December 7th by Marice George

I was playing on the shady grass under the monkey pod tree waiting for my ride to Kohala Union Church Sunday school. I wore a blue dress with a white pinafore and sandals, which I wore only to Sunday school. Otherwise I was always barefoot.

My mother came out of the house and called to me, “There won’t be any Sunday school today. Your better come in the house right now. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.” I came in, as I recognized the worry and sadness in her voice but did not understand why it was there. I didn’t know Pearl Harbor was a big Navy base close to my own island of Hawaii. My mother must have felt the way I felt on 9/11/2001. I thought of my parents often as we experienced that shocking event and how they must have felt when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

The only Japanese I knew back then were our maids and they were very nice to me, taking me to their rooms in the “maids’ house,” letting me share lychee nut candy and showing me their magazines with strange letters that read from right to left.

Back in the house my father was sitting very close to the floor model radio and was very attentive. My mother was busy looking for dark fabric to cover the windows in the bedroom that was to be our gathering place that night when it got dark. I gradually learned of the seriousness of what had happened but did not realize at that time how it would affect me.

My parents did everything to keep me from being afraid. We gathered that night with our houseguests. My mother often had friends from Oahu visit and they would paint pictures, hook rugs, and play games. That night we played “Go,” a Japanese game for all ages. The object was to get five discs in a row on a board with squares before your opponent got theirs lined up in the same way. There was not an age or language barrier in this game. I played it for hours, most recently when I had to entertain a Czech speaking student who was living with my daughter and her husband for the summer. That night of December 7, I was given a teddy bear that was meant to be a Christmas present three weeks early. Only nine years old, I thought it was all great fun.

The next day I went to school as usual. I was taught by the mother of my two best friends, Barbara and Ellen McGillivray. Mrs. McGillivray taught the three of us in the home schooling system called Calvert School. She taught reading, writing, math, and history. My mother taught art and music. Those lessons came after we had a rest. We took a rest because my father had to get up at 4:30 am to get the sugar plantation workers out to the fields and he needed a rest.

Christmas came and went and we mostly continued our life as before though now the war was close by. The blackouts continued and my father was a patrolman and had to check to see that no light was peeking out from people’s windows. He also served on the Draft Board.

My father hired some plantation workers to dig a bomb shelter in the hillside behind our house. It was supplied with dirt benches, a short wave radio and some canned food. The battle of Midway had not yet happened and nobody knew whether or not Hawaii would be bombed or taken over by the Japanese.

We kids heard the adults talking about hiding their valuables, which led to a discussion about our valuables. Barbara said to Ellen, “Our most precious things are our books so we better bury them.” Ellen went along with that and they buried their books in the wet dirt. Soon they were ruined. I was not wiser, but I was luckier. I buried my collection of old rhinestone jewelry that we girls traded back and forth. I found it in the ground two years later.

My parents wanted me to be safe, so I was sent to South Pasadena, California to live with my mother’s sister, Aunt Kit and her family. Mrs. McGillivray took Barbara and Ellen and me from our island of Hawaii to my grandmother’s house on Oahu, The day we left, March 22, 1942, was my 10th birthday and I got dreadfully seasick. Once we got to my grandmother’s big colonial house we were furnished with lots of entertainment. We cut out paper dolls, sewed doll clothes and tore around her garden playing hide and seek, jumped rope and generally kept happy and busy, aside from when I hit my head on a garden bench necessitating stitches. I still have the scar under my eyebrow to prove it. During the occasional air raid drills we would go into the bomb shelter in Grandmother’s back yard until the all clear siren sounded. I felt more excited than scared. We waited at Grandmother’s house for two weeks for the ship to arrive. It was part of an Army hospital convoy. We got on the main ship where we shared one stateroom and had nice dining room service. We zigzagged across the Pacific to avoid Japanese submarines. I can’t remember anything I didn’t like about the 10 day trip.

