Thrift store shopping can be a wonderful pastime with the added benefit of bringing home some really cool treasures, clothing, and other bits and bobs. The best part is that you don’t end up paying an arm and a leg for these mostly pre-loved items. It must cross every person’s mind what the history of the item could possibly be. But for Shannon, one special item’s history rocked her world.
Shannon Hiramoto is from Kauai and one of her pastimes was scouring thrift stores for vintage muumuu’s, a particular style of dress that was comfortable as well as flattering. “So I’m always hunting for muumuu’s, that’s my hobby, vintage ones,” she explains. So when she came across a Salvation Army in Lihue that had a whole rack of them hanging right there for her perusal, she gleefully began sifting through them. What she found would leave her floored.
She picked up a dress from the selection. It seemed oddly familiar but she couldn’t place where she might have seen something like it before. She held it to herself and admired its shorter length, then looked closer at the flowery pattern on the pink material. It had a lovely V-neck embellished with frills. She would soon discover that there was more to it then meets the eye.
“I saw this beautiful muumuu right here, and I’m like, ooh, a mini one, because you know it’s always fun finding a shorter one,” she divulged to a local television station. But it was only when she looked closer that she began to get a sense that this dress was more than what it seemed.
Shannon looked at the Liberty House tag attached and was immediately struck by what was on it. On the tag, something was written in faded permanent marker. Shannon didn’t hesitate for a moment. She snatched up the garment before anyone else might spot her find and made her way straight to the checkout counter to purchase it. She needed to know more.
Shannon had a powerful hunch that the writing on the muumuu meant something – but could it really be a sign from above? What were the chances of finding a message meant just for her in a thrift store? Her heart skipped a beat when she read the word again. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to remember.
In her mind’s eye, she saw her slowly come into focus. A lady in vibrant pink, filled with a love for life and an indomitable spirit. The woman smiled knowingly at Shannon. She had lived to the ripe old age of 108 – and she had an important message for her. Little did Shannon know, finding this dress would be one of the most important moments of her life.
Shannon knew the truth – she knew it in her heart. But she needed proof before she made a fool of herself. She didn’t even dare to think that she was right until she had found more evidence. There was a family secret here, and she needed to find it. And the implications would be huge.
That one word that was written on the dress’ label had sent a shiver through Shannon. She went straight home with her suspicions hurrying her steps. Her mother was at home and she desperately needed her opinion on the item she had found. Perhaps together they could solve the mystery. When she showed it to her mother, she went as white as a ghost.
Shannon’s mother gaped as she looked from her daughter and back to the dress. The word written on the label had hit her like a ton of bricks. Every emotion played across her face, from heartbreak to elation. The feelings bubbled up and up until she was left shaking with incredulity. Shannon had never expected one word to shatter her mother so. But it wasn’t just any random word, it was a name.
The name written on the label was spelled “Kamei”, and obviously written by the owner of the garment. Shannon felt tingles run up and down her spine, giving her goose-bumps all over as she saw the recognition dawn on her mother’s face. There aren’t many people with that name, she knew. In fact, she had only even known of one person.
Shannon’s mother listened to her story, dumbstruck. Then, when she had recovered, she examined the muumuu thoroughly. She nodded in agreement. Shannon could very well be right about the previous owner of the cute little dress. Her mother went to retrieve, of all things, family photo albums. They began to go through each photo one by one, and Shannon held her breath with each flip of the page.
It was a weird place to start, but they were almost certain they would find the answer among these old photos. But they lost all hope when they finally came to the end of the albums and there were no photos left. Shannon felt defeated and no closer to solving the mystery. Now, she may never know if her gut feeling was right. But, secretly, her mother kept searching…
Shannon had given up on her wild idea. She had taken an entire day to look through the old photo albums with her mother, but they had found nothing. It was far-fetched, she knew. But still, she had expected to find something that would prove her right. Then, she got the message from her mother that made her heart leap into her throat.
It was a few days after Shannon had brought the gorgeous muumuu home when she got a text from her mother. “And it’s this, and it’s her. It’s a full-body shot and I was just so excited! My mom said it was the last photo in the last album she looked at.” Now Shannon knew for sure. This particular muumuu had in fact belonged to her great grandmother all those years ago!
“But it also had handwritten Kamei on it and it blew my mind because that’s my great grandmother’s name. Her last name.” Her great-grandmother’s name was Florence Shizuko Kamei, and she had been born in Kekaha back in 1904. The coincidence was mind-blowing. Shannon could hardly believe it. But, what was her message to Shannon?
Shannon said, “One of her legacies is that when she passed she was the oldest person in Hawaii at age 108! When she died they announced it on the radio and news!” Shannon remembers her great-grandmother divulging her secret – and how she had managed to live such a long and happy life. The answer was simple…
“Green tea and hobbies,” she remembers her grandmother telling her. But Shannon’s family remembers more. She used to love wearing flowing dresses and there was always a smile playing around her lips if she wasn’t laughing. A happy woman, great-grandmother Kamei was often found singing in the church choir and playing her ukulele. She had a passion for life, dancing, and great food shared with friend and family.
Great grandmother Kamei was such an inspiration to Shannon that she even gave her own daughter the name Kamei as a middle name. She must have known something because even though the name means “Quiet child” when translated from Japanese, neither her daughter nor her grandmother had quiet personalities.
Shannon had searched her memories for this particular dress over the last few days, and she seemed to remember Kamei actually wearing it, but even she admits “It seemed familiar, but in this memory way.” Even now, she wasn’t one hundred percent sure if it was a true memory or if she just wanted it to be one.
“I just knew that she [her great-grand mother] always liked to wear muumuu that had pink or purple or red,” Shannon remembers. And amazingly, she also remembers where that exact picture of her great grandmother was taken. It seemed a fitting place that the last photo in the last album would also be of her last resting place.
Her great-grandmother was posing wearing that very muumuu in a historic county called Hanapepe. She was smiling in front of her church, the United Church of Christ. “What’s really special about it is she’s there,” Shannon said. “Her ashes, her remains are in the back of the church there, so it was like visiting her again.”
Shannon decided to honor her memory by going back to the church that was such a part of her life and pose for a picture. Of course, she also wore the special muumuu that had come full circle and come back to the family. And not just any member, but the muumuu loving great-granddaughter.
It has since been five years since Kamei passed away, “She passed five years ago, so, I have no idea where it had been between that point and now.” And what does Shannon think about finding the dress after all that time? Quite simply put… “It’s magic!”
She believes the reason for the dress coming into her life has more meaning than simple coincidence. Shannon knows that it’s a message from her elder. “I think it’s just her way of telling me I’m on the right track.”
“I’ve come full circle and feel like she is smiling down on me or at least giggling,” Shannon confides. And she is set on the dress living on in her family as a memory and an heirloom by passing the dress on to her daughter when she is old enough to wear it. It’s incredible to think about the serendipity of finding such a family treasure in a thrift store.