I have never spent so much time alone by myself, in my life. Big family and helping younger siblings, house-mates in college, husbands, raising children, roommates, being event coordinator for my circle of friends. Left alone with my thoughts; flashes of recalled memories, songs running through my head, gratitude to the Universe. I realize: I like myself!
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Frances W. King (Grandmother)
Sept. 21, 1981
Opportunity Knocks But Once
“Alice, do you know what?” I exclaimed to my best girlfriend who lived just a block away from me when I lived in Denver. We were about seven years old and sometimes she couldn’t play with me until after she took her ballet lesson. She had shown me a pretty tulle costume that she had recently worn in a recital. I thought she was just wonderful to be able to dance and twirl on her toes like that. But I couldn’t take dancing, I had to take piano lessons from my mother.
“No, what?” my little Russian Jewish friend inquired.
“I’m going to sing a solo in the church musical. You see, it’s called, ‘The Wedding of Tom Thumb,’ and I’ll be dressed in a long dress, as I’m supposed to be one of the aunts, and I get to sing a song at the wedding scene.”
We two must have been quite a contrast roller skating and skipping to school together. She with her very curly brown-black hair - almost frizzy in a big halo around her very classic features, brown sparkling eyes, set close together, and a big wide smile with lots of teeth; and I with my blond straight hair, almost white - “tow-headed,” they called me, cut in a Dutch bob, with pale green large eyes, set far apart, who also had a wide smile most of the time. My papa used to call me his “merry sunshine.”
I used to love to go over to Alice’s house for after school snack and have Matzo crackers and dill pickles. I even had a taste of “gavelta” fish - which I liked even after her mother had cautioned, “You may not like it.”
Alice liked to come to my house occasionally for a slice of peanut butter and jam spread on white bread. My brother Verl, three years older than I, made quite a ritual of fixing several slices of bread spread with peanut butter and jam, carefully lining them up on his outstretched arm and carrying them out to the front porch while I held my breath and the screen door open as he slowly walked out balancing the slices. Whoever was handy got to help themselves to the bread slices. I can’t remember him ever dropping any of them. Then we sat on the steps or the porch swing relishing our treat.
“Here comes your papa,” one of his friends would say, as papa came up the street on his big bicycle. We didn’t have a car - in fact there were only two owners of automobiles in the three-block area to my knowledge. Everyone walked or rode bicycles or roller skated. Papa was a big man, with big soft brown eyes, and the straight black hair at the nape of the neck at the base of the straw hat he always wore, was all the hair he had. Even in his wedding picture he was almost bald.
But papa didn’t scold us for eating up most of the loaf of bread as he knew that we might have to wait until eight in the evening before we could have supper.
“You’re supposed to stand directly and square in front of the bread before you start slicing it - then it won’t get crooked,” he cautioned as he tried to square up the loaf. We didn’t have ready-sliced bread in those days.
My mother, a tall slender woman, with long gold hair and sea-green eyes, from whom I inherited my long nose and complexion which burns easily, taught piano in the Denver Conservatory of Music. She went downtown to the conservatory via the street car almost every day and sometimes she didn’t get home until 8 p.m. But my papa was a good cook and would wait supper for her, so that we could have supper together and talk over things at the table.
Our social life was pretty much centered around the Christian Church which we walked to - come rain, shine or snow, morning and evening on Sundays. Mama was the superintendent of the Sunday School, and she thought it would be fun to have the children put on “Tom Thumb’s Wedding,” in conjunction with a recital this particular spring.
I think the solo that mama and I practiced was “Oh Promise Me,” and every spare moment, mama would say, “Let’s practice your solo,” and in rehearsal, I was advised to come forth from the seated area of the “relatives” when I heard the introductory notes of “Oh Promise Me.”
At long last came the night of the Big Performance of Tom Thumb’s Wedding. The play was moving along, and the numerous relatives were seated in a semicircle around the pair on the stage, and I heard the ominous strains of “Oh Promise Me,” but for some reason or other I was glued to the seat. I couldn’t step out and sing my solo mama and I had practiced.
