Two days after my 3rd birthday, Dad came home from cashing the week's pay with a horror story about how hard it was to find an ordinary round rubber ball on the island of O'ahu. He had one, and he made sure I knew that his shopping for it was a supreme sacrifice. It was his Iwo Jima, his landing on Normandy Beach, his Alamo. Except that he had lived, of course, and was unscratched.
It was about 4 inches in diameter. I remember it being red, white, and blue, with five-pointed stars on it. The important thing, though, was that it was spherical, and it bounced predictably.
I completely ignored his speech about how much pain he went through to get the ball. All I cared was that I was going to be bouncing it.
And I bounced it, and bounced it. I was obsessed, really, with bouncing the ball. That's what I had wanted it for. I'd seen another boy bounce a ball, and I wanted to do that, too. Endlessly.
My Father could not relate to that. He offered to play catch with me. I kept bouncing the ball. He had to keep reminding me what the point of playing catch was. Finally he gave up. "Why did he need the damn ball so badly if he didn't want to play catch with it?" I was free to bounce it to my heart's content.
For days I bounced it on the sidewalks all around the house. I wasn't allowed to take it away from the house. It was too precious, the sacrifice to get it was too great, for me to ever lose it.
Then I discovered that if it hit a wall it would bounce back to me. I bounced it off the front of the house. This went on for about two minutes before my Mother sent me around back, hoping the noise would be tolerable back there. I then bounced it off the back of the house over and over again, softly singing chants to myself.
After doing this for an hour or so the ball took a bounce off something on the lawn and rolled into the crawl-space under the house. At that point there were slats in the way, and the space was too low for me even if I could get past the slats. I tried to reach the ball but my arms wouldn't stretch that far. My Mother's would, though. I knew that she would have to help me get the ball that Dad had struggled so much to shop for.
So I hollered as loud as I could, "E Mami! Ke ka'a ka pōpō malalo o ka hale!"
My Mother came to the kitchen window at the back of the house and looked out. "What did you say?"
"Ke ka'a ka pōpō malalo o ka hale!" I pointed under the house.
She came out and looked where I was pointing. She said, "The - ball - rolled - under - the -house."
I was really excited for a second. I thought she had understood Hawaiian finally. I said, "Ae."
But she hadn't understood. She said, "Say 'The - ball - rolled - under - the -house.'" She was just describing what she could see and giving me an English lesson.
I slowly repeated, "Da pall wollet una da hale." Then I added, "malalo o ka hale," for emphasis.
She was satisfied that she had made progress with me, and got the ball out, and I went back to the wonderful bouncing.