(Guest Post by Anita Miettunen)
One day, many, many years later when Naomi and Stephen were old, they visited the lovely city by the water’s edge. They found the street where they used to live, and they drove up and down, searching for their first home.
“Maybe it’s gone,” Naomi said. But just at that moment, she looked on the opposite side of the street. And there, set back behind two tall trees, stood the dear old house.
— From Naomi’s Tree by Joy Kogawa
Dear Old House. For the past month, I’ve been privileged to work in the childhood home of Vancouver-born author Joy Kogawa. The quiet and serenity of Historic Joy Kogawa House has given me the time and space to pause and reflect, to conduct research, to gain inspiration and forge ahead on my writing. For this I am grateful.
Located on West 64th Avenue in Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood, in 1942, six-year-old Joy Kogawa and her family were forcibly removed from this house. It was the time of WWII, when thousands of Japanese Canadians on the West Coast were unjustly relocated to internment camps in the BC interior. Years later, Joy Kogawa became one of Canada’s most acclaimed authors, writing many books for adults and children, including the powerful novel, Obasan. Her two fiction books for younger children, Naomi’s Road (a chapter book) and Naomi’s Tree (a picture book) each draw from her wartime experiences. At the end of both stories, when the protagonist Naomi becomes an elderly woman, she finally meets the dear old house again along with its beloved cherry tree. Something she’d longed for since her childhood.
Dear Old House. You were already a friend to me from past years’ workshops and writing meetings, when I arrived on the first of September, under a full moon, panniers overflowing with books and supplies, sweat trickling down my back from cycling along the Arbutus Greenway to Marpole in the late summer heat. When I saw you tucked beneath the tall trees that night, it felt humbling and exciting to think you’d be my home for a month.
Over the weeks, I learned some more about you. Your solid wooden walls, built in 1912, held me warmly. When the endless days of climate fire smoke engulfed our city, you sheltered me. When the sweeping rains came next, pummelling down in torrents, you kept me dry. I wrote and wrote and wrote in Joy Kogawa’s childhood bedroom and from the window, I looked out upon an old cherry tree. Sometimes, hummingbirds glided past and I smiled.
There were sunny days too and while we stayed safely apart at Historic Joy Kogawa House, community was built. We came together on Zoom for consultations and workshops. We came together in person, six feet apart, for manuscript reviews and book discussions and writing meet-ups. In your lovely heritage rooms, or in your yard and garden with its bubbly, bright dahlias, whether virtually or otherwise, there was laughter, insight, connection, and joy.
Always, Joy was on my mind. Her resilience, her fortitude, her care for reconciliation. Her gift to the world.
Dear Old House. As I finish my residency, my heart brims with gratitude for having had this space and time to think and write. Thank you, and goodbye. You have been good to me.
— Anita Miettunen