Today is 8/19/15. We shared our writings.
This is the second paragraph.
Today is 8/19/15. We shared our writings.
This is the second paragraph.
Clear air turbulence is unpredictable, since it comes out of the blue. Unless a plane ahead of you encounters and reports it, you do not have any warning until you hit it, as was the case on our flight from San Francisco to Kansas City in August of 1976.
My flight partner and I knew each other well. In fact, we had learned that we were born on the same day—November 7, 1945. She was named Marcia Kathleen (Kathy) and I was Marcia Darlene. We worked well together.
When a plane hits an air pocket as we did, it drops, becoming weightless, and everything that isn’t strapped down floats upwards. Our first indication of turbulence on that trip was a huge and unforeseen air pocket.
Kathy was serving coffee in the aisle. With a tray holding cream and sugar in one hand and the coffee server in the other, she didn’t have a free hand to latch onto anything. She said that her feet hit the ceiling along with the coffee, which rained down on the passengers beneath. I grabbed the handle of the parked liquor cart, which probably weighed 200 pounds, and in spite of our combined weight, the cart and I rose at least eight inches before setting back down. Fortunately, the passengers were fastened in their seats. Otherwise we would have had a lot of extra trouble.
Eventually things clamed down and we landed safely in Kansas City. The plane and flight attendants were going onto Washington D.C., with a fresh crew of pilots boarding at the gate.
The second officer is responsible for a “go around” in which he goes through the cabin and walks down on the tarmac to inspect the exterior. When he finished, he returned to the galley, where we were setting up for the flight. With a puzzled look on his face, he asked, “That older gentleman standing in the aisle back there, is he half-crocked or something?”
I looked back, turned to the second officer and said, “No, I don’t think so. Why?”
“When I went back there he asked me if I wanted some coffee, which was strange as it was. I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Well, if you do, it’s up there.’ Then he pointed to the ceiling.”
“Oh,” I giggled. “You weren’t on that last flight. We hit severe turbulence.”
Kathy came out of the galley and joined our conversation. “Oh,” she said, “That was the guy who was sitting around where the coffee hit the ceiling and rained down on everything. There wasn’t anything anybody could do about it.”
The next week we were in the galley when the turbulence hit again. I grabbed hold of the counter railing, and watched as the coffee in my cup made a nice arc through the air and landed on the first flight attendant. I was very apologetic, but of course it wasn’t my fault. You never know when turbulence is going to hit.
The small, elegant dress shop where my mother worked making alterations was about to close for the day. I sat by a long mirror on one of the pale green slipper chairs as I waited for her to finish tidying up for the day. Wind and rain blew into the shop as Mammy’s coworker, umbrella at the ready, said goodbye and left for the day.
“It’s so cold and wet outside. Why don’t we go have a cup of tea or coffee at Bewley’s Café?” she said.
“And maybe a scone?” I asked.
Bewley’s Café on Dublin’s fashionable Grafton St. was cozy and inviting. We slid into a corner nook and placed our orders. The aroma of roasting coffee and baked goods filled the air.
“Sure isn’t this grand, I’m glad to be off my feet” my mother said in her soft voice.
Her workday was long and hard. She described some of the haughty ladies she had to satisfy with dress alterations, and how her bunions hurt. My mind went searching for solutions.
“Sure they want to look like the queen, but they don’t have the figure.”
I mentioned a grey coat I had seen at Cleary’s department store on O’Connell Street.
“Would you take a look at it on me?” I asked.
“Sure I’d love to see it—grey you said. Grey is a good color, my dear.”
“You know Mammy,” I said, “I think it is time for me to go back to New York and piece together a life for myself and maybe help you out where I can.”
“My dear you will need a good warm coat there in January—I hear it is awfully cold. I can loan you some money and you can pay me back later. This sad country just does not have much to offer young people these days—sure it’s a vale of tears,” Mammy said.
“Thanks” I said. I knew she was feeling sad at the thought of saying goodbye to me once again. But she would never hold on to us for selfish reasons.
“Sure, we can look at that coat tomorrow, and if it needs any alterations, I can get that done. Go move on with your life my dear,” she said.
I was wearing my new grey wool coat when I said goodbye to my mother at Dublin airport for the second time. As I went to the plane, a news photographer from the Evening Herald snapped my picture—Mammy sent me a copy from the newspaper later. I took the window seat so I could shed my tears and look down on the patchwork of green beauty below. As I left this beautiful land that had held such love and misery for me, I reflected on my mother’s unselfish courage and generosity of spirit. I felt torn between two worlds.
