Monthly Archives: October 2011

Remembering: {day whatever}

20111013-181813.jpgWell. This is embarrassing.

No sooner do I make a commitment to posting for 31 days, than I go AWOL for twice as long as I ever put anything up here. Sort of like an extended blackout period.

Not that anyone cares about the reasons, but here’s a little of what was going on during the Time of Darkness:

I caught a cold. I went on a trip to the Mainland to visit my daughter. I came home, and for the past week have experienced what I’ve come to think of as The Pit of Despair (Thanks to the cold, I even sounded a little bit like The Albino).

I tried to talk myself into climbing up out of it; that made it worse. So I’m still sort of in the pit. And I still have the cold.

Speaking of depressing, how about this post? Fourteen days of silence and now this. Sheesh.

Anyway, during the Time of Darkness I was still remembering stuff, but somehow unable to write about any of it. The posts have just existed in my head, but if I’d actually written them, some of them might have been about:

  • My dad: he loved to eat, and loved all kinds of food, except one: oatmeal. How he never called it anything except “mush,” which used to crack me up, and how his dislike of it had to do with having had to eat so much of it — or a really bad version of it — growing up on a farm in Kansas;
  • My little four-foot-eleven German grandmother: she not only was the size of a preteen, she often acted like one. She roller skated and jumped rope with us, and took us (well, me — I don’t remember my brother being along on those journeys) downtown to eat lunch — which included an ice cream soda — at the Kress counter, then bought us palm leaves at Alexander Young Bakery;
  • My German grandfather: a big, bald, barrel chested man with a booming voice, he took me shopping downtown on Fort Street at the end of summer and let me pick out any dress I wanted for the first day of school;
  • Mrs. T: she was the mom of my brother’s best friend, and one time we drove over to their house to pick up my brother, and she came out to talk to my mom. But she was embarrassed that she had curlers in her hair, so before coming out the door she grabbed a quilted toaster cover and put it on her head, then carried on a perfectly normal conversation with my mom;
  • My Uncle Charley: one time he hid in the brush along the trail we were hiking to Sacred Falls and snorted like a wild boar. The four of us kids simultaneously screamed, jumped five or ten feet straight up, and hightailed it back down the trail. There may have been a pair or two of wet pants in the group, and not from the waterfall;
  • One of my first ASL teachers, Georgia: she was a pretty respectable teacher of sign language, except that her hands had a tendency to flutter, somewhat birdlike, in a way that often made her signs difficult to understand. It was bit frustrating for us novice signers. One of my deaf friends said it was just Georgia’s “accent;”
  • One of my high school classmates was a star running back who held the state record for most yards in a season for a couple decades. He went on to star at USC and then a career in the NFL. When he arrived at our school in 8th grade, everyone thought, judging by the chin whiskers, that he was in the wrong place; one of our teachers tried to show him how to get to the high school part of campus.

So that’s about all I can come up with for now. I hope to be exiting the P of D before too much longer. I also hope to get back on track with the remembering, but I suppose it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to promise anything.

By the way, the rainbow over Diamond Head up there isn’t there for any particular reason, except that when I was on the mainland and trying really hard to come up with something, I uploaded it into the draft just to have something to look at. It’s possible that triggered a little bout of homesickness, which on top of the cold and the P of D made it not such a great idea. But now you know what the western view from my back yard looks like on a rainy morning.

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Remembering: {day 7} Ann

We knew each other since elementary school, and grew close in high school. We called each other “honchos,” which was our way of saying we were like sister-friends. When we went on a school study tour through Europe, we wore each other’s backpacks so as to be able to get into our own stuff more easily. We laughed at our German professor behind his back, made up silly songs on the train, and slept with the window open in our hotel room in the Alps while it snowed in.

She was a middle child in a large Catholic family, but with a more adventuresome spirit and assertiveness than a typical middle child. She had three sisters who were all made by their mother to take ballet, but she put her foot down and said she wouldn’t go, and she didn’t. Sweet and easygoing, she was also good at knowing how to get her way. She had a laugh that sounded like birdsong.

She went away to college in California, but only stayed a year and then came home, to her parents’ dismay, and married her high school sweetheart. He turned out to be something of a cad, but she kept on the path she chose, earning her degree in architecture, then moving with him to New Zealand and finding all sorts of success while he just kind of treaded water. She dumped him and moved on.

Unlucky in love, she went through two other guys after that (that sounds bad; the second husband was also a cad, but the third one ended up being a pretty good guy), but never lost her sense of optimism or ambition. She worked her way up in the mayor’s office in Auckland, to the point where she was the mayor’s right hand and the city executive who oversaw both Auckland’s hosting of the America’s Cup in 2000 and its Y2K celebration. It was an impressive accomplishment for a young American woman down under.

