It's strange what we remember. Later in life, where I am now, I remember things on my own terms, in a way that my mind visualizes. Chronologically, my life has moved from a beginning, a starting point, but my memories are somewhat prioritized in the file cabinet that is my mind, with the most vivid memories shifting to the front. Some things, however, get stashed way in the back of my mental cabinet, which I've all but forgotten.
I have a copy of my birth certificate that places me at the beginning of my journey in the tropical paradise that the modern world knows as the 50th United State of America; Hawaii. Oddly, my first recollection in my mental file cabinet of my life is of snow falling. My first cognizant memory is of Kentucky in the winter when my father was in the Army. I don't remember much about that time, but I remember the snow. It would be quite some time in my life before I saw snow again after that.
My first memory of the island territory of Hawaii is from later, as I was readying for grade school. My father's Army days were behind him, and we were amongst our people, a hodge podge of various peoples from multiple Polynesian and Asian ancestry, grouped together in a community. Each family had their own home that rattled when rain pelted the tin rooftops, somewhat separated from our town of Waipau on the island of Oahu, yet still sharing the postal code.
Looking back at the 1950's, I wonder what our postal code looked like as our flag was a Union Jack with eight red, white and blue stripes. As a child, I didn't know what any of it meant. I had no idea how deeply rooted in British History we were as an island nation. Most of my memories are of a United State, but the first few memories I have of Hawaii come from before statehood.
Statehood was an important moment for my people after decades of everything from kings to British to territory and more. My birth certificate says T. H. Territory of Hawaii. Automatically that became State of Hawaii and I was automatically a United States Citizen. No process, no test, no papers to sign. I didn't feel any different. My family was still a blend of Filipino, Hawaiian, and Chinese; and I was just a little girl trying to understand what it all meant.
In my community we were like family. Elders were revered and respected. If they weren't mom, dad, grandpa, or grandma; they were aunt and uncle. Everyone had a place and a role. Even though we were poor, we were proud and had a house to live in. It wasn't much, with a tin roof, outdoor toilet, and lacking in many amenities. But, in the 1950's we didn't require or even know about the conveniences that people can't live without now. I had my mom and my grandpa and didn't feel like I needed anyone else.
Otto Camp was home, and everyone there was like family. My mom loved to play poker, as it allowed her to spend time with friends and family. We had many gatherings for many reasons. As a community, we celebrated many things together. I loved the food, and even though I wasn't one that was assigned to cook, I appreciated the food that I was raised on. I still to this day, love Lau Lau; tasty meals of meat and veggies wrapped in tea leaves and roasted in beds of hot coals underground. Served with Poi, it's one of the memories that is so strong I can almost smell it when I think about it.
No matter what life was like for us as children, we feel powerful connections to the places where we grew up. I never would have believed it when I was a child, but now I know it to be true. No matter how long I am away from the land where I grew up, I miss it. I loved the land and the community in which I was raised. I live in a much different place now. I've spent over half my life here, but there are things that call me home to Hawaii. It's a longing that never completely goes away.
Recently, I've found myself overstressed with responsibilities which I never dreamed I would ever have. Stress has not been my friend, and with a pandemic terrorizing the entire world, known as Covid-19, I can't go anywhere to get away from it all. I tried many things from medication to meditation to alleviate the stress, and all but gave up. But then, I decided to create a little space in my backyard that reminded me of home a little bit. I call it Del's Serenity Garden. I landscaped it myself, and it's full of Hydrangea, topiaries, and many other flowering wonders, including Hibiscus. I named my bright red Hardy Hibiscus after my mom, Kay, because she is bright and cheerful with a smile that shines like the sun. Each of my plants have a name. They help me find some calm in a much too tumultuous life.
It's been decades since I came to my husband's homeland of Connecticut to live. We've been married for over 48 years. My father didn't want us to marry. Neither did my husband's parents. Mom was simply scared for me as I skittered away into the dark of night to fly to New England and start a life with a man that in essence, I barely knew. It was a chance I had to take, and looking back; I'm glad I did.
