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.