“Perhaps if I look the other way, people will think I didn’t hear my cue and the play will move on to the next segment,” I urgently prayed silently as I sat transfixed on my chair. But no - there were the first few bars again of “Oh Promise Me.” Finally the hole in the play grew too large and my opportunity to shine had passed me by and the play moved on to its conclusion.
“Oh, mama, I’m so sorry I disappointed you, but I was too scared, I couldn’t move,” I sobbed as we walked home from church.
“I’m sorry too, for I know you disappointed yourself even more than anyone else. We should remember that ‘opportunity knocks but once,’ and we should take advantage of those opportunities even when we’re scared.”
“So how did the Tom Thumb’s wedding go?” Alice asked me the next day.
I had planned to tell her that I didn’t hear my cue, but she was too good a friend to lie to, so I confessed, “I missed my opportunity because I was so scared.” But the experience made us even closer friends for Alice too had lived through stage fright, and ultimately we both profited by this peculiar phenomena of being “scared stiff.”
Ma’ata Frances Tukuafu
Waimea, Big Island, Hawaii
Get Out and Push
It was a pretty dress; white fabric with a dainty flower print that I’d picked out and sewn myself. At 13 I was pretty good at sewing my own clothes, having learned at the age of ten when we lived in Tonga.
Mom had brought the treadle sewing machine with us to Tonga in 1973, and although we had electricity in our rented faculty home at Liahona, the old sewing machine proved very useful to the family. Mom could cut out and sew multiple shirts or dresses in one day, a good thing for having six children at the time. At Tonga Side School, the only English-speaking school on Tongatapu, we had to wear uniforms; girls in white blouses with maroon-colored jumpers and boys wore grey shorts and shirts. The Tukuafu girls were the only students who had puff sleeves trimmed in lace. As for the yellow ribbons we were supposed to wear at the end of our braids, I usually made the Tongan teachers frown as I’d let my long curly hair blow wild and loose.
I’d now sewn dozens of dresses and tops for myself and this was my first time to attend a church dance. This particular dress had lined bell sleeves, a waistband with matching tie belt and hung two inches below my knee, church standards for sure. Dad volunteered to drive my brother Isi and I down to the church hall and said he’d work on his church clerk job while he waited for us.
Isi, a year younger than I, was dressed in white shirt and tie, “high water” black pants and slippers. With his wavy hair cut short, his big toothy smile and friendly round eyes, Isi was just as excited as I to attend the youth dance.
We got into our green 70’s Volkswagen van, me sitting “shotgun” in the front seat as the oldest sister should. It had been raining all day and our Green Valley road which was famous for its huge mud puddles, was saturated. Our strong and stocky father had learned from experience that either zooming through the puddles quickly or going way around them if it was possible, could get us through the worst of it.
We watched as Dad got to a point in the road and slowed down, thinking about how he should best maneuver the van. This part of the road was especially prone to high water as just before this area, a stream crossed under the road and several years before, Dad and his friends had installed a culvert pipe to make it easier to cross during the rains. The run-off during big rains though, would flood this part of the road. The van, windshield wipers madly going back and forth, got stuck. Dad hesitated and the van’s two rear wheels spun as they dug deeper and deeper into the mud. My heart sank, it was still raining hard out there, and my hair would get curlier in the humidity.
“Okay, both of you get out and help push,” Dad said to Isi and I.
We went to inspect the rear of the van, and in the twilight, saw that the wheels were in at least twelve inches of mud, the van’s bumper almost touching the mud. He told Isi to stand at one side of the van and for me to push from the passenger rear. I thought, ‘It’s a good thing we’re both wearing slippers, we can easily wash off at the chapel’s side faucet before going into the dance.’
“On three!” Dad shouted from the driver’s seat window. “One...two...three!”
Dad gunned the van. We pushed hard. Instantly, I was covered from head to toe with splatters of mud as the wheel on my side spun, but the van slowly crept out of the mud hole. Isi didn’t have a speck of mud on him.
“Daaaaaad!” I yelled. “You did that on PURPOSE!”
