Today was truly a special day as we visited my Obaasan (grandmother in Japanese) at her apartment at Nikkei Place. It’s always special when we get to spend time with her, but this day was even more special because it was her 102nd birthday!
Tsuya Imoo was born on September 5, 1909. In her lifetime, she has outlived her husband and three sons (including my father Larry). Her family was shipped to Greenwood as part of the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War 2. Sure, she moves very slowly now and she has shrunk a few inches and she has a permanent hunch when both sitting and standing. But she continues to serve as an inspiration for all of us.
There’s never a dull moment when our family goes to visit Obaasan and today was no exception. The fun started before we even got upstairs. We were enjoying a tasty lunch downstairs at Hi Genki restaurant and the topic somehow got to Obaasan’s foot speed (or lack thereof). Acknowledging Sean’s dislike of sprinting. Jake said: “I bet Obaasan could beat you in a 100 metre race, Sean.” While we all cracked up, I actually don’t recall Sean disagreeing.
We entered Obaasan’s room unannounced (like we always do) and she seemed very surprised and excited to see us. Those first few seconds are always a little anxious for us as we never know what she is doing or who she is with. And especially since the time we had to enter her room to tell her that Dad passed away back on October 11, 2004, we are quite deliberate in how we enter and what we say to start off.
“Happy Birthday Obaasan!” we all proclaimed.
“Thank you! Arigato!” she said, not knowing who had just walked into her room.
Once I got within her field of vision, she yelled “Clayton!” and I felt a sense of relief. As strong as she is mentally, physically, and emotionally, she is losing her memory (as should be expected) and often our visits are comprised of us reminding her of facts that we’ve told her at least once before. But recognizing me was indeed a good first step.
“102 years old!” she then said proudly, out-of-nowhere.
“Yes, we know!”
We all greeted her with hugs and kisses and she showed us the greeting she received from the MP of Burnaby-New West (a nice touch). For the next hour or so, we did what we usually do. We took pictures, traded thoughts with the help of her Japanese-English dictionary, and she laughed at the antics of the kids.
It was quite comical: every time we greeted her or talked about how proud and excited we are for her to reach yet another birthday, she would say “102” as to remind us as to just how old she was.
With all the yelling, talking, and laughing it quickly got hot in the apartment, so I opened her balcony door (more on that later).
And no visit would be complete without Obaasan calling Kayla cute (kawaii), Sean big (ookii) and Jacob naughty (yancha)…the latter two with a bit of coaxing from me.
Before we knew it, it was close to 4pm and it was time for Obaasan to prepare for an early dinner. We said our good-byes with the promise to visit again soon.
As we were walking to the van, I remarked that I forgot to close the door to the balcony.
“That’s okay, Dad” Sean answered. “She can close it. But she might turn 103 years old before she gets there.”
I broke out into laughter at Sean’s sarcastic yet witty reply. I didn’t mind it actually, as it spoke less of her slowness and more of the faith and confidence we have that she’ll make it through another year to September 2012, when she’ll celebrate her 103rd birthday!
And my guess is that in Obaasan’s eyes Kayla will still be kawaii, Sean will still be ookii, and Jake will still be yancha.