When we arrived in San Francisco, my sister was there waiting. She was studying Home Economics at Mills College in Oakland. I was glad to see her. I had always idolized her, though we were 10 ½ years apart and were not close. In her memoir Wild Onions she wrote “Sister Marice was barely noticed by me in those days. I was a teenager, self-centered, and in school on Oahu.” She went away to school on Oahu and lived in the boarding department at Punahou School when I was just two years old. Her teenage clothes, music, and friends were fascinating to me. After I arrived in San Francisco, she and I traveled on the Daylight Express railway to Southern California. She gave me a book, The Bluebird of Happiness, which I thought a nice present and we read it together as we rolled along. I kept that book for many years. I found out later that my sister had given up a long anticipated trip to Sun Valley to go skiing in order to take me to my aunt’s. I hope she has forgiven me by now.

I exchanged letters with my parents every week, though the letters took two weeks to arrive. They were often censored and would have chunks cut out of them. One occasion for censorship was when my mother quoted what my orthodontist said about the way my tooth straightening was to continue. His name was Dr. Kubo, and perhaps the censors thought this business about my teeth was a code. My mother was very clever when she wanted to tell me the volcano was erupting. This was information the Japanese might want. She wrote, “Dr. Jagger’s baby is spitting up.” I knew Dr. Jagger was the volcanologist and that he did not have a young child. The censors did not catch that.

My Favorite Place by Marice George

My favorite place to savor a cup of warm coffee in the morning, to sip on a cold glass of wine while watching the yellow, orange and red sun set in the evening, or to read a book anytime is on a cement platform on the beach at Lalamilo, Hawaii.   The sunset reminds me that this place is magical and that memories are still being created each time I visit.

These memories began when the plantation doctor, Richard Treadwell, (known as R.T.) and his family lived next door to us in Hawi. The youngest child, Florence, was my age and a good friend. Dr. Treadwell bought a strip of beach front property along the Kohala Coast. On one end of the beach he had a house built. I was lucky to be invited there several times. There were no roads to the beach so we came by boat from the port of Kawaihae, about five miles away.

The house had three small bedrooms, a big living/dining room with a kitchen in the corner and lots of windows facing the beach. The “bathroom” was a halelii (Hawaiian for little house) up a slope from the house. The path was overhung with kiawe trees which dropped kukus (thorns) that would stick into our bare feet. In the halelii were two adult size holes and one lower, smaller child size hole. Once Florence dropped her flashlight into one hole. It was not retrieved! The shower was in a room under the house and accessible from the beach. We were told to be sure to pick up our bathing suits off the floor or a scorpion might hide underneath them. The only modern convenience was the telephone in case the doctor needed to be contacted.

Florence and I collected hermit crabs with a variety of colorful shells. We kept them as pets in a big tub with a little water and sand in the bottom. When it was time to go home we set them free. I wonder if children are still catching hermit crabs. I have not seen any.

Right on the beach, down about 10 steps from the house, was a round cement platform about 12 feet across with a table and chairs and lounges. I loved to sit there and read my “Big, Little Books”, so called because they were about 3” by 3” and 2” inches thick. I knew even then, at 8 years old, that this was a very special place for me.

I have rented the house from Florence’s agent (I get the “family and friends discount”) twice as an adult and it is just as wonderful as I remembered. Now it has all the modern conveniences, even a flush toilet at house level. The first time I rented it was with my old friend, Ellen McGillivray Luhrs and two other friends. The most recent time was August of 2014. I love to sit on that platform listening to the waves rolling in, feeling the warm breeze on my skin, and remembering the evenings long ago when we dug in the warm sand, following the holes searching for the crab that dug them. In the twilight we would watch for the first star so that we could recite, “Star light, star bright, first star seen tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” I wish now more than anything to get back to that platform on the beach of Hawi.

Hold That Trash! (by Janet Clark)

In the late 1960’s, I suddenly found myself with no independence and no income of my own. Overnight I became a non-person. My husband and I packed our household, sons nearly 3 and almost 5, and moved to Northern California where he would become a college professor. I had to leave my job with a brokerage firm where I was finishing studies and testing for a stock broker’s license, paid for by my employer. Having been our family’s main bread winner while my spouse finished his Masters, I not only left behind a big paycheck plus generous bonuses, I also parted with my main source of self-esteem and suddenly felt adrift. In our new community, a total stranger informed me he could tell I was a “city girl” because my skirts were “too short for this town.” And so I was—a city girl stranded in the middle of almond orchards, rice fields and a daily 10 page Republican newspaper. It would take many years for me to appreciate almonds and brown rice.