Within a few weeks she was gone. Years before she had had a small melanoma removed from her ankle. She went to the emergency room one night with what she thought might be a bad case of indigestion, or at worst appendicitis. The doctors examined her, then sent her to surgery. The surgeon opened her up, took a look around at all the cancer, closed her up and sent her straight to hospice.

Once there, she had about two weeks to get her affairs in order. Her father and one of her brothers flew down to be with her. She brought in a priest and married her third husband there in her hospice room, a few days before she died, with their two dogs and the nursing staff as witnesses. She was 43 years old.

She spent most of her adult life far away in New Zealand, so I only saw her occasionally when she came home for visits but time and distance apart didn’t diminish our fun with each other. I wish I’d had a chance to laugh with her one more time.

Remembering: {day 6} Baby

Her name was Alice but everyone knew her as Baby. She reminded you of a baby bird: she was so tiny as to have been considered scrawny. My father-in-law, an old friend of hers from childhood, called her Runty.

But for all her five-foot-nothing, 95 pound size, she was anything but runty. She was married to a cantankerous former star athlete and her three sons were total hellions but no one ever questioned who was the boss of that outfit.

And if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be married to the love of my life. But if she’d had her way, even that might not have happened.

I was at the beach club one weekend with my best friend Linda and her baby. Baby was there, and we stopped to chat for awhile. Little did I know B was lurking nearby, checking me out. Baby and I were standing near the drinking fountain and he wandered over on the pretense of getting a drink, so Baby called him over for introductions. I vaguely remembered him from high school, thought he was kind of cute, but other than that didn’t give the whole thing much more thought.

A week or two later I ran into Baby again; she worked with my mom at the school B and I had both attended and I was there for a visit with my mom. She mentioned that B had said he’d sort of liked what he’d seen of me at the beach and wondered if I was available. Even though I wasn’t looking for anything serious at the time, I was certainly available, so I told her, “Sure, give him my number and have him call me!”

Only she didn’t.

You see, Baby knew that at that point I was already three years out of grad school, living on my own with a somewhat established job and social life. B, on the other hand, had fairly recently moved home from the Mainland after college and a brief post-graduation job — in Baby’s mind, still a bit too young/inexperienced/innocent for the likes of me. So giving him my number was something she just couldn’t bring herself to do.

But she kept that opinion to herself; or at least, from me. So I was left to wonder why a couple weeks went by and I never heard from the guy. It wasn’t just that he hadn’t gotten my number from her; he also, back in those days, had a bit of a shyness issue. Bad combination. And as it happened, as time went on I felt myself growing more interested in him.

So in the end I took matters into my own hands and went and found him one afternoon when he was coaching soccer practice. We set a date to go to the beach a couple days later, and the rest, as they say, is history. Eventually he let on that Baby had said I was “too old” for him; eventually (well, pretty quickly, actually) I forgave her for that. How could I not? Even though she’d been reluctant about it, she set me up with the man of my dreams. But I don’t think I ever stopped giving her a hard time about it.

with Baby at our wedding

Remembering: {day 5} Baba

She came from American aristocracy: her maiden name was Adams, and her family had been in this country for who knows how many generations. And she came from money; her father was a banker in San Francisco who had hobnobbed with the robber barons.

So she was accustomed to a certain way, not to mention quality, of life. I got my first glimpse of this when I, recently engaged to her grandson, was invited to Thanksgiving in her home. At just the right time, after a time of cocktails and polite chitchat on the lanai, we were asked to make our way to the dining room for dinner. That the table was lavishly set you can imagine; each place setting had multiple pieces of china, crystal, and silver to contend with. And a finger bowl.

Now, I was no country bumpkin. My mother had schooled me well enough in etiquette in my growing-up years (and believe it or not, I got further instruction in college) that I knew which fork was which and that my bread plate was on the left and so forth. I also knew not to pick up my spoon and start on the soup course before the hostess did. But it was my very first encounter with finger bowls.

For people to whom appearances matter, how one conducts oneself in these types of social situations makes all the difference. It was clear to me that this was a whole new ball game, and while I definitely did not have the home field advantage, for my fiance’s sake, I had to step up. So I did.

Nonchalance was my middle name, but you better believe I was carefully watching the rest of the group, taking my cues from them. The staff, two elderly Japanese ladies in starched white dresses and aprons, came in with each course and served us individually, always from the left (recently I saw this played out briefly in “The Help” — did you catch it? when a maid tries to serve one of the white ladies from her right side, and the lady, with a frown, makes her shift over to the left).

I might have been just a split-second behind the rest of the group that night, but I think I gave a pretty seamless performance. I got thrown off slightly during the dessert course when Misayo was attempting to serve me hard sauce and I thought it was ice cream. I’d never seen hard sauce before. And frankly, I can’t recommend it.

And when it came time to use the finger bowl, I peeked under my lashes and watched Baba, then daintily dipped my own fingertips in the warm, flower-scented water. No one would ever have guessed it was my first time.