Today, I feel like we are both deteriorating into shadows of our former selves. It seems like every day is a struggle in the mountainous area where we live. My husband, Jack suffers from multiple conditions, headed by COPD/Emphysema. With the recent pandemic, I'm afraid what would happen if he were to catch the virus. He suffers what's become routine bouts of pneumonia as it is, and his memory is not so good. With the uncertainty of what Covid-19 does to a person, it's a frightening prospect.
As I age, I also find difficulties. New England, in my opinion, holds challenges far beyond health issues. The second time I remember seeing snow was in Connecticut. I've gotten used to the four seasons, although it seems like only summer and winter with some pretty colored leaves in between. But, as I age, my problems have less to do with driving on ice and more to do with doctors. I've had my share of surgery, having my rotator cuff repaired and the intolerable and lengthy recovery that comes with it.
I find myself my husband's caretaker; a role I never dreamed of. He was always my rock. He was always my protector. He was a military man, and the breadwinner. I still see the young Navy man that I met all those years ago when I look at him. Nothing has changed for me and nothing ever will. Love is like that.
I also see the young girl in me. The young girl who ran through Otto Camp as a child, barely out of diapers, not having any clue where my life might lead. Papa San, our Japanese landlord, was also a Macadamia Nut farmer. Next to our homes the nuts grew in his orchard in plentiful splendor. I used to sneak under the fence to harvest some of the nuts for me. I was tiny and able to get into small places, and the nuts were crunchy and sweet. I never thought he would miss the few I took. Inevitably, I would get caught and have to leave the nuts. I was so young that I thought their knowing was a result of magic. When I look in the mirror, I still see that tiny little girl with her Macadamia's.
We learn a lot in our formative years. We learn so very much from watching our families. I was blessed with an entire community that felt like family, so I had more than one vision of family life. My mother has been the most important figure in my life. That's not unusual for children. When she smiled, the world was a beautiful place. She made everything seem special. I didn't know how she did it, and I didn't care. I was just glad that she did.
Looking back, I wonder what it was like to be her. She loved my father. She never loved another man. I've only loved one man, my Jack. I understand being a one man woman. What I wish I could understand was what made my mother give my father so many chances before she simply gave up to be alone and have some peace.
My parents weren't married when I was born. I didn't know that until much later. My mother married my father and divorced my father and married and divorced him again before it was all over during my teen years. It was a passion that ran the gamut of a roller coaster ride that I don't think I would have been strong enough to survive. My mom is the strongest woman I know.
In the early years, before they married, there was no money. That's how we came to Otto Camp. Back in the day it was called welfare. Today, it's known as state aid, programs, HUD, whatever. My mom never complained. She worked hard at home when she couldn't work hard at work. She made sure that me and my two younger brothers had what we needed. She was proud that she took care of us. Her strength shone through irregardless of anything that was going on around her.
My father's nomadic days didn't end with his military service. He loved my mom, but he didn't have it in him to be a family man. Being tied down seemed to make him angry and he took it out on mom, mostly. There were times that his anger reached out and smacked us all, but mostly the fighting was between mom and dad. He would stay for a while and then leave. Eventually he would return, but some time later he would leave again. I didn't understand why my mom gave him so many chances, but it wasn't my place to judge. I was raised to respect my elders, and that was what I did as a child. I sometimes wonder if I should have done something. Maybe there was something that I could have done to ease her pain, but I know that she wouldn't have wanted me to be burdened with her troubles.
While us kids ran about Otto Camp playing and sneaking into the Macadamia fields, my mom looked for opportunities. She never settled for where we were when I was a child. She looked and worked at finding a better future for us. She's why I never give up. She's why I stay strong. In my mom a saw a rock and raw determination. I don't think she ever realized it, but she was the reason that I had a good life.
I don't know if mom's realize the strength they give to their children by simply being an example of never give up. I never felt like I did, but my daughter's might say that I was. I know that my mom wouldn't think that I learned that from watching her, but I did. I never would have taken the chance that I took when I married my Jack if it hadn't been for mom. She showed me how to be strong and take a chance at a better life. Thanks mom, for all you taught me.