Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Aunt Dorothy

My Aunt Akiko Dorothy Nakamachi passed away a few weeks ago. She wasn’t really my aunt, but 40 years ago my best friend Koji generously shared his aunt with me.

Over the years I grew to love and admire this woman. She was intelligent, witty and in the words of my younger brother, “really cool”. Paolo considered her cool because as a single woman she had travelled all over the world, twice going to Africa. That alone made her cool in Paolo’s eyes.

Aunt Dorothy’s life was one worthy of an epic novel. Born and raised in Vancouver, she fought Japanese racism to graduate as a registered nurse from St. Paul’s Hospital, after the Bishop interceded to get her admitted. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbour, she was interned in the B.C. interior at Greenwood internment camp, where she was the only nurse treating over 4,000 Japanese detainees. Many of the detainees had contracted T.B. and eventually so did Aunt Dorothy. She was transferred to a hospital and had a lung removed.

After the war the Japanese were not allowed to return to B.C. so she moved to Toronto. She entered the University of Toronto, where she earned an additional nursing degree and then worked as a Public Health nurse until her retirement.

Years later when the conservative government formally apologized to the Japanese who were interned, each of them was awarded $21,000 as a redress settlement. My Aunt Dorothy took that money and promptly bought herself a full length mink coat and hat.

Aunt Dorothy never married but I learned that she remained ever the romantic. I discovered that she and I shared a love for Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It gave me joy to be able to gift her with BBC videos of both, which I know she treasured.

In her last year she sent me a gift via Koji. It was a lovely damascene brooch she bought on one of her many trips to Japan. The brooch, made of iron or steel with interlacings of silver and gold, depicts a pagoda and the ever present Mount Fuji. I wore it over my heart at her funeral.

Since her passing, Koji has been going through Aunt Dorothy’s things and distributing them to family members. He gave me 16 English bone china tea cups and saucers that speak to me of my Aunt Dorothy’s grace and elegance, and of course of her love of tea. He also asked if I would like a statue of the Virgin Mary that St Paul’s hospital gave her at her graduation in 1940. I told him I would be honoured to receive it and to find a suitable place for it in my home office.

My Aunt Dorothy passed away in her sleep, just short of her 92nd birthday. I hope when I grow up that I’ll be just like her; intelligent, witty, strong, romantic and of course “really cool”.

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