Wednesday, September 04, 2013
The Call of Hawaii
I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m glad summer’s almost over. Not only do I feel better in the fall, but I like the clean slatiness of cold wind and endless gray bolts of flannel sky. Book sale season begins anew and the winter clothes come out of the dark recesses of the closet which is ever so good for listing books. I finally realized in this season of the four thousand volumes that listing in the summer doesn’t really work for me. For one thing traffic’s lighter, so what’s the point? But the real reason is that in order to hunker down and dig into it with gusto I need lots of very black and very HOT coffee, comfortable sweats, fuzzy socks with little bumps on the soles to keep me from going airborne down the stairs, and less daylight. Yes, I do like a dark day in the winter for listing books. Snow too. I like snow a lot.
So that being said, I’m a bit happier than when I Iast posted – which does NOT mean that I’m over the theft of the A.I. Root catalog from my locked cabinet at the antiques mall. Every time I think of that and count up my losses from thievery over the last two and a half years, I’m buzzier than a hornet trapped in a spider web. But I don’t want to talk about that today. I want to talk about Hawaii. I know – Hawaii is the polar (ha-ha) opposite of what I just said I like, but there’s a reason I want to talk about it. The boxes in the garage (or maybe the goddess Pele) have gifted me with several Hawaiian ephemera items.
I don’t know if I told you this, or not, but my father’s family , who were Portuguese, sailed from the Madeira islands to Maui, Hawaii shortly before he was born. He lived there his whole life until he served in the army in Italy during WWII, married my mother, and wound up in Akron, Ohio. When I was a kid he’d tell us stories about Christmas luaus on the beach, wrapping a pig in ti leaves, pounding poi with a mortar and pestle, playing the guitar and singing Hawaiian songs to the back-up of a pounding surf. Every Christmas two gifts would arrive from Maui, each time the exact same thin g --– a case of Dole pineapple with my uncle’s name printed on the labels and a huge box of fresh fruit. Back then raw coconuts, guava, papaya and pineapples weren’t even a gleam in Kroger’s eye, so for a week or so once a year I was the coolest girl on Kenyon Street. Sometimes the relatives came to visit too -- though we never went there – which was okay with me because at age ten I adamantly decided that I was Irish, not Portuguese. It’s not that I had anything against being Portuguese, it’s just that I didn’t look Portuguese and, more importantly, I didn’t FEEL Portuguese. I guess I probably still don’t on either count, but I’m more interested these days since my sister got her DNA done.
My father died two years after 9-11 and I was left for a lot of crazy reasons to plan his funeral by myself. The funeral home (oh, spare me please from those places!) dutifully played the Hawaiian CDs I bought for the calling hours. At the funeral the next day I gave the eulogy and talked about the deeper meaning of aloha. After the Mass the church bells pealed Aloha Oe which was a surprise even to me. The only sour note was the fresh lei sent from Maui to the funeral home for the calling hours from my father’s sister. It didn’t arrive until after the burial and instead of being around his neck it had to be left on his grave. She has since died too, but I learned of it only by chance on the internet last year. Once my father, the only connection between us, was gone we drifted away.
Yet as I look through all these Hawaiian ephemera items from the garage I am struck by how much I have absorbed about Hawaii without realizing it. I am struck too by how much these small items please me. The thing that called to me the loudest before I even knew anything about it was this little booklet covered in brown sueded cardstock. It’s called The Hawaii I Loved and the author is Dorothy LaVerne Drake of Columbus, Ohio, a young woman who graduated from Miami University (Ohio) and signed up immediately to teach in the Territory of Hawaii. It was 1945 and Dorothy sailed on the first ship from the mainland since WWII. There she joined four other teachers at the ocean’s edge in a breathtaking liitle place called Laupahoehoe . For a while it proved idyllic but then came the morning of April 1, 1946. At 7 a.m. Dorothy and three other young teachers, plus nineteen children, were swept away by a tsunami and their bodies never recovered. This booklet was published in 1948 by Dorothy's family as a remembrance. Robert Drake, then with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, edited it from Dorothy’own words On the title page of this copy a handwritten message reads, Presented by Ethel & Leland Drake (Dorothy's parents). A permanent memorial to the victims of Laupahoehoe can be seen on YouTube. Dorothy’s name is near the top.
When I began writing this I wasn’t exactly sure where any of it was headed, but it’s pretty obvious A part of me has finally made peace with my Hawaiian/Portuguese background. And for that I can only say mahalo. Thank you.
It’s about time.