He got out of the van and had a big closed-mouth smile on his face. I’d seen that smile before; the one that he’d get when he teased one of us kids or when he’d reminisce about playing some trick on Mom when they first got married; like sitting on their toilet seat in the dark before she got to the bathroom, and when she sat down would scare the $#!^ out of her.
“Ah Ma’ata! Don’t worry,” he said with his characteristic smile, one side of his mouth turning up a little more than the other, showing his beautiful straight teeth. “We’ll stop at the Sproat's house and you can borrow a dress from Maile.”
I was not happy, in fact I felt like crying and looked out the window the whole time as we drove. My dress was ruined and I needed a whole shower, not just a rinse on my feet. But I wanted to go to that dance, where boys sat on metal folding chairs on one side of the room and girls sat on the other; a DJ would play the Bee Gees, Abba and Earth Wind & Fire while we got up the courage to dance with each other.
We did go to Maile’s house, and I took a shower and borrowed a dress from Maile, she being the same size as I was. And we did go to the dance. I don’t remember who I danced with or if I got “rulered,” (an adult chaperone would make sure that everyone was dancing a foot apart by inserting a Book of Mormon between dance partners,) but I’ll never forget that look on Dad’s face when he came around the corner of the green van and saw me standing there covered with mud, trying hard not to laugh out loud.
Irene Clare Tukuafu
MY BEST FRIEND
In my childhood, we moved a lot with my dad being a salesman. I always felt I had to get to know the other children in my elementary classes right away, because I didn't know when we’d be moving next. I felt I never had a “best friend” until I moved to Bell Street in Sacramento, California when I was about ten. Her name was Pat Carr; her mother was a beautiful Mexican woman and her dad, a haole, was a truck driver.
I admired this family because they loved each other; they were comfortable with their affections, and always kissed when he went off to work, sometimes leaving for weeks at a time.
Pat and I would walk barefooted to the little corner grocery store and get “lick'em aids.” I don't know how we stood those hot black top-roads in the Sacramento heat.
We'd lay in the fields and watch the clouds go by. We'd go in my dad's garden and take a salt shaker from my house and eat yellow pear tomatoes for an hour. One
time I can recall that we wanted a “mother and daddy drink” so we pretended and got some vinegar, salt and water and that was our “drink.”
Pat was a quiet girl and by ourselves she was loyal to me, but when the boys at the bus stop would tease me to make me cry, she just remained quiet. About the age of 12, we joined Job's Daughters. Our Bethel was #74 and we met in the downtown Sacramento Masonic Temple. I so loved going to our Bethel meetings and I joined the choir. We also joined the Drill team and had such snazzy uniforms of purple and white, and wore white boots with purple tassels. We marched in quite a few parades.
When my mother divorced, Mother moved to a little home not far from El
Camino High School and I got to know another wonderful girl my age. Her name was Diana Moo. She must have been half Tahitian as her skin color was darker then mine. I found it odd that she loved reading so much and would tell me that she would take a book even to take her bath; a board across her big four-legged tub. She was so very loving and kind to me, knowing what I was going through and getting used to living only with my mother.
When we lived in Sacramento later, I felt I had no “real” friends at all. I started working at a Woolworths Department Store in the fountain/ice cream section. I needed the money and lied about my age; I said I was 16 when I was only 14.
I went to a different high school every year. All those years, I worked at part-time waitress jobs. I always tried to get on lunch duty so I could get my lunches for free; I figured that if I got a job in a restaurant, I'd always have enough food.
I loved dancing and went to any and every dance I could, no matter what high school I was at! I didn't lack for dancing partners, because I could dance and follow the guy’s lead. I was never a “wall flower,” but still, I lacked a“girl best friend” and knew I was missing out.
When I first went to college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, I had some wonderful roommates. I joined the LDS church there, then went off to BYU in Provo. I always worked while attending college and social life for me was, “Where is the next dance?”
Not until I married Tomasi did I find a best girlfriend and that was Kapua Sproat. What a jewel of a friend she was to me. We talked of all sorts of things and shared our children and times of happiness and sorrow. Our husbands were good friends. Kapua and I learned how to sew together, how to can jams and make other foods.
