They were safe. Nelson's mother, Masako Nagashima, rode out the 9.0-magnitude quake in the family's suburban Tokyo home.
Thursday morning, Nelson's 68-year-old mother was in the gym at Highland Elementary School. Her granddaughter Mia, 7, is in second grade at the Lake Stevens school. Nagashima watched as class after class filed into the gym for an assembly. Several classes from Sunnycrest Elementary joined the group.
In the middle of the gym, with children seated on the floor around it, was a tall object shrouded in cloth. When Principal Matt Pewitt introduced Nelson, she removed the cloth and ended the suspense.
A collective gasp could be heard when children saw the unveiling of 1,000 paper cranes. Most all the students had a hand in creating the folded origami birds. For the assembly, they were gathered into 10 strings of 100 cranes each.
In the symbolism of origami, a crane represents good luck, happiness and peace.
"Can you believe one of your cranes is in there?" Nelson asked her audience. "Each crane is a wish."
Over the past month, Nelson visited Highland classrooms to teach the art of origami. At nearby Sunnycrest, three more classes took part. Nelson, a Tokyo native, promised students that their colorful cranes would be given to children in Japan.
Poems and letters written by students were read at the program, including this verse by 10-year-old Emma DeFrang: "Across the ocean these cranes will fly, 1,000 cranes with wings spread wide are carrying good luck to you."
Paper cranes can't wing their way across the Pacific. The Port of Everett has stepped in to make sure the promise is kept.
Lisa Lefeber, the port's public affairs administrator, and port Commissioner Michael Hoffman attended the assembly. Lefeber said the Port of Everett has a trade representative in Tokyo, and the cranes will be sent by UPS to him. He'll make certain the cranes are delivered to a school in Ishinomaki, a port city with a relationship to the port here.
A week after the earthquake and tsunami hit, Port of Everett Director John Mohr wrote a piece published on the agency's website expressing sadness and concern for the people of Japan. Mohr said that most of the Port of Everett's Japanese trading partner cities were not greatly damaged by the quake. He added, though, that Ishinomaki, Everett's partner port, is close to the quake's epicenter.
After Thursday's assembly, Lefeber said the cranes would first be delivered to the mayor of Ishinomaki, and would eventually go to the city's surviving schoolchildren.
The port's relationship with Ishinomaki is a cultural bond that began in 1994. The friendship was born of similarities between the cities, including the legacy of commercial fishing, Lefeber said. Each summer, students from Ishinomaki come to here to study at the Nippon Business Institute Japanese Cultural Center at Everett Community College, she said, adding that they visit the port.
In Highland's gym, Nelson praised the children's tenacity in mastering paper folding. "Some of you cried. Some of you loved it," she said.
Her mother, who speaks little English, sat quietly during the assembly. Nagashima has been here a week, and plans to return to Japan on Tuesday. "Right before she left, aftershocks were happening almost every hour. There were magnitude-5 quakes two days in a row," Nelson said.
Here, she said, her mother has slept peacefully.
Pewitt, Highland's principal, said the crane project was a nice way for young children to connect to the people of Japan. The extent of loss there is overwhelming for all of us.
According to a report today on The Japan Times website, an elementary school in Ishinomaki reopened this week -- even though 74 of its 108 students were either killed in the quake and tsunami or are missing.
Best wishes from small hands are on their way.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
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