Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Growing up, Hawaiian Style, Chapter 2.
After our lunch at the Hawaiian Villiage in Waikiki Dad drove us to a house that he had rented in the Makiki Heights area of Honolulu. This would be home until we could move into our new home in Kailua in a few months. It was a small rectangular house. Three bedrooms, single wall construction. One bathroom.
Really, just a very typical island home. Louvered glass windows throughout the house except for the living room which had two big fixed plate glass windows in the corner and louvered windows along the base board under these. Thin muslin white curtains pulled back and tied to metal hooks on the sides of the windows. All the louvered windows were open and screen covered. Wooden floors and area rugs. A rattan couch and two easy chairs. Cane fiber white ceilings with a fan. A resident gecko. Female, soon to be a mother of two – what do you call baby gecko’s? Silly me! Keiki gecko.
The now very distant snow covered Sandia Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Albuquerque was becoming a memory. The frost and dry winter earth was waiting for a spring still several months away.
But here, green grass needed to be mowed in the lawn. Green bushes along the front of the house under the picture window and on both sides needed to be trimmed. A colorful crocus hedge along the front sidewalk. A pod of banana trees outside of the kitchen window with a stalk of bananas in December.
Yes, this is a pretty good description of the house that we moved into. But for me it was all known ‘taken for granted’ understanding of the way things were, from the high dry dessert plains of Albuquerque, to as complete of a change as a young boy, having only experienced one condition of life and then put into another.
Do you know what an elephant leaf is? It is a plant with leaves the size of a blanket. Do you know what crocus is? It is a common hedge plant in Hawaii that produces leaves that are multi colored ranging from purple to yellow, reds, oranges, what ever depending on their mood? Have you seen a plumeria tree? It produces flowers like fruit in clusters. Little wonder the Hawaiians made leis with them. Have you seen how many plumeria there is when they bloom?
So, needless to say, as we were driving from the Hawaiian Village up to Makiki Heights in our car with the windows down in December I was experiencing just a little different climate than from Albuquerque. Not to mention the transition in getting here by ship.
We drove into our drive way and parked under a covered metal roof on six pipes attached to the concrete drive. There was a light drizzle falling. But the sun was shining. In Hawaii they have a special term for this. It is, of course, called, what else, liquid sunshine. The water was dripping from the eves of the roof and all the green foliage. My mother, sister and grandmother were all very tired and all they wanted to do was sleep. So we got them settled. Dad got our entire luggage into the house and then I went with my Dad to his office at Fort Shafter to meet his co workers and his boss, Mr. McDougall who was as white with balding red hair as my porter was black with white teeth. The man who my Dad shared his office with was Clarence Fuji. The Fuji’s would become close friends of our family. Over the course of years we spent every New Year ’s Eve at their home in Honolulu with very loud fireworks hung in the air off their balcony and eat sashimi. My ears would buzz all New Years day from these fireworks. Literally. The Fuji’s would come over to our house in Kailua for the 4th of July. After a late afternoon barbeque we would walk down to the beach, spread our blankets out on the sand, and watch the fireworks on flat island.
We moved into our new home on Kuukama street in Kailua, Oahu in June of the next year. My Mom and Dad had a bedroom at the back end of our house, my sisters would share the next when Pat arrived that summer and I had the front room. My grand mother stayed in a care facility in Honolulu. We had a big living room and Lanai, a patio covered and enclosed with screened in windows.
Our next door neighbors were the Wades on one side and the Sasaki’s on the other. In our back yard we had a puka in the hedge to go through to each of their back yards. Charles Wade would become the President of 1st Hawaiian Bank and Robert Sasaki would become the President of the Bank of Hawaii. The two largest banks in Hawaii and the Presidents of each of these two banks our neighbors.
Shee, what are the chances of that!
Lynn was Charles wife. Emily was Robert’s wife. Each of them had sons my age and Johnny, Peter and I became friends. Johnny Sasaki and Peter Wade. Johnny had two older brothers, Robert and Richard who, if I recall correctly were about the ages of my two older sisters. Peter had two younger sisters that were younger. Sally and Judy.
Had I not been a young boy in the innocents of youth, in reflection I can’t imagine acquiring the special understandings and learning’s that I acquired that would shape my life.
Being in Hawaii with a racially homogenized society was wonderful. For the most part. There where occasional incidents that were not wonderful. But the parts that were wonderful have been held here in my heart and mind, for the reasons that were important and the not so wonderful parts were wadded up and thrown into the rubbish.
One day of many seemingly endless days, and when I say endless days, I mean Hawaiian style endless days.Days of endless summer. Days like you literally have to stop and think, Oh, the plumerias are bloomings it’s summer. Oh, the Kona winds are blowing it must me fall winter. But literally you have to stop and think. Believe me, it is not like the mainland.
