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  • My great aunt died today, sung into her death with hymns. She was 98. Born in Canada to Japanese parents, she grew up first on a cannery in present-day Richmond, and then on a strawberry farm in Surrey. She was the youngest of three children, and outlived her older brother and sister both. Her sister was my grandmother. Despite being separated for a spell during their childhood when my grandmother was sent to Japan to be educated, the sisters were close. Childless, my great aunt effectively helped her sister parent her brood of five boys during the tumultuous wartime years when the Japanese in Canada were considered enemy aliens. Their husbands were taken from their families and sent to road camp in the Rockies. My great aunt and my grandmother were eventually sent to Hastings Park, and then off to the internment centres of Popoff and Lemon Creek respectively. And although my grandmother's family chose repatriation instead of staying in Canada, the sisters stayed in touch through their children -- particularly my father and two of his six brothers who eventually returned to Canada as adults. For those of us in Canada, our great aunt was effectively our grandmother. We visited her Alberta farm during the summers, spent Christmas with her and her husband, made pets of her dogs -- of which she owned many in succession -- and enjoyed the bounty of her cooking and of her extensive garden. For years, she grew strawberries just as her father had on the west coast. When I think of my great aunt now in heaven, I picture a vast strawberry patch, and two straw-hat covered sisters, bending over to pick the brightest crimson rubies of the field, saying to one another, "Ah, how sweet this is!"
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