Back in New York I slept on my sister’s living room couch and went looking for a job, post haste. As luck would have it, I found a job at an advertising agency down around UN Plaza. The office manager, an unfriendly older lady, was very demanding and I did everything I could to learn the advertising business. Connecting up with old friends on the weekend, I headed out to a dance where I met a charming, tall and good-looking man with piercing brown eyes that seemed to see into my soul. His name was Richard: Good manners blended with an educated mind were impressive to this just-off-the-boat immigrant. Authors’ names like Joyce and Keats rolled off his tongue. I was impressed.
He had been in a Catholic seminary, taught at a Catholic boy’s school in New York and I found out later, had been fired.
After a few dates, I realized he was a troubled soul. He wanted to argue with everyone he met. His heated arguments about religion and the shooting of President Kennedy were constant and out of line. I told him I would not be able to see him again, but he would not take “no” for an answer. He called on the phone at all hours of the night and arrived at the apartment wanting to come inside.
My girlfriends advised me to call the police or move out. I warned my friends not to give Richard any information about my whereabouts. Someone gave him my work number. “I didn’t think he would find you,” she said later. She didn’t know Richard as well as I did.
I was typing away at my desk when the phone rang. The office manager was speaking to someone. I heard her giving directions to the office, the business hours, etc. My heart started to pound. It was my first week on the job, the manager was looking at me and I just knew it was Richard on the other end. When she got off the phone, I told her I was trying to avoid this guy, but could not get rid of him. Suddenly, the door opened, and there was Richard with a broad smile on his face.
“Joan, I just want to talk to you.”
“You will get me fired,” I protested.
“Just see me one last time,” he demanded. Next thing, the door opened and my two big bosses came in. I begged Richard to leave. He left. But I knew he would be outside. I confided in the office manager, who understood my fear and promised to stay with me after work. He was outside when we left to go home.
“Joan, I just want to talk.”
“I can’t see you anymore.”
Sitting on a bench at The UN Plaza, I tried to convince him to leave. My manager told him she would call the cops if he refused to leave me alone. He left.
I took the bus home to Queens. As I was walking down the street to the apartment, I turned around and looked back at the elevated train track. Richard was watching me. He started running, and by the time I got to the apartment building he was there. Luckily, two neighbors came home from work and convinced him I did not want to be bothered. They stayed outside with me until he decided to leave.
Two Irish friends, Colette and Deirdre knew of my dilemma and invited me to join them on a bus trip across country. Their plan was to hit Chicago, Denver, and Salt Lake City, staying at a YWCA or other hostels along the way. I felt this was an opportunity to put many miles between Richard and myself. Digging deep to find the courage to move out west, I reflected back on my mother’s courage and perseverance. My journey was nothing compared with hers— surviving a truly bad marriage with our alcoholic father and working as a seamstress every day to keep the roof over our heads. She always encouraged her children to forge better lives for themselves.
Leaving New York meant saying goodbye to my sister and a few good friends I had made there. “You’ll be hearing from me,” I said as I hugged them goodbye.
All my earthly goods were in a small brown suitcase. We traveled light on a Continental Trailways bus, using the lockers at bus stations to store our suitcases as we found a place for the night. First stop Chicago, then Denver. In Denver I asked a cowboy if I could have my picture taken with him. I had never seen a real cowboy before. In the picture I am wearing my Irish sweater and my tartan kilt skirt. He was happy to pose with three Irish colleens, and we were starting to love the open spaces and beauty of the west. When we stopped in Salt Lake City, Utah we viewed the Mormon Temple but could not find a bar to save our souls.
Arriving in San Francisco, I remember thinking: You are going to have to dig deep girl, find the courage it will take to succeed here. There was no turning back now.
Deirdre and Colette were both from Dublin. Deirdre was a typical Irish colleen with fair complexion and striking red curly hair. Colette was a leader who kept us out of trouble. We hit the town south of Market Street the first day and night, picked up the San Francisco Chronicle and found a place to stay. It turned out to be a seedy hotel where we pulled the covers over our heads to keep from hearing the noise going on behind the bedroom wall. We bought a map of the city and discovered Herb Caen’s column in the Chronicle. Herb’s column was where I went every morning to learn all about life in San Francisco.