Anyway, I was over at Johnny’s house as I was at Peter’s and them at mine. The Sasaki house was oriental in style with a Japanese garden inside with a sky light over the garden. It was the first time that I had seen something like this. It was so peaceful, beautiful.
I had obviously shown some interest in what Emily was doing in the kitchen one day. She said to me, ‘I am cooking rice. Would you like to know the proper way to cook rice?’ Yes. She taught me the whole process. How to cook rice.
She had a big round wooden bowl. She told me to pour 4 even cups of rice into the bowl. Then under the faucet run cold water to cover the rice. I then was told to set the bowl on the counter and she showed me how to wash it by hand. I would scoop up the wet rice in both hands and slide one palm over the other washing it and pouring it back into the bowl. Repeating this until the bowl became milky white from the starch. Then gently pouring the rice water from the bowl into the sink. Gently. Not so fast as to allow the rice to run out with the starchy white water. Fill the bowl again to cover the rice. Wash it again. Pour out the milky starch water. Fill the bowl to cover the rice. Wash again. With bowl in the sink, run water into the bowl until it overflows. Gentle brushing the rice with your hand until the water is as clear as water is. Pour the water out completely. Now pour the rice from the wooden bowl into the cooking pot. She taught me to hold the wooden bowl of rice and pour the cups of water (5) into the wooden bowl with it tilted to allow the rice and water to pour into the cooking pot. She turning on the gas burner to high. After the water starting boiling we waited till it the visible water above the rice was gone and it was still bubbling. Turn it off. Let it simmer for at least 20 to 30 minutes before you turn it gently over. It is perfect rice.
You may think that this is funny or ridiculous. You may have just skipped over this. But for me it was something that I did not know about and my interest in everything was awake.
I think that when I stepped aboard the USS Barrett and the departure horns sounded, I woke up to life.
But here is the real thing for me. I was in a Japanese home being allowed to see first hand how they lived. I had been told many times from other adults that I was a fine young boy and very polite. Maybe Emily Sasaki thought that too. She was always friendly and kind to me.
I’ll tell you one thing though. I know how to cook rice and many Americans haven’t a clue. I also learned to eat with chop sticks at the Sasaki house, which would freak out my Mom when we went to a Chinese restaurant.
I do not know how long we had been in our new home before I started exploring. I am sure that it was not long. This is what I remember. Thinking back it must have been a Saturday or Sunday. Probably the first weekend in our new home. I think that it was because, BJ, Mom and I had gone down to the beach for a swim after we moved in. Dad was at work. Mom had said that I could come down to the beach.
One morning I woke up and walked down to the beach. It was early, the early morning light was just coming into my bed room. From our home on Kuukama in Kailua I could walk makai, toward the ocean, to the end of our street and turn right on Kalaheo, walk about two or three houses and then go into the Kailua Beach Park. There was a canopy of Iron wood trees spread around the park and coconut trees along the beach edge just before the white sandy beach.
I walked through the park this early Saturday morning to sit on the beach’s edge, sitting on some grass, my bare feet in the sand looking out at the ocean, flat island and the bay of Kailua. The mornings sun rise just coming out of the ocean. A light trade winds ocean breeze. The twin islands off of Lanaikai beach just around the point were picture framing the sunrise. Breathtaking, beautiful.
From behind me I heard and then turned to see a large group of Hawaiians talking as they were walking toward the beach behind a truck pulling a boat on a trailer through the park toward the boat ramp at the far end of the park. The boat was full of fishing net. I mean, over full. And there was like 30 Hawaiians of all ages. Mostly adults though. The net with its floats sat like a big pile in the middle of the boat. I sat there and watched them back down the ramp with the trailer and boat going into the water and then as the boat floated off of the trailer, three of them got into the boat. I heard the motor start and then they went out and down the beach slowly, coming toward me. The truck, now free of the boat, with the trailer in tow pulled back up the ramp and parked.
With the boat in the water the Hawaiians walked at shores edge toward me. The group divided. Half stayed by the ramp and half continued along the beach until they were directly in front of me. From were I was sitting, it was maybe one hundred to a hundred and fifty feet to them.
