It’s been a long journey for Sidney author Eileen Hayes who recently won a Cedric Award in the creative non-fiction category for her unpublished work of Silk Sisters, 5 and 6.
The inspiration of her short story was when she met her aunt in 1998, after years of waiting.
“It was really exciting. I couldn’t believe how tiny she was,” she said.
Hayes began her story around 1996 and has been adding to it all along as it unfolded in her quest for her mother’s twin sister, her aunt Ah Ng who is considered number 5; her mother being number 6.
In China in 1916 (when the sisters were born), it was not unusual to number the children, said Hayes. Number 5 and 6 happened to be the order in which the two girls were born.
“So fifth and sixth in the family,” said Hayes.
Hayes’ mother died at age 37 when Hayes was just five years old, leaving her two sisters and one brother.
And so the story came from her curiosity to see if her mother’s twin was still alive. Hayes remembers when she was younger, seeing a colour painting of her mother and aunt, sitting side by side on a bench.
That painting was given to her mother to take to New Zealand and hung above her household piano for years.
Chinese authorities later sent off a black and white photo to Hayes, who had contacted them to help find her aunt. The photo was identical to her mother and aunt’s portrait. It’s also what Hayes’ aunt had in her house and had kept all of these years in China.
“That’s where (the Chinese Embassy) was able to make the connection.”
Through lots of research and the help of the People’s Republic of China’s consulate in Ottawa, they were able to find her aunt, and Hayes was able to find out what village she lived in.
It was 1998 when Hayes was finally able to connect with her aunt in the province of Guangzhou.
“The first time I went they never, she and her daughter, never left my side,” Hayes said. “They kept stroking my arm (her first cousin) and stroking my leg and taking me everywhere with them.”
Hayes returned again in 2000 to visit, bringing her younger sister and brother to meet their aunt.
“It was quite exciting,” she said.
Meeting all the relatives was an emotional moment for Hayes and a story she wanted to get just right.
“I had this burning desire to just get it down on paper. It was important to me.”
That burning desire led Hayes to write of her experiences more than a decade ago. Her work, however, was never published and has been an ongoing project for many years.
Hayes this year entered her story in the inaugural Cedric Literary Awards in Victoria. She earned an honourable mention in the creative non-fiction category.
The awards were for unpublished B.C. writers aged 50 or better and were judged from among more than 125 entries.
“It was very nice to be recognized because you work hard at these pieces of work and … you’re not recognized for them so it felt very nice.”
Silk Sisters, 5 and 6, which Hayes finished this past summer, is not yet available to the public. She is considering submitting it to a literary contest in New Zealand.
Hayes is semi-retired and working as a teacher on call for School District 63 (Saanich) in the French program, teaching mostly at both Deep Cove and Keating elementary schools.
She currently has the framework for five children’s stories that she’d like to write, which focus on creative problem solving.