I had to give a eulogy today. It was for the third family member who died this year. Here’s what I said about my cousin, Susan Matsuda from Sacramento:
It’s an honor for me to do this for my cousin Susan, because I always felt like she was a big sister, looking out for me.
Susan Emiko Matsuda was born in Sacramento on June 9, 1953. She was the daughter of Mitsugu and Frances Matsuda, and she had an older brother Victor.
Her parents ran grocery stores, and Susan grew up working in them, including Big Buy Market in downtown Sacramento. In high school, she was on the yearbook committee, the rally club, and the Asian club.
She went to the University of Pacific and got a doctorate in pharmacology. She worked at the Raley’s pharmacy chain for 32 years. She got along well with her parents, so well, in fact, that she lived with them.
I got to know her well early on. She helped take care of us when we were little. My brother and I spent a summer painting the inside of the Matsuda house. And we spent another summer painting the outside. She always showed us she cared by making something for us to eat or taking us out to Wakanoura for dinner. In high school, I worked at Big Buy Market as a clerk.
Uncle Mat never hesitated to point out when something needed to get done. But Susan came in on Saturday and always made sure that I had a big sandwich for lunch and plenty of snacks. The Matsudas made the best sandwiches, and they favored afternoon snacks like hot dogs with teriyaki sauce. During our lunch breaks, Susan and I sat in the back and watched Abbott & Costello, or the Three Stooges.
She showed her kindness in tangible ways. She showed me how to take precise phone orders from a woman named Dorothy, and we delivered groceries to her once a week. Dorothy couldn’t walk so well, so Susan and her dad always made it a point to make sure we got Dorothy everything she wanted. It took a lot of time, and we did this every single week.
Susan had a fun personality, and that was reflected in the things she collected. She had huge piles of collectibles in her house.
She loved Peanuts, Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, penguins, her stuffed otter Cecil, and her little stuffed hippo Humphrey. She called her Dad “Henry” after the bald comic strip character.
She also collected a lot of friends, and she had nicknames for everybody. Her parents were very social people, and they were leaders in their community. Susan thrived in this environment.
Like her parents, she loved to entertain. She cooked giant feasts during the holidays. She specialized in dishes like prime rib, Turkey, taquitos (which she called cigars), guacamole, sushi, and just about anything gourmet. Her brother Victor picked up a cookbook for Susan wherever he went.
Susan was a lot older than I was, but she never really tried to be a parent. Susan always had a lot of help in the kitchen. But she had this way of convincing you that this was your idea to help and it was going to be a lot of fun. She had a very big heart, and she showed her appreciation and love with good food.
When she wasn’t cooking, she was going out to dinner with her family or friends. She went to the same places a lot, and she always got to know the restaurant owners or the staff. It was always fun, whether it was an outing to Wakanoura or the very pricey steakhouse at Thunder Valley Casino.
She also ran a part-time catering business, Just the Two of Us, with her friend Eileen Thornton. For their first gig, they had to cater a dinner for a 40th birthday party with at least 50 guests. They made lots of vegan dishes. She was also working on a cookbook for a long time, and it remains unfinished. You have to love cooking to do all this.
This is why it was always a little stressful cooking for Susan. We made her breakfast recently and I made hash browns.
I showed them to her and she made a funny face. “What are those?” she said. “Hash browns,” I said. Then I admitted, “OK, they’re more like hash blacks.”
Susan’s mother Frances died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Susan spent much of her time taking care of her mother. And then, not long after Frances died, Susan also became ill. Life is cruel that way. The man who brought her oxygen for nearly three years told me about how nice she was to him. She made him lunch when he brought over the tanks, and she talked to him about where he went out to eat. He appreciated his time with her.
I was glad to have one last chance to cook a meal. I wrote a story where I interviewed celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey about his chef game. He talked about his recipe for scrambled eggs, and then mentioned it was a video on YouTube. The video has 15 million views. I sent the picture of me and Gordon to Susan, and she asked me to make those eggs for her.
So I went to Sacramento. I bought the ingredients like creme fraiche, and made a few batches. By the third one, I was ready to share it with her. I gave it to her as she lay in bed, and she ate it all. Thanks Den Chan, she said.
She passed away at the age of 62 on April 2, 2016, after a long illness. She is survived by cousins in the Matsuda, Takahashi, Wakabayashi, and Tanaka families. Rest in peace, Susan. She was the little sister for Victor, but she was the big sister for all of us.