Monday, June 11, 2007

Rise Up! Seize the Cookie!

At home I observed my Father in uniform and later described his insignia to my Ni'ihau friends. They told me my Father was a Captain. They were clearly impressed. The word for Captain in Hawaiian is Alaka'i, which also means boss or supervisor, the only name they had for me. They pointed out the connection, and suggested I was taking after my Father already. I had thoughts of becoming a soldier.

I asked if they ever wanted to be soldiers. Lono said he might, for a while, but eventually he wanted to study English more and teach school. This one remark was very important to me. What's English? The language of Britain and of the U.S., where I was from, they said. Not Hawai'ian, but a separate language. It was a revelation that took a while to absorb. There was also a reminder of school. I learned where I would have found it. It was almost twice as far as I had searched.

Lani said he wanted to be an artist. He took a carving out of his pocket and showed it to me. It didn't look like anything but a lump of wood, but he said in time it would look like an animal. When I asked what animal, he said whatever it wanted.

I remember at the time being more interested in Lono's goals than in Lani's. It was about this time though that I learned they were brothers. Lono said they were non-identical twins. They were born at the same time to the same Mother. But they were so different. Lono was so extroverted. Lani was quiet and distant.

At home I had a new kind of problem. The new dog Koko was getting cookies all the time, but my Mother still was not feeding me when my Father was at at work. I was beginning to reach the point where I could start to pronounce English but the words wouldn't come out. I was sure that if I could tell my Mother what was wrong everything would be solved.

I came up with the idea of translating Hawaiian into English. I worked for a long time and came up with the sentence, "If dog gets cookie, boy gets cookie." I tried it out the next time my Mother was dishing out cookies to Koko.

It was probably January, 1952. I'm sure it was after Christmas. I was 2 and a half and it was 18 months after my first word. My Mother's jaw dropped open. Her eyes opened wide. Then she smiled, gave me a cookie and said, "All you ever had to do was ask."

When I told Lani and Lono about it they were stunned, too. Not that I had spoken English, but that I hadn't been doing so. This was they first they knew of it.

It was already decided that I couldn't follow them all day and distract them from their work. Now they laid down a rule that the hour's lunchtime would be divided into equal halves. The first thirty minutes of each lunch break would consist of Lono and I practicing our English. The second thirty minutes would be all three of us speaking or singing Hawaiian.

Lunches were at 11am to noon. I was taught just enough about telling time to know when it was getting close to 11.

About this time, I began to feel bad that my friends were always bringing food to the lunches and I never had any to bring. I think I was picking up on the Hawaiian value of uku, reciprocity. So I worked out how to say, "Want cookies for friends."

Once again, mother was stunned. This time, it was that I had friends. She asked a lot of questions, but I couldn't answer any of them because I hadn't prepared. The only thing I could do was nod yes when she asked if they were bigger. I could only say sentences I'd worked on and practiced for an hour or so. Finally though she agreed to give me a bag of cookies.

A typical day would consist of me getting up around daybreak, playing by myself in the house or close by while my Mother slept off the previous night's drunk. Then around 10:15 or so, I would go into her bedroom and start yelling, "E Māmā, e ala e! E ala ala e!" Once she was up, she give me a bag of cookies for my friends. She knew they were older kids, but had in mind 4 or 5 year-olds, 6 year-olds, maybe. She never dreamed I was meeting 18 year-olds for lunch every day.

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