This is one of the entries of short anecdotes about writer Sally Ito’s late Nisei great aunt. This one deals with dispossession, but not your usual possessions.
You can read all forty stories at http://cowbird.com/grdvph/stories/chronological/
1500 Chickens By Sally Ito
“By the time the war started, [the family] were forced to walk away from all this, including 1500 chickens.”
In the late 1990’s, my great aunt was asked to contribute something about her family to a book that was going to be self-published about the Japanese Canadian community in pre-war Surrey. The book was titled “Who was Who: Pioneer Japanese Families in Delta and Surrey” by Michael Hoshiko.
I dug up that book recently and read the above sentence in it. The line struck me as awkwardly constructed and comic at the same time. 1500 chickens? That’s a LOT of chickens to walk away from. But let me give you the rest of that story to set the sentence in its context. By the early 40’s, the Itos were well entrenched in their livelihoods as farmers in Surrey. The family owned 80 acres of land where they raised chickens, grew strawberries and rhubarb. My great aunt was married at the time to her first husband, her brother was also married, with a child, and her sister (my grandmother) also lived there, with her husband and brood of five boys. My great aunt’s parents also resided with their son’s family. They had a good operation going as farmers. The chickens were clearly a part of that business.
My great aunt told me about losing the chickens. This was one occurrence that really bothered her and stayed with her for a long time. The family had just purchased a bunch of chicks to raise when the war broke out. When the evacuation order went out, and it was clear that all the Japanese Canadians were to be moved out of the area, my aunt recalled the chick-seller coming back to their place and taking all the chicks back, even though they’d paid for the whole lot. She painted a vivid picture of the man coming back in his truck just days after the chicks had been dropped off and loading them back up. By this time, I believe the men in the family were gone, sent to road camp in the Rockies – it may have just been my great aunt and my grandmother now left on the farm with the five boys. I know they stayed as long as they could until the RCMP finally came for them to take them to Hastings Park. I can imagine them standing there – the two women, the boys – just staring poker-faced at this man loading up the cages and cages of chicks, until they were all stacked and chirping in the back of the truck. What the two women must have felt then! Helpless and angry. But also resigned. Shikata ga nai. It couldn’t be helped. The world was at war. They were the enemy and injustice was their lot.