The boat came into the shallows as some of the Hawaiians in the group in front of me waded out in the water toward the boat. A guy in the bow of the boat throw a coaled rope to the people in the water. They grabbed it and walked back onto the beach. They formed a line and all held onto the rope. The boat then slowly went straight out into the bay and as it went, two Hawaiians in the boat standing, one on the bow, the other at the stern next to the steersman, lifted the net and put it into the water. The net was attached to the rope. They continued out and then started turning ever so slowly in an arc toward the boat ramp. They made a big arc. The people holding the rope on the beach were pulling hard to hold it. You could see the strain on the rope and they were leaning against the pull of the rope. The boat made a big slow arc out into the bay and then back into the beach next to the boat ramp and the other group of people. As the boat neared the beach by the boat ramp a couple of Hawaiians waded out into the water. Again the guy on the boat throw a rope to them and they caught it and pulled it as they wadded into the beach.
The three guys on the boat throw an anchor off the boat near the boat ramp and then they dove into the water and swam to the beach. They joined the group on the beach. Both groups of Hawaiians, the one group directly in front of me and the other at the boat ramp started pulling in on the rope. From where I was sitting at the beach edge I could see them pulling the net in. What are they doing? This is interesting.
Suddenly I heard a boy in the crowd in front of me calling out: ‘Hey, Haole boy. Hey Haole boy, Come!’ I looked around. Was he talking to me? I looked around and saw no one. I called out to him: ‘Me!’, pointing my finger at myself. He said: ‘Yeah! Come! Help us pull the net in!’ I got up and kind of half ran and half walked down to them. The boy who had called me was about my age. He handed me the end of the rope and said, ‘Here, pull!’, and so I started pulling. We were in a line and we all pulled together. Huki! Huki! Huki! Huki?
We were making progress but slowly. As we pulled the rope and then net into the beach we and the other group by the boat ramp slowly came closer and closer together. Huki Huki Huki. It was hard work and I could see the adults really working hard to pull.
Then something very strange happened. Inside the net that we were pulling toward the beach, fish starting thrashing the surface of the water. And the more we pulled the net in and closed the distance between our group and the other group the more active the fish became. The net was coming in faster now and when we got it in where the men were standing about waist deep the water was just boiling with fish. Some of the fish were coming up on the sand. Some of the people had gone to the truck by the boat ramp and were bringing big metal wash tubs to where we were and now people were going into the water with the fish. Grabbing them and throwing them up and onto the beach. People were then picking them up and putting some into the buckets and lucky others back into the ocean. The water inside the net, as I said, was just boiling with fish.
It was crazy wild. The fish were going nuts. People were in the water with the fish bending over, grabbing the fish and throwing them up on the beach. Suddenly the net was on the beach and everyone was grabbing fish or pulling them out of the net and either throwing them into the buckets or back out into the bay. I just stood there and watched. I could hardly believe what I was looking at. I tried to pick up a yellow blue stripped pretty fish but it was impossible. I watched them grab the fish and throw them but it was useless. They were so slippery. And ouch! Sun of a gun! They had sharp needles.
Finally all of the fish were either in the metal buckets or back in the ocean. Many buckets were full or nearly full. Some of the people were going back to the boat. Others were carrying the buckets, one on each side and still others were doing something with the net. Checking for more fish, I guess. I stood and watched. The people who got the boat came in near the beach. The people with the net walked and wadded out to the boat and handed the rope and net to the people in the boat. They started in reverse to put the net back into the boat. The people carrying the buckets of fish walked through the park and were crossing the street. They went into the yard of the first house across the street. The people in the boat finished pulling the net back into the boat and then they took the boat to the boat ramp. Someone got into the truck, backed it down the ramp and then the boat was put back onto the trailer. The boat, trailer and truck went back up the ramp and drove to the same house across the street. Suddenly I heard the same voice that I had herd before. ‘Hey Haole Boy, Come!’ Haole? What is this: haole? So, I turned toward the voice and went.
I walked with the boy who had called me and we walked together to the house across the street. We went into the yard and in the yard the truck, trailer with boat was in the drive way. In the yard in front of the house were the buckets of fish, next to a big long table. People were taking the fish out of the buckets, washing them on a long steel table with a sprayer and then with knives, cleaning them and putting them into other big giant metal tubs with ice.
I followed the boy over to the where other children were sitting on both sides of the fishing net and sat down. We were pulling out the net from the boat and picking all the seaweed from it. It was like a conveyor belt being pulled from the boat between all of the children and then being stacked on a big tarp. Someone turned on the radio and we listened to Hawaiian music as we all sat there. Everyone doing something. Cleaning the fish. Cleaning the net. Cleaning the boat and trailer. Packing the fish in ice.
As I sat there the boy asked me, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Bob. What’s yours?’ ‘David’ Is this your home?’ ‘Yes, that’s my Mom, Father sisters, nodding his head toward them. These other people are my relatives. Uncles, Auntes, cousins, cousins, cousins. Where do you live?’ On Kuukama. The next street over.’ ‘Well, now you know were I live.’ I smelled smoke and saw a barbeque smoking. Someone asked someone else, ‘Hey sis, you get da rice cooking already?’ Someone: ‘Yeah’.
