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.