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.