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.

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