When our family first moved to Tonga in 1967, I missed her so much that I knew I would have a girl and that I’d name her Kapua Fiefia. Kapua means blossom and Fiefia translates from Tongan into happy. I can attribute much of my philosophy of “happiness is a choice” to a very serious conversation I had with Kapua Sproat.
In 1968, when we moved back to Hawaii from Tonga, I'd gotten hurt by something that Tomasi had said to me. I was crying about it to Kapua and then said, “He made me so unhappy about what he said...blah blah blah...”
“Irene, do you think that Tomasi is responsible for YOUR happiness? Do you
think that your mother or your dad are responsible for your happiness? Do you think that God or Christ is responsible for your happiness?” asked Kapua.
Boy that got me thinking. It took more then a few years to think that through. Several years later when I read a book titled “GO FOR IT,” by Irene Kassorla, did that concept really sink in. YOU, AND YOU ALONE are responsible for your happiness. No matter what happens in your life, you can still choose to be happy.
When we lived up in Green Valley in the mid ’70’s and I was a chorister in our Hau’ula Ward, I watched a young woman enter who had blond hair and two darling tow-headed kids following her. I thought as I was leading the music, ‘I'm going to get to know her.’ Her name is Vicki Andrus, and she and her family had moved to Pat's At Punalu’u [a condominium].
Eventually, Tomasi and I invited Vicki and her husband Ralph to stay with us while they looked for a place to buy. They stayed in our “tree house,” a rustic one-room shack built close to our home for a few months, we two women “bumping bellies” in the kitchen making food for our families, as we were both expecting.
I helped her find a place to buy and Vicki and Ralph built a cabin not far out of Green Valley. All the years following, we kept in touch; we called each other and discussed joys or sorrows; kids and siblings; places of jobs.
Our family moved to Ashland, Oregon in 1996 and Vicki and I communicated often on the phone; we spent some holidays together, and even traded children.
When the Andrus’s finally moved from Las Vegas, Nevada to Nauvoo, Illinois, we visited them to help build tables for the restaurant she had purchased.
“Are you still thinking about building a round house like you had been thinking 30 years ago?” Vicki asked me.
“I’ve given up on that dream,” I answered. “But maybe in the next world...”
“Irene, maybe we need to rethink that dream!" Vicki said adamantly.
The rest is history as we worked together and with her building experience, Vicki devoted one whole year of her life building my dream home. What a blessing she's been in my life.
Kapua Sproat has been a blessing in my life. I have other dear friends I made in Hawaii, and Ashland, and in Payson, Utah. I'm grateful always for so many girlfriends.
I think it a foolish saying that “Your true friends you can only count on one hand.” I do NOT believe that. We have many, many more, and meeting up with those
that we knew in the pre-mortal world and here now on earth, we'll meet in the next
world as well. I love them all.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
MY BEST FRIEND
Little girls in the early grades in school were always vying for the status of being someone's best friend.
One little Jewish girl, Alice Rifkin, lived just a block from me on Gaylord Street, in Denver, Colorado. She used to say as we walked home from Columbine School, “Don't forget to wait for me tomorrow morning. We're best friends, aren't we?”
Columbine was about eight or ten blocks from our homes, and we often stopped in the little grocery store across the street from the school to spend a penny or so on jaw-breakers.
We must have made quite a contrasting pair, as I was a tow- headed blond and wore my hair in a Dutch bob. My mother insisted on my wearing a big black hat, elastic band under the chin, and beribboned with streamers down the back. I did have a few freckles across my nose. I was a little shorter than Alice, and her thick curly brown hair, cut rather short, looked as if it would be very reluctant to comb through. She had bright brown eyes, which some- how or other had a mystery depth to them, and her round but classic featured face was covered with brownish freckles.
“I’ll have to go to my ballet lessons today, Frances,” she said on certain days of the week.
Alice was of Russian descent and really planned on being a famous Russian ballet dancer. I was certainly in awe of her pink tulle tutu's and hard-toed toe slippers. I wanted to take dancing lessons too, but since my mother was a piano teacher, I was learning to play the piano. I did used to try and practice some of the ballet steps with Alice.