We found a one bedroom, one bathroom with a living room with a pull-out couch at 757 Sutter Street. It was fully furnished and had a little kitchen in a good area of town. Colette opted to sleep on the couch, giving Deirdre and me the two single beds. We picked up our food from the hot counter at Manning’s cafeteria and stuffed our bags with the leftover food and a fork or two.
Our landlady lived one floor up. She regularly met us in the hall and asked about our welfare and how we were settling in. On one of those occasions, she asked us if we would have time to escort a business-man or two to dinner or a show—nothing more. Sure, we said. I soon found out that the business-man who took me to dinner at the Fairmont Hotel had plans for a much longer evening. He was very nice and warned me to stay away from the landlady, who was really a madam. It was time to find respectable work.
Deirdre found a job at the Irish Tourist Board, Colette got a job at Spreckles Sugar and I landed a clerical position in the accounting department at P&O Orient Lines, a British shipping company. Typing and clerical work combined with a pleasant attitude got us in the door. Hard work, no money and nowhere else to turn kept us on the job. We were all within walking distance of work. Deirdre’s eye-sight was not the best. One morning she and I were walking down Post Street and I looked down at her feet. She was wearing one brown shoe and one black one. Fifty years later, I still remember how we laughed.
We didn’t waste a minute on the weekends and soon discovered the charming men at the Catholic dances in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and the St. Francis Hotel.
Colette met George at a dance. Then Deirdre met Don at the Irish Tourist Board (he was returning to Ireland for good). They were both dating when I met Larry at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. We Irish girls were not messing around. We came to San Francisco in April 1964 and were all married by the end of December. I was the last to marry on December 26, 1964.
George, Larry and Don named our little apartment “The 757 Club.” We were on the same block as Trader Vics and the Fleur De Lis restaurants. We cooked dinner for them on weekends, making Irish stew with lots of potatoes and gravy. Colette made the jello for dessert. We didn’t always do what our mothers instilled in us, but we sure knew the best way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.
My dreams came true as I forged a better life for myself in California. I returned to Dublin many time to share that joy with Mammy at Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street.
Wednesday, December 10th, the participants of the Fall 2014 session of Document Your Life Story took part in the course’s first public reading. Pieces were prepared, chairs were set up and a table was laid with celebratory goodies. Members of the SMC and Lamorinda area filed in to hear engaging and meaningful stories from the personal lives of four very special women. I hardly believed that any of them were reading their own work for the first time. Each read with such poise and confidence, I was totally wowed. It has been an honor to get to know these writers and I will miss them greatly in the coming months.
Another section of Document Your Life Story will be offered Spring of 2015. The date of the first class is TBD, but will likely be sometime mid-February. Contact Lafayette Senior Services for more information on signing up for the course.
Cheers to wonderful semester!
– A.K. Carroll
It must have been instinct that told me geometry would get me nowhere growing up female in 1958. I kept hearing typing class was a lot of fun and I had an inkling I was destined to become a secretary anyway. My school counselor had already informed me that test results showed I had skills needed for teaching and nursing. Back then neither of us knew all high school testing was skewed to show that female students scored high in those two categories. Miss Beaton, who was also my P.E. teacher, was of the opinion I wasn’t suited for either occupation. She believed I was ‘too undisciplined to teach”, and ‘too sensitive, emotionally, for nursing”. Hollywood insisted secretarial work was very glamorous and the best way to snag a husband with a good income. Why, who could forget “Three Coins in a Fountain”?
It turned out that typing class wasn’t all that easy. Some of the girls were amazingly adept. I was moderately successful. Always inclined to be tidy, I was good with business letters. However, my brain and hands never coordinated well—still don’t—under heavy scrutiny or pressure. The typing instructor was a colorless woman who never smiled. We girls referred to her as “Gloria” which was, indeed, her first name. She was a spinster and I think everyone called her a prune—only because we didn’t know anything about lesbians in 1958. Her front teeth were slightly crooked and she had a prominent lisp which only fed our immature, insensitive attitude toward her.
I tried hard to please Gloria and felt as though I was fairly successful until one morning when we were doing timed writings. We had three minutes to type a test and see how far we could get before Gloria called “time!” Limp white sheets of typing paper were handed out. Gloria announced we should start typing from the top of page 78 in our typing texts. I sat with feet on the floor, back perfectly straight, elbows tucked in, eyes on my book, never the typewriter. I was ready to fly through the exercise. “Start”, Gloria commanded.
