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A Eulogy for Mom

My mother, Sumiko ‘Sue’ Ibuki (nee Hayashida) passed away suddenly on June 22, 2011.

I’ve been meaning to write about her life for a while since the stories of our Canadian Nisei are quickly disappearing from the community coffers, as well, so, I hope that you will indulge me if I make some small amends for this at this time.

Mom was born in New Westminister, British Columbia, on September 6, 1934, despite her birth certificate saying “Oct. 6th”. The story is that her father, Tatsukuro, was tardy in registering her so, rather than incur a fine he simply changed her month of birth. Grandfather is listed on mom’s birth certificate as a “fish seller”. I know that he was in the Japanese army at the time of the Russo-Japan War (1904-1905), was the second husband of grandmother, Suemo Hori (her first husband died in an accident on a navy ship). They were from Shimomashiki-gun, Kumamoto-ken.

She spent the years 1942 to 1945 in BC internment camps at Slocan City and Kaslo. While she never spoke bitterly about being interned, my sisters tell me that she never felt at ease about wearing a poppy on Remembrance Day. Even though dad was a member of the Canadian Army, it wasn’t until the federal government apology in 1988 for dispossessing and interning Canada’s Japanese Canadian community in World War Two, that she wore one.

The family moved to 18 Greig Street in Hamilton, Ontario, then into an old dilapidated home at the corner of Cannon and Mary Streets where, Aunt Lorna tells me, the nine of them lived in the two-room apartment that I remember visiting as a boy too. It was so small that the boys slept in the attic. As her father had passed away in Slocan City in 1945, her mother, was left with raising eight kids on her own: Miyoshi “Jean” (Nakatsuji), Hidekazu, Tomiye (Sutherland), Jitsuo, Tatsuye Lorna and the late Noriko, Takeshi and Trixie Misao (Takeda).

Mom took some pride in graduating from Westdale Secondary School and paid for her schooling by waitressing. Mom said that she wanted to be a nurse. She would have been a good one.

And, truly, nothing mattered to her more than the happiness of her kids. She sacrificed everything for us and it still astounds me that mom and dad were able to raise the 4 of us, send all of us on to university, and support us through all of the growing up that we had to do.

Unlike many Nisei, she was as Canadian as anyone I know and never lost pride in her Japanese heritage. She was way ahead of her time in this respect as nowadays we take being openly proud of our ethnic heritage for granted.

I remember growing up and her telling me that she had introduced herself to complete strangers from Japan in local Georgetown or Sault St. Marie, Ontario grocery stores, usually visiting professors or researchers. As such, we all grew up with this powerful influence and connection to Japan.

After living in Sendai and Ibo-gun, Japan for nine years myself, I moved back to Canada in 2004.

Seven years later, today, I am really grateful for the chance to have built a deeper relationship with mom and dad. I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect the family with the Ibuki side of the family in Shiga-ken and to thoroughly explore my “Japaneseness”.

Mom always enjoyed the rural life of Georgetown. After being moved around so much during her childhood, she enjoyed making friends, walking, chatting with the good people there and attending church.

At the funeral service, my sister Lisa told a couple of stories that deeply touched me. Both involved situations where neighborhood kids spat racist slurs at mom. My sister said that mom always had the wherewithal to stay calm. Once she knocked on the door of the neighbor to tell her about what had taken place. Another time, she sat down with the child to eat cookies while explaining why the words are hurtful to Japanese Canadians. If there is one lesson from her life that I can embrace for my own, it is this one.

Even in recent years, when her physical strength diminished, mom was the foundation of the family. Through the decades, even when she was in the throes of another bout of mental illness, it was really her wanting to be back with the family that gave her the strength to recover over and over again. Every time was a small miracle. Mom always believed in the power of prayer and her remarkable life was a testament to this.

Thanks, mom.

© 2011 Norm Ibuki

Canada family internment Japanese Canadian mother nisei