First I tried a few months of typing and secretarial work for the campus English Department, but they were housed in the same building as the Art Department my husband worked in and I soon overheard that the staff was unhappy with him because he blatantly used the “F” and the “Sh” words in public. My job did not pay as much as the cost of day care for my children, so one day I responded to an ad for part time evening work with the Blue Diamond Nut Company. It seemed like the perfect solution. My husband could watch the children while I worked the evening shift sorting nuts, which couldn’t be a far cry from what my life was like already. The pay was fairly good.

The interview was brief and I was hired on the spot. Provided with a big green hair net—the kind worn in medical facilities—I was introduced to the conveyor belts. There were three of them, each divided into six sections so that the women perched on stools on either side of the belt had a total of three “trays”. The tray closest to the employee carried almonds that had been cracked by a big machine. The other two trays were for broken almonds and the last was for the trash—bits of shell, leaves, sometimes unspeakable things. I was instructed to pick the trash and broken bits of almond out of the first tray, leaving only the perfect almonds, drop the broken nuts into tray two, and anything not edible into the third tray. Made sense. Sounded pretty easy.

I was provided with a backless stool and someone helped me adjust it to the proper height for working on the conveyor. Settling in, things went well until the belt was turned on. It moved much faster than I imagined and I immediately began to laugh out loud. Trying to pick out the trash and damaged nuts and drop them into their proper places on the conveyor was like some kind of dexterity game you might play with children at a party. And then, all of a sudden the belt seemed to stop and it felt as though I was moving. I must have looked alarmed because the woman sitting next to me (we had never been introduced) hollered over the noise of the machinery, “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.” The next couple of hours until break time were grueling. All the motion made me nauseous and the noise made my ears ring. Every ten minutes, my supervisor, a wiry little woman with a southern twang, stopped behind me, glared in my direction and screamed, “Hold that trash!” It was like being in the middle of a Felini movie and I no longer felt like laughing. I wanted to cry.

It only took a couple of days for me to develop a very negative attitude. Driving off to work I’d pass my neighbor, a doctor’s wife, outside chatting with the pool man, another neighbor riding her big Arabian horse back out of the park toward their stables. I imagined what they’d think of me if they knew what I was doing. I started hating my husband.

The job lasted for two weeks. One morning I couldn’t get out of bed until I’d called the Diamond office and told them I was done. They didn’t sound surprised. They were probably relieved. The supervisor had started referring to me as “I Love Lucy” and asked me several times, “Girl, what are you doing here?” Each time I looked at her—wearing a T-shirt from a local bar, missing a couple of front teeth, recalling the battered Ford pick-up she plowed into the company parking lot every afternoon—well, I just never found an explanation I thought she might appreciate.

Upcoming Events for DYLS

Readers and writers,

We have some exciting events coming very quickly as our semester speeds to a close.

First off, I am about to post our first student blog submission for the session, an essay from Janet Clark. Hopefully her fellow students will follow in her wake and soon there will be a broad sampling of some of the wonderful works that these writers have been working on right here on the blog.

Secondly, the due date is approaching for submissions from our writers for the Fall 2014 Writing Anthology. This printed compilation of student work will serve as both a keepsake from the class, as well as a physical means of sharing work with one another. Submissions are due by the end of November. Copies will be available at our reading on December 10th.

Which brings us to an exciting announcement! Document Your Life Story will be hosting its first ever Celebration of Writing Class Reading, during which members from the class will share some of their incredible stories. The reading will take place in the Elderberry Room of the Lafayette Community Center (500 St. Mary’s Road) on Wednesday, December 10th from 2:00-3:30 pm. Refreshments will be provided. Family, friends, and members of the community are invited to attend. Hope to see you there!