I typed furiously, hesitating only on those few numbers I’m still unable to find without cheating and looking at the keys. “Bing!” went the timer. Did I mention I was sitting in the middle row, right in front of Gloria’s desk? She had been standing over me for the entire timed writing, but my eyes had never left page 78 of my typing book. I heaved a sigh of relief certain I had done a decent job. “Janet,” Gloria announced while wringing her hands, “that is definitely not good for the platen.” Everyone turned to look at me. Wide eyed, I looked at the typewriter roller—in horror. I know my face crumpled , but I didn’t cry. I had managed to type the entire three minute timed writing without any paper in my typewriter. No one laughed. Out of fear the entire class was silent. Gloria walked to the front of the room and leaned her head against the chalk board. “Class dismissed,” she groaned.
That particular day at school felt as rotten as the time I accidently dropped a hot soufflé onto the Home Ec kitchen floor just as my teacher rounded the corner, slipping and falling—not only bruising, but scalding her rear. Clearly the soufflé incident was more egregious than not having typing paper. I hadn’t caused any physical harm, but a year later the local news announced Gloria had committed suicide. She lived alone and it was a few days before anyone found her. Still a teen, her death had a huge impact on me. I worried I had contributed to her unhappiness and felt sorry I had done nothing to brighten even one of her days.
I’ve never forgotten Gloria. I sometimes laugh about that paperless typing test, but I also recognize now how she helped shape my life. I managed to put my husband through two college degrees with my typing skills. I held many jobs that depended on my ability to type. And I still spend an awful lot of time typing—on a computer, of course. Why, if I couldn’t type all these childhood memories what would I do with them? They would just stay bottled up inside my head and I might not experience the joy of sharing them.
Last Spring I emailed my daughters suggesting that when Deanna came home for her summer vacation from Poland, the three of us should rent a house in South Lake Tahoe for a couple of days. We could celebrate our upcoming birthdays: Stephanie’s birthday in August, my birthday in September, and Deanna’s birthday in October. What I really wanted was time with my girls away from telephones, schedules, and friends. Just the three of us.
Stephanie immediately said, “That’s great! I’ll finally get to see you play 21 at Harrah’s.” Ever since I told her about the summer of my 21st birthday, during which I dealt 21 at Harrah’s, she had wanted to see her mom play the game. I had never gambled when I worked there or ever, for that matter, so this was going to be a quick sit down just for Stephanie’s benefit.
The two of us walked through Harrah’s and started to sit at a 21 table when we noticed that the minimum bet was ten dollars per hand. Too rich for us! We walked across the street to Harvey’s, where the minimum was five dollars. We sat down and played a few hands of 21 and basically came out even.
Then Stephanie said, “Let’s go play craps.”
My reply: “I don’t know how to play craps.”
This was a Tuesday afternoon. The craps table was almost empty, with only about five people around it. I quickly learned that ‘crapping out’ is when a person rolls a seven, which is the most readily available combination of dice. It didn’t take long for these gamblers to ‘crap out’, so the play quickly went around the table two times, with each person throwing the dice two, three or four times before losing their turn. Once Stephanie lost her turn a second time, she declared to me, “The next time the dice comes around, you are going to take your turn.” There was a married man, about my age, on my right who looked like he knew what he was doing. I asked for instructions on dice throwing. He showed me how to flick my wrists with the dice, keeping them low so they wouldn’t bounce out of the table at the other end onto the floor. Apparently that is a no no. Also, the dice need to hit the back lip of the table so there has to be enough force to get them there, but not too much force or over the table they fly. The ‘lip’ on the side of the table was about armpit high, so just getting my arm over and then not too far down near the table top—another no no—was awkward. I felt like I should be standing on a booster block.
When it was my turn to roll, Stephanie pointed to the top of my head and yelled to our table mates, “First time roller, she’s a first time roller, she’s good luck!”