Once in a while we were allowed to take turns staying for dinner or supper at each other's homes. I was fascinated with the matzo crackers, and their special kind of fish.
Alice grieved with me at the death of my mother. Even with the excitement of a new life in California and in the company of my dear cousin, leaving Alice and my other best friends left an emptiness.
“Don't forget to write me,” Alice said when I told her that I was moving to California to live with my relatives.
The correspondence gradually dwindled and many new best friends came in and out of my life. Some I grew very close to, shared exciting adventures such as mountain trips, trying new food in various ethnic restaurants: Mexican, Chinese; or going to Greek festivals in the park. Later in the late teens and early 20's, going to dances with a special chum named Billy without a boy escort (to the dismay and concern of our elders); and the telling of secrets about how we felt about certain boys in our group.
Then I have had long-time friends - one especially comes to mind - Velia - whom I met through employment. The friendship has lasted more than 15 years. We shared excitement and sorrows involving husbands, children and grand children, and as to who is going to be the great grandmother first.
For some unexplainable reason, when the thought of a best friend comes to mind, Alice Rifkin, posing in ballet costume of pink tulle is pictured in my mind's eye, posing in that special way only ballet dancers have.
Ma’ata Frances Tukuafu
Hawi, Big Island, Hawaii
I grew up without a TV. Even when my parents did have electricity, they chose not to have a TV in the home, preferring instead that their children read, play games or do chores. Friends in high school would gather before class or during lunchtime and discuss the latest show they were watching. They’d turn to me to ask what I thought, then remember and say, “Oh yeah, you don’t have a TV.”
It never made me uncomfortable, I was quite happy without a TV, learning instead at a young age, to play the piano on my mom’s pump organ, sew from patterns and bake cookies for my siblings. I read a lot of books, sometimes one a day, even while walking to and from classes.
Mailelauli’iokumu Shannon King Sproat was my best friend and I loved saying her whole name. Our parents were very good friends, and our mothers used to babysit us when we were toddlers. Our families spent a lot of time together and I recall enjoying the Kung Fu TV series, when we’d go to the Sproat’s home and watch it from one of those old TV sets that had the “rabbit ears” on them. Once in a while, the TV would go fuzzy, and Ka’ohu, Maile’s older brother would have to climb onto the roof to adjust the antenna.
“Still junk!” we’d yell up to him from the porch window. “OK, good...picture’s back on.” And we’d continue watching the series, with no rewind button available.
The Sproat family was our family. “Calabash cousins,” as Maile and I called each other. Where Maile’s hair was straight and black, mine was brown and curly. Her smooth skin didn’t have the freckles I had, and we were always the same height as we grew. When we first started at Hau’ula School, I cried when I found out that she wasn’t in Mrs. Blevin’s kindergarden class with me.
“Can I sleep over at Maile’s?” was my constant request to my parents. And when I did get to sleep over, we would color together, sing, read books, braid each others hair and play jacks on the wood floor of their home.
Uncle Kamaka, half Hawaiian, half haole, was a great storyteller. We loved sitting with the adults, hearing his funny stories about growing up in Kohala on the Big Island. He’d have my parents laughing so hard after dinner, as they sat around the kitchen table. Both our families were Mormons, my mom would be shocked when Uncle Kamaka would pepper his talk with mild swear words like damn and Hell.
“Damn kids, out!” he’d say, mostly in play, if we were in his outside bathroom, and he wanted to take a shower after work.
Maile’s mother, Aunty Kapua, with her thick black hair streaked with gray was my idol. She is also half Hawaiian, half haole and I loved that she was a “working woman,” a professor at Brigham Young University. She still cooked and sewed while caring for us, and found time to exercise and keep herself trim. I knew that I would one day “work outside the home,” like she did, unlike my own mother who really loved being a stay-at-home mom.
Maile is the third child in the Sproat family of four. Ka’ohu the oldest was very handsome and I secretly had a crush on him when I was about 12. Next came Anuenue, who is three years older than Maile and I, and I looked up to her, though she was much more grown up and glamorous than we were. Kehau, the youngest, a boy four years younger than we are, was a constant source of amusement to us.