Then a big Hawaiian lady came over to me. The same one David had indicated was his Mom. She leaned over next to me looking at me smiling and said: ‘Were you live?’ David answered: ‘He lives over on Kuukama.’ The lady said to me: ‘Maybe you should go tell your Mom that you are here and that you are invited for lunch, if you want some of the fish you helped catch.’ ‘Okay’ Then she said to David: ‘David, go with him.’ We got up and left.
David was to become my childhood best friend. The Beamers were to become like a second home. Mrs. Beamer who was a kapuna – Hawaiian wise person had a Halau – Hawaiian dance troop. She and her two sisters taught hula on their lanai. David and I played on the beach on the weekends. He went to a Hawaiian only school, Kamehameha and got home after dark on week days. Sometimes we helped make hula skirts for the girls in Mrs. Beamers halau out of palm frowns or tea leaves. If we were doing something at the Beamers hale I remember lots of stories that Auntie, Mrs. Beamer’s sister would tell us. Stories about ancient Hawaii. Always very interesting. For a young haole boy I got my ears full. Sometimes laughs. Some times, only red in the face. And sometimes, Wow! ‘Hey Auntie, no kidding?’ Many years later, and in particular, while living in Samoa with High Chief Tupu who was then 86 years old with his 8 wives, 26 children and 208 grandchildren, these stories would resonate with me with an understanding that gave me chicken skin. The Kapuna’s of Samoa, 5 serving High Chief Tupu would elaborate. But that is to tell later. Just now I was still 6 years old and had just experienced my first hukilau.
One time David got this bright idea to make canoes out of corrugated sheet metal. The Beamers had decided to replace the roof of their lanai which had been covered by corrugated metal. ‘It’s too hot!’, said Mrs. Beamer. David and I found the best two sheets of corrugated metal and managed to bend and fold them length wise. We cut some two by fours, the length of the folds at each end and nailed the metal to the two by fours at both ends. We did this to both corrugated pieces so we could have two canoes. They had all this left over black tar from the new roof in a big bucket. We used it to fill in every puka or crack we could find in the canoes at both ends. We cut another two by four to use as a spreader piece to keep the canoe open in the middle were we could sit. Anyway we took these two pretty much identical corrugated canoes across the street from David’s hale to the beach. One and then the other. We picked up one and waded into the water. I held the canoe. David got in. I let go and David went over. We tried again. Same thing. We tried again. Same thing. Huli – flip over.
David says: ‘I got an idea. We make double canoe.’ ‘What?’ ‘We put the two canoes next to each other. We take two long two by fours and put them across from one canoe to and attached to the other.’ ‘What?’ He says: ‘I’ll show you.’
So, we go back to his house and we get two full length two by fours. Hammer saw and nails. We cut four short two by fours maybe eight inches long. We nail the short two by fours into each end of both canoes. We nail the long two by fours from one canoe to the other into the four short pieces we just put in. Now the two canoes are attached together side by side. A double canoe.
We get in the middle between the two canoes side by side behind the long two by four and lift and drag the double canoe into the water. We discover leaks.
We drag and pull the double canoe some how back on the beach. Together we lift the double canoe end to end and empty the water. David goes to get the bucket of tar. He also brings cloth rags. We put the tar in the places were we saw the water coming in. We put lots of tar and then David puts the rags over the tar in the cresses at both ends of both canoes. He packs them in. Looks good.
We again drag the double canoe back into the water. It floats. No leaks. Cool.
We get some strips of cut plywood from his house and these are our paddles. We get in and paddle around and then get brave enough to paddle to flat island. We make it. We get out. Rest. We look at Oahu from our island. The Koolau range. Flat island is now our island. We decide to go back to Oahu and get in and paddle back. We pull the double canoe back up and on to the beach.
We walk back to David’s hale. Auntie and Uncle Beamer who have just arrived, maybe shopping, by car get out and look at us and Auntie starts laughing. She is laughing and then Uncle starts laughing. They are laughing and laughing so hard they start to cry. Auntie is bending over with her hands on here knees. What? What? David and I look at each other and say, ‘What?’ Finally Auntie stops laughing long enough to say, ‘You two look like black bumble bees. What have you been doing?’ We look at each other. ‘Oh, it’s the tar.’ Uncle gets some rags, the gasoline can for their lawn mower and scrubs us clean. Clean that is except for our shorts and tee shirts. Shee, it still hurts were he scrubbed me. Nah uncle! Only joking! Nah, just get something in my eye!
Growing up, Hawaiian style
One other part.