Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bloody Dog

As I've said before my first word was "Daddy", prompted by my Mother saying, "tell Daddy who your present [the shit] is for!"

After my parents were both dead I found an old album they had of me. It was called Baby's Album, or something similar and equally obvious. The album had ready-made entries for "Baby's first smile", "Baby's first steps", etc., with room for snapshots where appropriate, and blank lines to be filled in with dates and other details.

The entry for "Baby's first word" had originally been "Daddy", but was later struck through and replaced by "shit" in the kind of bad handwriting my Mother had after she came down with arthritis in the Seventies. So maybe she remembered it a little differently. But clearly our memories aren't significantly different.

A few hours later I parroted "Goodbye Daddy" from memory. Then I went to the hospital and didn't speak a single word again until sometime toward the end of November, 1951. I don't remember what I said now, but I remember Lani and Lono placing it in time for me, and saying I had told them they had forgotten to do some one of their chores. It was an entire sentence in Hawaiian.

Things moved quickly after that, and already by December I was carrying on simple conversations with them, entirely in Hawaiian. It would be several months yet before I spoke any English again. But, unlike my insensitive parents, Lono was alert to the fact that I understand a lot of English, and so he alternated Hawaiian and English with me. Lani spoke only Hawaiian.

After I began speaking Hawaiian, Lani began to warm to me. One of the earliest conversations I remember was one I had with Lono when Lani had to leave us for a few minutes. He told me Lani had been keeping his distance because he had suffered too much from the loss of a younger brother. The discussion took some time because I didn't know what a younger brother was.

I still thought Hawaiian and English were one language and every night after going over the day's events and conversations in my head I would try to make English sounds in the hope of extending my speech to that part of "Hawaiian". I deliberately babbled, with the conscious goal of mastering the consonants and consonant combinations.

That was the main problem. Hawaiian has 7 consonants plus a breath stop: h, k, l, m, n, p, w, '.

The brain injury affected my speech motor control. I could whistle like a bird but I couldn't say hard g when I wanted to. Double consonants like gr and bl were even worse. So I worked on making those sounds constantly whenever I was alone. I recall sessions that went "tok, kok, tok, kok, tok, kok, tok, kok, tok, kok, dok, gok, tok, kok, dok, gok, tok, kok, tok, kok, dok, dok, dok, dok, dok, ..." on and on like that, until I fell asleep.

Speaking of "dok", we got a dog right about this time. He was nominally a Christmas present to me. My Father, who was back from Korea in time for the gifting, was sure that the dog was half Springer Spaniel and half Miniature Schnauzer. He named him Koko Head after the Hawaiian promontory east of the more famous Diamond Head. It was a common name that all the haole would give any pet that had dark fur on its head. Get it? "Koko": sounds like "Cocoa"!

But I already knew "koko" to mean "blood" in Hawaiian. I didn't like the idea of naming something with sharp teeth "Blood". I was very suspicious of this "gift", as you can see for yourself. This is the best picture my Father ever took, in my opinion.

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