my maternal grandmother who would have been 91 today. She passed away 10 days after my daughter was born in 2009, and I’ve missed her every day since.

Her mother was a picture bride from Japan who met her husband for the first time on a dock in Honolulu. Since he passed away shortly after their ninth child was born, my grandmother and her sister had to skip high school in Kona and move to Oahu to work and support the family.

Despite her humble means, she always seemed to have style!

She met my grandfather prior to WWII in Honolulu. The story goes he and his fellow firemen would whistle at her and her friend every day as the two would ride their bicycles past the firehouse to their job as house maids.

One day, my grandma decided to stop.

He loved taking pictures of her (he is still a talented photographer!), and says to this day it was her smile that got him.

They stayed together through the war where my grandfather served in the MIS (Military Intelligence Service) in the Pacific. (Later in life he became the first Japanese-American 2-star Adjutant General, and was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal along with the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regiment last year in Washington D.C. — we and the other families of these great men are so proud and honored!)

She was kind but spirited; devout and tireless to the end; and frugal about everything…yet extravagant when it came to jewelry!

But above all, the kind of woman you’d want to be proud of you — an inspiration for me.

xoxo-EB

Erika Brechtel

Erika Brechtel

Creative Director

Desiring an online space to explore well-rounded, inspired content in all topics she loves most, Erika created 'The E List' (formerly the Small Shop blog) in 2010. When not enjoying an “occasional" glass of wine and wanderlusting for even warmer climates, Erika can be found sharing laughs with friends and family, and trying her very best to keep up with her 6-year old daughter (yet failing miserably).

33 Comments
  1. she is stunning! i just finished a book about picture brides from korea coming to hawaii. (honolulu by by alan brennert)

  2. ooh Erika what an amazing woman! You are so lucky to have had her as your grandmother. The photographs are amazing, and she is so beautiful. I’m sure that knowing you have her blood and genes give you confidence to take on the world! You have quite a legacy 🙂

  3. Oh my gosh I just love this story! Thanks for sharing! It reminds me of the book Honolulu! What a great story! You are so lucky to know their beautiful history!

  4. Love this story! My mom is Korean and I wish I had more photos of her and her family growing up in Korea. I’ve never seen pictures of her parents, so that is wonderful you have so many great family photos! Beautiful!

  5. What a beautiful, personal, touching post! Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman and was absolutely gorgeous. You can see how the good looks and style have lasted through the generations. Thanks for sharing this with us Erika!

  6. Aw, this post is so sweet. She’s beautiful. That first image looks like a painting. I think my favorite is the one of her gazing into your grandpa’s eyes. Such a sweet candid. Totally digging her shoes in the last photo too.

  7. What gorgeous photos, thanks for sharing them. She was very stylish and I can’t believe how the shoes in the last photo are so similar to today’s with the heels and platforms…lol

  8. She was gorgeous!! After spending the day chatting with you this past weekend and learning more about your fam, it is nice to put a face behind the stories. What a wonderful smile she had, and oh her style! I see a lot of her in you. These photos remind me of my grandparents, the style and story. Thank you for sharing her story!

  9. I’ve been following your blog for several months now, and this post really caught my eye. I’m from Hawaii, and my grandpa also served during WWII with the 100th Battalion and 44nd Regiment. He also receive a Congressional Gold Medal right before he passed away earlier this year. This was a beautiful post, and I just had to comment! Love your blog! 🙂

  10. That was a beautiful tribute, E. You have such a rich family history and are lucky to have amazing photos and memories…
    xoxo -e (modern24seven)

  11. That first picture is just beautiful. You should have it restored to take away the rip. Those dogs make her look royal. Thanks for sharing all the beautiful pictures.

  12. I’ve always loved hearing about the special bond between you and your Grandmother, as it reminds me of my own with my wonderful Nana. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her, so of course this sweet post brought me to tears. What a lovely woman your grandmother was and I can tell that she left an amazing legacy for you and your family. What a blessing!