I started rolling. Stephanie started putting down five-dollar bets, while getting some finer points on betting from nearby players. I rolled and I rolled. Every once in a while I would hear a roar from my fellow gamblers. The table started filling in and then people were two deep watching, feeling and contributing to the excitement. Hands flew up while yells of ‘Yay’ came from the crowd. “What happened, what happened?” I asked. “What did I roll?” I hit my number, which I was beginning to understand was a good thing. I think everyone won when I did this. At least everyone was excited, so I assumed that they all won. Stephanie told me that the married man who taught me how to roll was betting against me. I decided not to let that bother me. There was a twenty-something year old Asian man to the left of us who was betting larger twenty-five-dollar chips, betting with me. At one point he said, “If you roll a five right now, I’ll give you $250. Didn’t happen, but at least I didn’t roll a seven, so I was still in the game. Eventually a casino employee showed up with a large tray of chips to replenish the table. “Look, the table has run out of chips,” I said. I was told that it was more likely that the pit boss was trying to change the rhythm of play and hopefully break my streak.
Stephanie started the mantra, “Go mom, go mom!” Everyone at the table started yelling, “Go mom, go mom!”
At one point I quietly whispered to Stephanie, “I’m tired of rolling.”
“Shhhh, be quiet, keep rolling!” We had had a nice lunch with a beer and I was feeling the late afternoon affects. It felt like nap time, but I kept rolling.
Once again the young Asian man to our left said, “If you roll a four right now, I’ll give you $300.00.” I didn’t roll that four, but I did hit my number three more times, which made the crowd very happy. I am sure you could hear the boisterous yelling all over the first floor of Harvey’s. Stephanie kept betting conservatively, while the young man’s chip pile got bigger and bigger.
Finally, I crapped out!
Stephanie, ever the cheerleader, started clapping and yelling, “Yay for mom! Yay for mom!” Everyone at the table joined in clapping and yelling and mouthing their thank yous. They had all been winners; even the guy who had been betting against me had finally started betting with me and won.
The next roller was Stephanie. She rolled twice before crapping out. At that point we had been at the club much longer than we had told Deanna that we’d be gone. Stephanie pushed our chips toward the dealer to indicate that we were done. “Ahh, come on, give us a chance to get even,” he said.
Stephanie looked at him and said, “Are you kidding me?” Off we went to cash in our chips, which turned out to be worth over four hundred dollars. Not bad.
When we turned around from cashing in, the young Asian better was behind us. He asked, “Do you know how rare it is to hit four of your numbers?” We had no idea. He excitedly exclaimed, “One in a million!” His winnings? Fourteen hundred dollars! And no, he did not share any of his good fortune with us.
As we were leaving Stephanie told me that she had never been at a crap table for longer than twenty minutes let alone rolled for twenty minutes. I had rolled the dice for forty minutes!
And that was the end of my crap playing. I just can’t imagine that playing craps could ever be that exciting and fun again.
“You can’t go to Africa on your own, Mom” my daughter, Deirdre, exclaimed when I showed her the brochure for “Wings over Africa.”
“To see Kenya has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. Now that you and your brother Tony are all grown up and I’m alone, I feel drawn to Africa. The travel agent has worked with me, helping me use my air miles, and finding the very best trip for a widow traveling alone,” I assured her. Everything would be fine.
Landing in Nairobi in October, 1994, I began to have second thoughts about my decision. Maybe I am biting off more than I can chew, I thought. What if I get sick or even die? What if the kids are right and I disrupt their lives due to this dream of mine? The airport looked shabby and everyone was coal black. I wondered, would I understand the language? Fear took over. Then, right in front of me stood a tall, handsome, African man. “You must be Joan; I’m John from Abercrombie & Kent. I will get your luggage and take you to the bus,” he said. His dark grey well-tailored suit displayed the A&K name tag with John’s name on it. His English and communication skills put me at ease. Now I could begin to relax and enjoy the experience.
On the bus, John introduced me to the three American couples that would join me on the trip. Everyone seemed very enthused except for one man, Mr. Negative. He informed all of us, “The only reason I’m here is because my wife wanted to see Africa.”
I took the front seat in the van next to the tour guide. “Didn’t your husband want to see Africa?” she questioned. “He would have loved to,” I replied, “but he died a year ago from lung cancer at age fifty eight.” Silence reigned in the back as the newly acquainted travelers searched for something to say. I took a deep breath and swallowed hard. Someone in the back made a comment about courage, which went over my head.
After a night in a hotel in Nairobi, we flew in a small plane to Amboseli. The next day we went out in a Land Rover type vehicle to view herds of elephants on a preserve. We stopped along a grassy area and were asked to be quiet out of respect for the animals, as a very large herd approached. The lead elephant, a female, stopped in her tracks, looked into our eyes and refused to continue until the driver backed the vehicle out of their path. Her message was: this land is mine.