I was there again many times over the years, of course, and always behaved utterly appropriately; I knew what was expected of me in that situation. She never said anything — that wouldn’t have been her way — but I knew I had her approval. And for my part, I knew, though would never have told her: I wasn’t about to be intimidated by a little finger bowl.

Remembering: {day 4} Roy

He threw me a lifeline by asking me to the senior prom after my erstwhile boyfriend kinda, sorta dumped me about a month before the event. Actually he didn’t so much ask me as we made an agreement to go together, as his longtime girlfriend had also recently decided they needed to spend some time apart. So, being more or less friends, since 7th grade, and more or less in the same boat, it seemed like the convenient thing to do.

Even though it was a Plan B sort of thing, I appreciated having a date at all and took care picking out a dress and all the rest of it. The obligatory picture my parents took of us in our finery and flowers shows with remarkable clarity the awkwardness of the utter lack of any prom night romance. It was like a business deal. Still, we both had decided to make the best of it, and for the most part, we did.

Unfortunately, 18 is a very selfish, thoughtless age. Or maybe I’m just talking about myself. In the month between him asking me and the event itself, I had started to kinda, sorta speak again with the erstwhile boyfriend. This led to us kinda, sorta getting back together at an after-party we all went to that night. It was egregiously unfair to Roy, and I knew that, but I went ahead and behaved badly anyway.

Back in those days our school had the senior prom on the night before graduation. This meant that it was literally the penultimate time many of us would ever see one another again. So I grieved my bad choices later, and ever since. Not just because I had hurt a friend that night, but within nine months I learned he had died of a drug overdose in his dorm room, away at college. I never got the chance to really apologize to him, or to tell him what a stand-up guy he was.

Remembering: {day 3} Kip

When my husband and I started dating, I soon found that his family belonged to a large, warm, fun social circle. There were four or five couples who had all married and had kids around the same time, and over the years birthdays and holidays were celebrated together, vacations were taken together, and milestones in various lives were observed together in this crowd.

Kip was one of the moms. At first glance she might have seemed out of place in the context of our island customs, because she was from the Deep South; she had the most corn-poney South Carolina accent I’ve ever heard and a good many southern belle mannerisms to go along with it. But oh, the charm, and the style, and the warmth. She was anything but out of place.

The first time I met Kip was at some holiday party or other, and my mother-in-law pulled me over to her and asked, “Kip, have you met B’s fiancee?” And she grinned at me and trilled, “No, but I want to!” Only it sounded like: “Ah won’t tew!” — and “won’t” had two syllables. And I’ll tell you, no other perfect stranger has ever made me feel so special, before or since.

And the way it made me feel is why, whenever someone asks me if I’ve ever met some other new person, I try to remember to say, “No, but I want to!” Only without the accent, because I could never pull that off.

Remembering: {day 2} Carol

She wore white linen to my wedding, and that’s how I remember her: she had a cool elegance, but also a tender compassion; she was never aloof or distant.

She confided in me about her illness in a way that surprised me at the time. I couldn’t imagine how someone 20 years my senior would take me into her confidence that way, but it didn’t make me uncomfortable. Well, maybe a little. But she told me how the cancer had first shown up in her colon, and later spread — “metastasized,” she said, always accurate in her vocabulary — to her liver. And somehow it made me feel she loved me, that she would be willing to share such details with me. I loved her back.

In the spring when the Legislature was in session we walked to the state capitol to present testimony in support of the the Judiciary’s annual budget, which we had worked together to prepare. We sat on a wooden bench outside the hearing room, and she said to me, softly, “I’m not ready to die. I don’t want to leave my kids.”

Her children were in high school then, both were graceful, soft-spoken, athletic. She was 50 when she died, five years younger than I am now. Her daughter was 15, her son was 17. Her son became a dentist and lives in Arizona. Her husband was an attorney, a southern gentleman, a tall Virginian with a slow drawl. He remarried some years later.

At Christmastime she invited all of us in the office to her home for a holiday party. She served us osso buco for lunch. She described how it’s made, and I remember how as a young newlywed I was in awe of the complexity and time involved in such a mouth-watering preparation. To her it was nothing; she changed the subject and told us a story about how every year on Christmas Eve her family would go night fishing. Then they would eat fish for breakfast on Christmas morning.

She was a life-line for me, in a way: she gave me a job two weeks after I was abruptly fired from the TV station where I sold advertising air time. I worked for her on contract so that I could continue to look for something in my so-called career path. Looking back, it seems like such a mistake: the thing I was pursuing was so inferior to what I had right there. There in that old historic courthouse, in our second floor office, churning out pamphlets and speeches on a ridiculously primitive word processor. It was a mistake because I loved what I was doing then: writing. Writing for Carol, who was my mentor.