We have taken to calling them Salon Sundays. These are the Sunday afternoon events that include the Writing for Social Change reading series and special events like the launch of Joy Kogawa: Essays on Her Work which took place on November 20th. Edited by Sheena Wilson and published by Guernica Press, the collection of essays is written by scholars for the most part, but includes a wonderful piece by Ann-Marie Metten which documents the community effort that saved Kogawa House from demolition.
This is first-hand cultural history as it is rarely written, describing how quirks of fate, and pie-in-the-sky determination sometimes get unlikely things to happen. It’s the story of an idea taking hold, moving a network of people to raise the funds to buy the house, but also unleashing the energy to turn the aging Vancouver Special in something that is truly special — Kogawa House. Ann-Marie who lives around the corner was an early supporter and now executive director.
As I travel around the neighbourhood, I have conversations with people about the House. At the TD Canada Trust on the corner and the Marpole Public Library down the street I put up posters and chat to the tellers and librarians. Many know the House is there but have not been to any of the events. Ann-Marie comes up with an idea — well, actually an easel which makes an excellent bulletin board with a few adaptations: a thick plastic sleeve to protect the posters from the rain, and a couple of industrial strength clips to secure it. This contraption we set up on the sidewalk under the cedar tree.
At first I worried it would be stolen. Then I started checking in on it every so often just to see who might have stopped to look. That led to more serendipitous conversations. And the odd knock at the front door, and a request for a visit.
The best day for meeting neighbours, and my absolute favourite duty as writer -in-residence, was Hallowe’en. Ann-Marie arrived on the doorstep around 5pm with a little pumpkin, candle inside, sporting a vicious smile. She even supplied the bag full of candy. I expected some trick-or-treaters would know about the House, or the ailing cherry tree in the back lane. But I discovered most of them did! “Yes, Naomi’s Tree lives here.” Older ones knew about Obasan.
And the cherry tree? Last Spring, volunteers orchestrated a yarn bombing, and with the help of the Fire Department’s hook and ladder truck affixed its branches with an array of permanent woollen blossoms. The tree seems to be improving, and it’s now in bloom year round.