Flying over the Great Rift Valley on the way to the Masai Mara, we could see great herds of wildebeest on the march for water. Viewed from the air, they reminded me of ants. When we got closer to the Masai Mara, an occasional spot of red and some cattle appeared on the ground. The spot of red was a Masai herder watching his flock.
The Masai, a very tall regal people, greeted us. We were treated to native dancing and a craft show in their round house, which was made of dung and straw and large enough to hold fifty people. I noticed a little boy who was half clad with bare feet and a snotty nose. Flies flew around him. Oh, how I wished I could take him home and give him a bath. As we left the round house and took the path for the bus, the little boy walked up to Mr. Negative, took his hand and gave him a big snotty smile.
Waving goodbye from the bus, Mr. Negative turned to us and with tears in his eyes said, “That little boy was the highlight of my trip to Africa. If I live to be 100, I will never forget him. He made this whole trip worthwhile.”
Next stop, Nanuki. Flying over the dry savannah we saw an occasional acacia tree giving shade to a few wild animals. The tour guide pointed to a heard of African antelope, known as eland, taking shelter. Our next stop was the Mount Kenya Safari Club. This luxury hotel at the foot of Mt. Kenya promised experiences one could only dream about.
Along the road to the Mount Kenya Safari Club, I saw coffee plantations and an occasional village of painted huts, some with galvanized roofs. Children played outside among the colorful clothing hanging on the lines to dry. With my nose pressed against the van window I saw a woman who was carrying a huge bale of wood on her back. Bent over almost in half, she put one foot in front of the other as the road rose in front of her.
“What is that poor soul doing with all that wood?” I asked the tour guide.
“She is collecting wood to build a fire to cook the food for her family,” the guide replied rather matter-of-factly. “I wish she could have a bike to carry all that wood,” I said to no one in particular. “These people can’t even afford a wheelbarrow!” the guide replied.
I was shocked and saddened thinking of my own wasteful habits.
The hotel was luxurious. Mount Kenya was snow capped and majestic. We were greeted at the entrance with a cool fruit drink while the guide registered the group. I was escorted to my own cottage by a nice soft-spoken gentleman wearing a brown uniform. I wanted to tip him but did not understand the exchange rate. I pulled out a bill, which, when I saw the look on his face, I realized it was much too little. Later he knocked on the door around 4:00 pm with a cup of tea and biscuits. By this time, I had figured out the exchange rate and was able to give him a decent tip. “I will be back in a little while with wood to light the fire in the fireplace. Don’t miss the sun as it sets behind the mountain,” he offered.
This is really being spoiled, I thought. He came back and lit the fire. I settled in with my cup of tea. All alone with no one to share the moment, I watched the smoke and flames rise as the picture of the poor soul trudging up the road, bent under the bale of wood, filled my heart with sadness. Her image was all I could see in the flames. My tears could not change her life in this vast country, where life seemed so unfair.
When the sun went down, the night skies were very black. A buffet table displayed an array of salads and fruit to choose from. I took a seat at the table with our tour guide and another couple and enjoyed the meal, the wine, and the talk about what we had seen and what was to come. A guide with a flashlight helped me back to my cottage after dinner. Animal sounds played like music in the night air. Mount Kenya Safari club members and many famous people from around the world finance the rescue of injured wild animals that can no longer survive in the wild. The animals are adopted, living out their lives in this great reserve where well-trained, caring staff and volunteers make them comfortable.
Our next stop was The Ark in Aberdares National Park. The Ark had the feel of a tree house, overlooking a water hole and a salt lick, which were floodlit at night. The staff rang a bell in the rooms at night to let everyone know the animals were at the water. I got up and joined the other guests on the deck to watch a black rhino drinking from the pool. The next day a large stealthy leopard walked right by the window in the lounge where I sat having a drink. Amazing!
The roar of the male lion waking from his afternoon nap, the speed of the cheetah on the chase to take down an eland, the sounds of the exotic birds and the sight of other wildlife took me to a place where I hadn’t ventured before, emotionally or physically. My broken heart opened up to my new reality.
In the dark of night, on the edge of the Masai Mara with a chorus of wild animals calling out to one another, I sat outside my tent and cried like never before. I cried for the lost moments, the unshared thoughts, the love never voiced or put off for a better time, and the many things left unfinished. I had to go to deepest, darkest Africa to share my sadness with the animals.
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 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.
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.