In very sad news, Pat Masumoto, one of Maui’s greatest artistic treasures, passed away this weekend. Her cause of death hasn’t yet been reported, but it apparently occurred sometime around Friday, Jan. 22, according to her Facebook page, which filled with tributes over the weekend.
I last saw Masumoto perform in 2015 during a One Night Only (ONO) show at the Iao Theater. It was just a bunch of local creative people going onstage and read from their favorite books. Masumoto chose Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but she didn’t just read from the book–she transformed into a Russian prince, full of magnificent bombast and flourish. Whether you were watching her perform, listening to her words or seeing the color and splendor she gathered at her old Gallerie Ha in Wailuku, you knew you were experiencing something special.
Here’s an excerpt from Anu Yagi’s Apr. 28, 2011 story “Mama Drama,” on Masumoto’s My Mama Monologues, which (of course) sprang from Masumoto’s relationship with her own mother, affectionately known as Grandma Florence. Given Grandma Florence’s age at the time of writing (she passed away at the age of 105 in 2014), it was perhaps inevitable that Masumoto’s monologue touches on death. Here, Yagi wonderfully captured Masumoto’s humor, attention to detail, heart and gentle humanity:
Handing me a copy of the very first My Mama monologue titled “She Did Not Die,” Masumoto explains she wrote the piece—and began the show—as a gift for her mother’s 100th birthday in May 2009.
The most dramatic part of the monologue is a description of when Grandma Florence, at age 96, was struck by a truck. “[Her] skin peeled back like an accordion. Her scalp needed to be stapled back on. Entire right ear barely attached.” (Ironically, that’s the ear she seems to hear best with.)
This year, “She Did Not Die” is on hiatus, so I’ve been cleared for spoilers. The punch line to the story’s sad gore (because yes, it’s a comedy) builds off the premise of Grandma Florence’s consummate frugality (she’s a career bookkeeper who only recently retired as “the oldest marriage licensor in America” and who Masumoto writes is “a humanoid adding machine’). At a time when ‘it looked like death warmed over her,” Masumoto concludes:
“Mom’s eyes suddenly opened wide. She stared at me for about five seconds—then came the words, barely audible, ‘Patty. Write this down.’ …What was she going to tell me? Had she left her body and gone to the other side, only to return with an important message? I pressed my ear against her mouth. She gave me Mr. Kawaguchi’s phone number! Then instructed loudly, ‘Please call him. Let him know that I won’t be coming to the Credit Union luncheon on Saturday… Ask him if I can have my five dollars back.’ I almost died laughing! Mom did not—she did not die.”
Click here to read Anu Yagi’s story in its entirety.
Cover design: Chris Skiles