Imagery and Sensation

This past week in Document Your Life Story (DYLS) we discussed scene and summary as well as the importance of imagery in evoking emotions and giving us a sense of tone and mood. We read Mark Salzman’s short essay “The Kiss,” taking note of the small actions, language and setting that Salzman uses to take the reader from a laid-back dinner party to a boisterous discussion to an embarrassed round of throat clearing, only to end on a tender and delicate moment of intimacy.

We also looked at Sandra Cisneros very short piece “Bread,” using it as a point of entry into the topic of sensory images. Identifying the sensory images in the work of other writers (Cisneros’ use of the overwhelming smell of bread, for example), helps us to identify those images in our own writing. Those images and the sensation they evoke–hunger, in this instance–help us to find the heart of a piece, the “about-ness” of it.

Our assignment leaving class was to pay attention to the images we use as we work on our essays and memoirs. Personally, I’m about to sit down and write about a tender moment I shared with my dog many years back. I’m hoping the soft sweet scent of his freshly-washed fur and the click-clack of his toenails against the hardwood floors of my childhood home are enough to get the memory going.

A Season for Beginnings

Fall is here in Lafayette and this semester of Document Your Life Story (DYLS) is well underway. It is an immense privilege to be working with these wonderful students and to hear the beautiful, painful, wonderful stories they have to share. Our first three classes have been back to back to back, including two excellent craft talks hosted on Saint Mary’s campus and a surprise celebration for my September 24th birthday.

In addition to some discussion on scene versus summary and the elusive nature of the narrative arc, we have been talking about beginnings. Where do you start when it comes to telling the story of a life? How do we open a narrative? What is that moment from which the future is born? We’ve shared stories of early birthdays, of first memories and historic events, of the point from which the trajectory of a story was set. The students have been great, their stories rich and deep, with first lines ranging from “I was meant to fly” to stories that open with a little girl playing in the grass of a monkey tree to the cold and premature birth of an isolated infant.

 

I have been honored to read the writing of Marcia Thomas, John A., Janet Clark, Joan Wahl, Marice George, Treva Perkins and Marilyn Harrison already this term and look forward to seeing what they have to share with you.

Lafayette Seniors Writing Workshop Anthology (Spring 2014)

It was an absolute honor to be working with the senior citizens in Lafayette, CA from February until May 2014. I had the opportunity to not just impart the little knowledge I had in memoir writing, but also to learn about life itself from reading and listening to the stories that the participants shared.

Here’s an anecdote from the class.

I had prepared two readings, they were both experimental collage essays. One was “Considering the Lilies” by Rebecca McLanahan, and the other was Brenda Miller’s “Brief History of Sex”. Due to the essays’ similarities and time constraint, we had to choose one.

So I asked, “Which one would you guys like to read? Fashion or sex?”

And these senior citizens, without any hesitation whatsoever, said, “Sex!”

Senior Services Memoir Workshop Spring 2014 02

(Left to right: Nahide Craig, Joan Wahl Countryman, Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta, Janet Clark, and Treva Perkins)

You’ve enjoyed short pieces by these writers on this blog, now you can read their longer work. Click here for the anthology.

At Our House

By Janet Clark

 

When my daughter was three years old we joined a nursery school cooperative.  Parents helped staff the facility on a rotating basis.  Angela was blessed with big brown eyes, a mop of shiny curls, her father’s imagination and her mother’s smart mouth.  She was a constant source of amusement for some of the more conservative parents.  Typical of three year olds, she was usually her most entertaining on the days I did not remain at school with her.

One noontime, when I arrived to collect her, the parents on duty were waiting for me.  They argued over who would get to tell me what had happened earlier that morning.   It seems that during snack time, while the children were all seated around little tables, munching slices of fresh fruit and drinking chocolate milk, Angela’s neighbor accidently knocked over his paper cup.  The contents spilled across the table soaking her napkin.   “Oh, shit,” she declared.

Shocked, one of the mother’s stepped over to the table and shook her finger in Angela’s direction scolding,   “No, no, Angela, we don’t talk like that here.”

