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From Vancouver's Powell St. to Toronto: Kay Mende’s Remarkable Life

Part 6: Reunions, Redress, & Retirement

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In the eighties and nineties, there were many reunions for the war years’ relocation centres and pre-war Japanese School classes. At one of the earlier Lemon Creek Reunions, we four Usami sisters were bold enough to perform on stage a dance with original choreography by Hayako-san, our instructor in pre-war days - “Tabigasa-Dochu”. Years later at another reunion, we four did “Shanghai-Dayori”, another creation of Hayako-san.

There were many Japanese School reunions. The first one I was involved in was for the three final official classes of ’39 Keiyu, ’40 Taiwa, and our ’41 Futaba, the KFT Reunion, in September 1982 at Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (Toronto). In 1991, we had our own 50th Anniversary Reunion at the Valhalla Inn, with a few former students from Japan attending. There was a huge one held in Vancouver in 1986, at the time of Expo where so many gathered. Here, I also did odori in which Pat Kusano (Kinoshita) was one of the performers.

In 1988, when the Canadian Government made the redress movement of the Japanese Canadians official and we were celebrating, we had our personal reunion with Rev. Findlay who had officiated at our wedding so many years ago. It was so nostalgic (although I doubt he remembered us as he married so many Japanese-Canadians back then and we were not part of his regular congregation back then).

I was back at work at RCA and moved with them when the company relocated to Mississauga; there were so many changes in the structure of the company. I stayed with the company until I retired on December 31, 1990. Ron had retired before me, being a few years older, kind of kept house for me while I was still working.

After my retirement, Ron and I enjoyed some activities - one was taking ballroom dancing with other Japanese retirees, doing line-dancing which was popular at that time. Ron went golfing with his friends. I joined an aqua-fit class doing exercises in the pool. I actually wanted to learn how to swim but it was too difficult to learn so late in my life. We did not travel much – Ron said one city is much the same as another. He enjoyed going to Vegas to the casinos though, way before we had them in Canada.

The boys planned an elaborate surprise Fortieth Wedding Anniversary Party at the JCCC, inviting many friends and relatives. Fred was in Japan at that time so could not attend, but sent us a congratulatory message with gifts for both of us. Bob came back to Toronto for the celebration and played the cello. The theme of the party was “tropical islands”, so the guests came in Hawaiian outfits, played games, and danced. We had a wonderful time - our original attendants were able to join us (except for Ron’s sister Sets who lived in Los Angeles). The feast was catered by Mrs. Ryoji, with some of my own trays of sushi I unknowingly prepared for our ‘surprise’ party. Maybe they had a premonition that we wouldn’t make it to our 50th (which happened to be correct since Ron passed away in 1999, 1 year before our 50th). With many generous gifts from friends and relatives, Ron and I planned to go on a cruise. (The boys specifically vetoed a trip to Las Vegas, which was Ron’s favourite vacation spot!)

It was a wonderful cruise – we stopped at Grand Cayman Island, Jamaica, and took a short side trip to Mexico. Our friends, the Shimada’s, who joined us on the cruise were good company. Barbara and I performed a Japanese dance, participated in the costume contest and won a prize. The Shimadas are wonderful dancers and people enjoyed watching them. We took part in line dancing and there was a casino on board.

After we returned to Tampa Bay, we visited Ron’s boss/friend who had a winter home in Florida. We also took a side trip to Disney World. It was a trip to remember.

When John got engaged and married Cindy in 1996, Ron was so happy that he acquired a “daughter”. What I regret is that Ron did not get to know his grandchildren who were born after he was gone.

The very last holiday trip with Ron was to Hawaii with a group of friends and relatives in January of 1999. We have never been to the Islands before and we enjoyed the trip although Ron was slowing down somewhat. Looking back now, I realize he must not have been in the best of health. After returning to Toronto, he used to look through the picture album I made up with snapshots of the trip so many times. It must have been a memorable trip for him.

Around the second weekend in March, Ron complained of chest pains so I took him to North York General Hospital on Monday morning where he was confined for a few days. After a thorough examination, I was told he needed to be operated on immediately as he had a tear in his aorta, a very grave situation. I was informed by the physician that the chance of his recovery was not good, which he did not know. Ron told me to tell Doug and John not to visit him at the hospital because he would be going home in a few days. He did not know how serious his condition was. He went into the operating room with a great big smile, the last I saw of him. The surgeon came out to see me after an interval, and informed me that Ron was brain dead.

Cindy was able to track Doug and John down for me, and they came down to the hospital, knowing the dire situation. Ron was in a coma. In the meantime Bob was able to get a flight out of New Mexico and was in time to see his dad, though comatose. However, Fred was unable to make it in time, having arrived from Tokyo just a few hours after he was gone.

A few years later, Eiki accompanied his mother for a trip to Canada, starting in B.C. at Akio’s, then staying with us for a couple of days. She enjoyed the trip meeting her relatives; Ron would have been so happy to see her again. Fred was in Toronto at that time and we drove to Niagara Falls. She went back to Japan with happy memories.

I have been widowed now for over twenty years. During this time I have gained three grandchildren, Emily and Colin, the twins, born in October 2001, and Justin the youngest born May 2006. I have lost our eldest son, Doug, in June 2016, who succumbed to his chronic lung ailment. I suffered a stroke the following year. If Fred had not come back to Toronto (from Japan) to look after me in my old age as a gesture of oyakoko (filial devotion), I don’t know what would have become of me. He does all the cooking, shopping, laundry, errands, driving me to the doctors/labs, etc. I am glad that I am at least able to look after my personal needs, and my mental capacity has not deteriorated noticeably (if I could use my stubbornness as a barometer!)

Thumbing through old photo albums, I come to understand how much we owe our siblings, in-laws, relatives, for their thoughtfulness and generosity. Ron did not enjoy driving long distances, so they included us in so many trips, parties, get-togethers, etc. I have gone across Canada and the United States visiting so many famous places thanks to the Takagis and the Nagatas.

Stoney and Betty with Carolyn and Gary had included me on their family trip to Los Angeles – we landed in San Francisco, visited Japan Town, had a feast at Fisherman’s Wharf, rode the Cable Car and Stoney drove down the coast to Los Angeles visiting Pebble Beach, Hearst Castle, and ended our trip in Los Angeles where the Japanese festival was being held at the time with parades.

When Ron was in the hospital, Stoney said to him that when he gets out, he will take him to wherever he wishes to go. I will never forget that remark. I am of the opinion that Stoney bought his mini-van to accommodate all of us on so many trips.

Our generation could not “set the world on fire” (some managed) but the younger generation seems to be doing so much better. Unlike us, they were able to grasp at opportunities when they came their way and utilized them to their own advantages.


© 2021 Kay Mende

Canada community Japanese Canadian retirement reunion vacation

About this series

Katsuyo "Kay" Mende, a Canadian-Nisei, was born in Vancouver, B.C. on July 3, 1926. She wrote an account of her childhood and adolescence in Vancouver, British Columbia and paints a vivid picture of the plight of many Japanese-Canadian families during pre-World War II Canada and the injustices of the internment years. Her story is a testament to the courage and strength that she, her family, and her community summoned to overcome the oppression of those times.

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