“How’s your control chart?” Aunty Kapua would ask Kehau, when he’d throw a mean tantrum.
“Leave me alone!” Kehau would cry and run into his room. He was about 7 at the time, and Aunty Kapua had posted a “control chart” on the fridge, complete with different colored stars to help him control his temper. Maile and I would laugh about it.
We would eat poi from a community bowl that sat on the kitchen table, and I wouldn’t touch it when the poi would sour, but Aunty Kapua loved it like that.
I was always proud of being Maile’s best friend, and I admired how smart and talented she was. She was extremely good in school, and followed Anuenue’s footsteps as a cheerleader in high school.
“Join gymnastics with me!” Maile said to me one day.
“But I can’t even do the splits or cartwheels like you can,” I answered. I went with her to gymnastics lessons once in a while and was always impressed at the moves she could do. Maile also danced hula beautifully, and participated at the Polynesian Cultural Center when they had a children’s dance show in the early ’70’s. She shared her profits with me by buying me popsicles from the ice cream truck at Hau’ula Park, a short walk below their home.
When we lived in Green Valley, Maile and her siblings loved going up to the house in Uncle Kamaka’s big white Ford truck. He’d strapped a piece of plywood to the top of the pipe rack, and when we reached the dirt road that led to Green Valley, he’d stop the truck and let us climb onto the top. Two miles of dirt, mud holes and scratchy bushes on both sides of the road and Uncle Kamaka would drive fast, sometimes 40 miles an hour. It was thrilling, we’d thrash about on the top of that plywood on our stomachs, holding on tight to the horizontal metal pole, ducking when the bushes whipped our way.
“I can’t believe your dad would go so fast with us little kids on that truck,” I told Maile one day when we were older.
“I know yeah? But it was so fun,” she answered. We both were in awe to remember how trusting he was with us, knowing we would take care of ourselves. When Uncle Kamaka passed away in 1993, she called me when I lived in LA. We both cried silently for a long time while on the phone, remembering all the wonderful times we’d had with him. No words were needed, I still miss him.
In 2008, at the young age of 42, I became a grandmother. My grandbaby Kiara was born in New Zealand to my older daughter Alena and her husband. I called Maile who lives in Punalu’u, Oahu.
“Aaah-haah, you’re a grandmother first...” she said in a singsong tone on the phone when I called her.
“Whatever, you’ll be one soon enough,” I answered.
And a few months later, she called me to say, “I beat you! I’m going to be a grandmother two times at once!”
Her daughter Kalena was having twin girls, and we laughed about our getting older, our families growing.
When our family moved away several times, Maile and I made pacts that we would always keep in touch with letter writing. And we always remembered each other’s birthday, she sending me letters or calling on May 18, and I doing the same for her on June 21st. This year, 2011, I got so busy on her birthday I had to text her late at night:
“Happy Birthday Maile dear! Had a solstice gathering and was tired, laying in bed and realized HOW RUDE, I didn’t even call you! Will call you in the am. Love you!!!”
She texted back: “Thanks...hahaha...sleep well on this summer solstice night...luv you.”
What a comforting thing to know in life, that I’m always loved, by my best friend Maile.
Ma’ata Frances Tukuafu
Hawi, Big Island, Hawaii
My Mother Said...
Irene Clare Tukuafu, my beautiful haole (white) mother with her long red hair braided and bobby-pinned into a crown at the top of her head, loved to sing. Even as a little girl, I remember Mom singing along with her guitar, or while playing the piano. Any little thing would trigger a song out of her; when her children were squabbling, she’d sing, “Let’s be kind to one another...” and let just that phrase trail off. The argument would settle down to quieter tones or the “squabblers” would move on to something else.
Mom sang about everything. If it started to rain, large drops of water falling loudly onto the tin roof of the “outside kitchen” we had in Green Valley, Punalu’u, she’d sing, “Raindrops keep falling on my head,” at least the first verse and chorus. When the sunset would illuminate the large pointed mountain that faced our home, to a golden pink color, she’d sing, “Red sails in the sunset,” while cooking dinner.
But there were phrases that she would repeat to us, most likely coming from her mother, when a situation arose.
