"Thus open the gates of paradise."

In this issue

Akiko Irie

06 Apr 2002

(Two weeks ago)

Grandma Irie, circa I don't know when

Grandma Irie died this afternoon, and even though I knew it was coming, that doesn't mean I know what to say.

Many things, half remembered.

Visits to her house in the west end Toronto when we lived in Don Mills. Her blue couch and turquoise easy chair. A cabinet filled with oviod wooden dolls, each larger than the next. Reading the Saturday comics from the Toronto Star while Dad mowed the lawn. Sometimes I would help with the edging and snapped at everything with a large pair of shears. Somewhere near the house was a small rectangle of grass surrounded by concrete, no more than a foot square. That was my favourite piece to trim.

Sushi rolled on bamboo mats. Miso soup. Things I had never eaten or even smelled before.

Names: Mr. Nishikawa (family friend). Uncle George (died in the early 1970s. I have his bible.) The "Portugese Neighbours" (I'm not sure I ever learned their real names.)

Faces: Grandma had school pictures of her grandchildren in the living room. They were cousins I had never met (not that I remembered anyway), all frozen in grade-school time, eternally youthful strangers with clear eyes.

A Japanese demon mask on the wall with horns, bloodshot eyes, and hair erupting from its mouth. Even though it was just a mask, I have always found it creepy. If I ever come across another in my travels, you can be sure I'll buy it and hang it up in my study. Everyone should have something particularly grotesque in their home.

(Two weeks later)

Grandma Irie's memorial service was last week, and I've got to say -- it's the best time I've had in a long time. Really. I don't remember the last time that many relatives from my father's side have been in one room at the same time. And that's probably because I never see any of them, so what do I know?

See, we moved from city to city a lot before high school (Winnipeg, Princeton, Sarnia), and as most of my father's relatives are in Toronto or Hamilton, we didn't see them much as I was growing up. And being a myopic snotty kid, I didn't have a lot of interest, apart from the cards and loot I might recieve in the mail come Christmas.

But here they all were -- names from my childhood, in the flesh. And what do you know? They're kind of fun! And lively. And while most of us knew only a handful of the others, before the afternoon was out, there was nothing but laughing and delight throughout the room.

Everyone asked after my father who lives in Calgary, and who did not attend. "Why didn't he come?" they asked. If you know my dad, you understand why instinctively, though putting it into words is bothersome. I asked his childhood pal George (who was also at the service) if he could come up some easy explanation. "He's an eccentric." Perfect. I've always wanted an eccentric in the family.

In conversation with my Auntie Eiko:

Eiko: What do you do when you're not at work?
Me: I go to a lot of movies.
Eiko: (Dismissively) Oh...
Me: And I'm going to Egypt in the fall.
Eiko: Ah! There it is! I've been all over there. Greece. The Holy Land. It's great.

And we talk about all the places she's travelled to for the next little while.

Naiomi is one of Eiko's daughters. I mention to her that I'm learning to read Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Naiomi: Why? Just for fun?
Me: Yup.
Naiomi: I worked at the "Egypt In The Age Of The Pyramids" show at the ROM this year. Did you see it?
Me: A couple of times. Do you know Gayle?
Naiomi: Gayle?
Me: Gibson?
Naiomi: Long hair? Kind of hippie? Yeah!

Who knew I'd have so much in common with a bunch of strangers?