Angela gave her an incredulous look and continued to mop up the spill with someone else’s napkin, then stopped.  Shrugging her shoulders at the other children at the table she smiled big and announced proudly, “Well, we do at my house!”

The Cherry Popsicle

By Edna Coulson Hall

 

I was ten years old when My Grandma Coulson died, my mother’s mother. I was told death meant Grandma was gone far, far away from this life, our life, all the way to Heaven where she would live with the angels, and we would never see her again until we went to Heaven ourselves one fine day. I said I understood.

At the funeral I stood by Mom while she talked to my aunts and uncles and other people who seemed to start every sentence with “She was.” It made a buzzing sound in my head. My Aunt Mildred said Grandma was in a place now where her heart was strong again and where she didn’t hurt anymore and never would again. She didn’t call the place Heaven, but I was sure that was what she meant because when someone said Grandma was with the angels now, Aunt Mildred smiled and
nodded.

Afterward, when we were home from the funeral, I looked at my picture book Bible and studied the images of angels there in their long flowing robes, their great white wings, their glowing halos. I had rarely seen Grandma except in a cotton house dress covered over with a long bib apron made from flour sacking. It was impossible to imagine Grandma among these dainty beings each strumming a small gold harp.
The only musical instrument I had ever known Grandma to play had been a pocket comb wrapped in waxed paper.

Before Grandma got sick, she would write Mom every week, ad her letters always came on Tuesday. The first Tuesday after Grandma’ funeral I was sitting on the front steps of our house sharing a homemade cherry popsicle with our dog. The mail man came and left mail at the end of the lane. Dust rolled up from the road.

I heard the kitchen screen door open and slap shut as Mom rushed out and started down to the road. As she neared the yard gat, she suddenly stopped and bent forward as if something had kicked her in the middle of her body. I watched and waited. Then she straightened and walked slowly on down to the mail box.

When I put the popsicle back in my mouth I could taste the dust from the road. I held it out to the dog.

“Here,” I said. “You can have it. My grandma’s dead.”

It Was One of Those Days

By Janet Clark

 

Today I ‘d waited longer than I should have to drag Lurch, my old and battered Honda lawn mower, out of the garage. Now the sun was high and after only two rows I began to sweat. There were a million other things I’d rather be doing. “Keeping up appearances” is what I call mowing. I tell myself I need the front yard to look well-groomed for the neighbors and that I don’t really give a damn. An attractive landscape makes people in the neighborhood believe that I am a good person. Intelligent, clean — trustworthy. What a bunch of rot. At my age, I could kill myself mowing this enormous lawn in the heat of the day. Sometimes I feel resentful that I’m one of only three people on my block who doesn’t have a gardener. The other two have strapping husbands who love gardening while poor little old me just can’t afford yard help.

Right in the middle of my “woe is me”, I spotted something shiny in the grass a fraction of a second before the mower gobbled it up. I’ve learned to react quickly because Lurch has been known to pick up things and spit them out at my knee caps like shot-gun blasts. Not needing anymore scars, I stopped the mower in the nick of time. It was half-buried in the grass. Turning it over, I discovered the sparkling object was a name plate – black plastic with white lettering. It had a shiny silver magnetic clip on the back, which apparently hadn’t worked very well.

Elder Thomas
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Now what in the hell had he been doing in the middle of my lawn?

Slipping it into my pocket, I resumed mowing with much more enthusiasm. Aided by my imagination, I walked Lurch back and forth across the grass thinking of various ways Elder Thomas’ name plate could have ended up on my property.

Possibly it fell off as Thomas was being carted away by a huge bird of prey.

Or maybe while canvassing my neighborhood, passing out religious literature, he was mugged by the Devil himself.

More than likely, my neighbor Jack got pissed off when Elder Thomas knocked on his door and threatened to hose Elder Thomas off the front porch. This name plate probably flew off the poor kid’s tie as he ran for his life.

Whatever.

It’s a lot of fun being a fledgling writer. You can find stories almost anywhere. If it isn’t book-length material, it might just enough to blog.

Today was just one of those days. Found a story while out mowing the lawn.