At ten years old, I sewed my first skirt. It was a beautiful, long A-lined patchwork skirt, with scraps of material sewn together from colorful pieces of fabric in mom’s sewing room.
“OK Mom, I’ve sewed the side seams, now what do I do?” I’d ask her. And she’d show me the next step while she nursed a baby on her beloved rocking chair, or stir something at the stove. I learned to sew on my mom’s old fashioned Singer treadle sewing machine, pumping my feet back and forth on the large iron-worked peddle. My first projects were creating doll clothes for my sisters as they played with their Barbies. It was 1975 and our family lived in Tonga, in the faculty housing at Liahona where my father was a science teacher at a Mormon* high school. This was the only time I really recall “having a childhood,” as we had a house-girl who did most of the housework and the cooking.
How disappointed I was, when the final step of sewing the waistband was complete (after putting in my first zipper,) and the skirt was too small for me to wear.
“Mom - No fair! It fits Kapua!” I cried, so upset that all the work I’d done would exactly fit my sister who was two years younger than I. We had a love-hate relationship, Kapua and I, and I couldn’t bear to see her wear something I’d put in over five days of work on.
“You will sew many things in your lifetime Ma’ata,” Mom told me. “Just chalk this one up to experience and make something new for yourself.”
The second item I sewed did fit me, another skirt that didn’t take as much time. There was a seam that didn’t sit well on my right side and I complained to Mom about it.
“It won’t be noticed on a galloping horse,” Mom said. And I remember thinking, ‘That might be true if I was running, but what about if I’m just standing still?’
One thing that drove me crazy as a young child was having my sister Kapua want to do everything I did.
“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” my mom would tell me, but it didn’t do anything to relieve the irritation I felt when Kapua would copy me. She wanted to shave her legs or pluck her eyebrows, way before what I thought it was her time. Or be mad at me because I could go out on dates before she could.
In our Green Valley home, Mom posted a big sign in her unique handwriting, on the back of the front door. In black cursive writing on white construction paper, it read: “Home is a bit of heaven on earth.” Even when the sign curled with age and we could see the masking tape bleed through the front of the sign, we know my mom did the best she could to make our home a bit of heaven.
“People are more important than things,” she’d tell us, especially if kids were fighting over a toy or game. I still recall that saying in my mind as an adult; when I feel hurt over a broken friendship because of money, or see that families are ripped apart because of inheritance or probate issues.
Sometime during my childhood, my mom began to say, “Whoever loves dad for catching fresh fish for us, say I...” and we would all say “Aaayyyeee!” in a long monotone unison. It became a family saying to show gratitude for whatever someone did. Before the dinner prayer, someone would pipe up, “Whoever loves mom for making the food...say Aaaayyyeee,” and we’d all respond together.
With having so many children and living on my dad’s salary as a school teacher, my parents were always short of money.
“Money is the root of all evil!” my Mom would say in exasperation, as she sat at her roll top desk in our Green Valley home and try to make Dad’s paycheck stretch with her checkbook. It took a good year and a half of professional therapy for me as an adult, to remove that saying from the ‘tapes in my head.’ I learned that this particular saying, which my mom misquoted so much in my childhood really was, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” And knowing that my mom believed that “People are more important than things,” made me realize that we need to be so careful about the sayings we believe in and spread.
*The term Mormons: Please forgive me LDS readers, as I left the Mormon aka LDS (Latter Day Saint) Church before LDS became the accepted way to address devotees. I still call it the Mormon Church and will continue to do so, as that is how I know it to be.
April 27, 1981
MY MOTHER SAID
"Your mother sure said a lot of things,” my twelve-year old daughter Irene remarked in a rather exhausted tone of voice. I didn't realize that in my disciplining I would often hide behind the rules and regulations handed down to me from my parents to avoid the possible rebuff I might get from my children if I clearly indicated that the idea was mine. I've forgotten just what great wise thing my mother expounded at that moment - probably it was: “My mother said, 'Anything worth doing is worth doing well - especially for someone named Worth.’” Worth is my maiden name. I aIso used this expression to my son, Worth, a year younger than my daughter.
