Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saying Goodbye

Ken's Grandpa passed away this afternoon.  He was 93 years old.

Before the second World War, Tak (short for Takashi - this side of Ken's family is Japanese), was married and living on the West coast of Canada.  The family had money, land, and cars during the Depression, when most people were just scraping by.  Their wealth came from farming.

Then, in 1942, the Canadian government forcibly relocated all citizens of Japanese background from British Columbia to internment camps in the prairie provinces.  You can read here about the horrible conditions they endured.   All of the family's wealth and property were stolen by the government.

Tak and his wife spent years in the camp.  Ken's mother was born there, and grew up in those conditions until she was five years old.

Finally, the government released the Japanese-Canadians.   As he left, Tak was given $ 5.00 by government officials.  This was the only material wealth he had left in the world.

Tak moved his family to Montreal, where he apprenticed at an autobody shop.  Once he learned how to fix cars, he moved to Toronto, where he set up his own garage in Chinatown.  He built up his business by fixing the taxi cabs of Jewish drivers.  At that time, due to intolerance, the Jewish cab drivers had a lot of trouble finding anyone to fix their cabs.  It was a good partnership, and Tak developed a special affection for the Jewish community.

Tak did well, and was able to buy a large home for himself and his family in Willowdale, a well-to-do area north of Chinatown.  He was still living in this home when I first met him, seven years ago.

At 86, Tak was still himself, if a little deaf.  He always wore a button-down shirt with his signature bolo tie.  He was gruff, tough, and serious.   He kept a vegetable garden on his Willowdale property, and, true to his farming roots, he had no mercy for theiving pests.  He used to trap squirrels in a wire box, and then put the box into a big tub of water, as Ken tells it, "until the bubbles stopped".  Sentimental, he was not.

In his prime, Tak was a force to be reckonned with.  However, he started his downward trajectory not long after I met him.  His wife passed away.  His mind started to go.  He got his a.m.'s and his p.m.'s mixed up, and would show up at Ken's mother's house at six o'clock in the morning, expecting to join the family for dinner.   The decision was made to put him into a nursing home.

For one and a half years, while Tak was still able-bodied enough to walk on his own, and get in and out of a car, Ken and I took him out for lunch every Sunday.  Usually we went to Chinatown.  Sometimes, for fun, we'd go somewhere different.  Like the time we took him for Indian food.  There was rice on his plate like usual; he didn't understand why he couldn't have chopsticks.  I think the curries were a little too spicy for him.  At one point he reached for his water glass, then hesitated and asked me quietly:

"Is the water hot?"

Poor guy.  If a place was weird enough to serve rice without chopsticks, then maybe they had spicy water too!  I suppose it did make sense.

As Tak got more frail he required more and more babying.  I wiped his nose, which seemed to run perpetually.  One time, when the home forgot to put a belt on him, I walked next to him with my hands through his belt loops, holding up his pants.  That was after they'd fallen all the way down to his knees.  Let me tell you, the man had a very smooth behind!  Not a trace of cellulite.  I was impressed.

Tak had a fight with pneumonia, from which he never fully recovered.  After that he was wheelchair-bound.  We still went to visit him frequently, in the nursing home.  We took turns feeding him his lunch.  I liked feeding Tak.  He had a good appetite.

When Tak spoke coherently, it was always about his plans to escape from the nursing home.   He had cooked up a grand scheme for getting out and travelling to California.  If I wheeled his chair to face a window, he'd always ask if he could get out that way.  He confided in Ken the most important element of his plan:

"You gotta have a man on the outside!"

Well, this afternoon Tak finally escaped from the nursing home, the only way he could.  It was his time to go.  Ken will miss him very much, but is also happy for his grandpa, now gone to a better place.

We'll miss you, Tak.  Enjoy your freedom!


Warped Mind of Ron said...

I feel like I know Tak just a little bit from your words. He led a long life and eventually we will all take that final journey to reunite with those who have gone before us. I will send out good thoughts for those that grieve and for Tak in a better place.

Leighann said...

What a wonderful tribute to Tak. We are all now much richer knowing a little bit about a great man.

I'm sending good thoughts your way.

Karen said...

So sorry for your loss and Ken's loss, but you did a lovely tribute to Tak. I hope he is in his own version of Cali right now.

Sparkling Red said...

Thank you all so far for your kind comments. Ken will be reading these, so don't be shy to write from your heart. I know he'll appreciate the suport, and knowing that his grandpa's life is being well-received. :-)

Nilsa said...

I got a little tear in my eye as I read this. It was a really wonderful tribute. Tak seems like a guy everyone would want to know.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me a lot of my nonna.

Nicole said...

He must have been a great man!
So much that went on in his Life!
Lovely description - thanks!

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Hi guys this is Ken. I'd like to thank you for your kind words. I am very touched and glad that you have gotten to know my grandfather a little through this blog post.

God Bless

desi said...

What a nice goodbye.

jameil1922 said...

love this story. rock out w/your freedom, tak!

Aurora said...

What a lovely piece for saying goodbye. I'm really sorry to hear about his death. Ken will really miss him and so will you. It's good that Tak will be at rest though.