“How can you remember so many things your mother said when she passed away when you were only twelve?" Irene said unbelievingly.
“Well, the only way I can always have my mother with me is to reach back in my memory and recall everything about her I possibly can. I often ask myself, ‘What would mama say or do?’ when a problem arises,” I answered.
I told this story to a friend in later years who was complaining about her mother always telling her what to do. She replied, “You're closer to your mother now even though you only had her such a short time of your life, than I am to mine, who is still with me. You make me feel I should listen to her more closely.”
These sayings often monitor my thinking - and probably I attribute many of the sayings others have said to me to my mother. “Practice makes perfect,” or, “Sharp that F,” she would call from the upstairs bedroom as I was practicing piano, and I'd wonder how she could know which note I wasn't sharping.
Most piano lessons would be punctuated with, “Go blow your nose,” as the tears welled up at a stern, "PLEASE COUNT!”
My mother was a teacher in the Denver Conservatory of Music and she would leave the house to take the street car down town to the conservatory before we left for school. I was the baby of the family; VerI, my brother, three years older, and my sister, five years older, Gladys, would gather around her trying to get the last kiss. She settled
the question by saying, “Let's have a four-cornered kiss,” and we'd all end up laughing as our kisses met the air in between our cheeks rubbing together, trying to get close enough.
“You'll never have to remember what you said, if you tell the truth the first time,” was one of Mama’s sayings which I have found to be so comforting. Situations can get very embarrassing if one has to repeat a concocted story; it's much easier to remember the truth. I know, I've tried it a few times.
My children, as well as my piano students receive some of the advice my mother gave me, such as: “Curl your fingers, make your fingers march like soldiers; when you tell a story, you don't tell it all in the same monotone voice, do you?" She’d also say, “A simple piece played beautifully is much more pleasant to listen to than a harder piece murdered,” which paves the way for perfecting the simple pieces before trying more difficult ones.
In 1936 when I had a typist-clerk position in the L.A. General Hospital when it was just built, I had to take my turn at working three months day shift, three months evening shift, and three months from midnight to seven in the morning. This necessitated my having to transfer on the bus on Main Street, right in the heart of skid row, at all hours. Since I firmly believed what my mother had told me, “If you act like a lady, you'll always be treated like a lady,” I never was accosted in any way, as I knew I was not deliberately exposing myself to a dangerous situation. Of course my early Christian teaching had taught me that I would be protected at all times if I was “about My Father's business,” and not just fooling around asking for trouble.
Since my mother was away from the house when we came home from school, she managed to have each of us be a “policeman” over something. My sister was the “policeman” over the bread drawer - no one could eat a plain slice of bread or open up a new loaf until the heel was eaten. I was the “policeman” of the rungs of the chairs - Gladys and VerI had to obey me if I said, “Keep your feet off the rungs of the chairs,” and we had to obey my brother, VerI, when he said, “Don't slam the screen door!”
The saying that stood me in good stead in office jobs was: “You have to be your own policeman." I would remember this when the other girls in the office would start to goof off and slow down in their work whenever the boss wasn't around. I was probably thought of as a “goodie-goodie,” but I was being my “own policeman,” and wanted to “give a good day's work for a good day's pay,” which saying incidentally was one of my father's sayings.
“Pretty is as pretty does,” and “It will never be noticed on a galloping horse,” are probably among many mothers’ sayings, in response to a child’s lament over a dress or shirt with a missing button, or a wrong color.
My daughter came back with the phrase, “But I’m not on a horse.” So I added a saying, “If you wear a smile, no one will notice whatever else you’re wearing,” which she is now using on her children.
I’ll conclude this story of My Mother Said... with another saying from papa. My uncle was at the wheel of his Model T Touring Ford (the one needing many helping hands to put up windows which snapped reluctantly into place whenever it started to rain); Aunt Vernie beside him; Myrtle and I in the back seat with Myrtle’s Uncle Harold. My father patted my hand and said, “Make yourself useful and you’ll always be welcome.” I waved goodbye to them with the assurance that they’d be coming to California too, as soon as my father got his LA transfer as a government meat inspector.