All my life was spent “moving house” or moving to a new home. Mom was so unlucky with her personal life that we had to find a different home whenever she left a husband or married a new one, and she was married three times. My first home was located on Pawale Lane in the vicinity of the present Honolulu Country Club and the Central YMCA in Honolulu. The lane no longer exists, but the memories do. It was a small area made up of duplexes and quaint houses. Most of the inhabitants were busybody housewives who were Chinese and loved to play mahjong, including my mother. The lane led out to the main street downtown called Fort Street, which is the present Fort Street Mall.
Almost every day mom would put me on the baby stroller and go to every store on the busy street. The first place we would pass had a life-size chestnut brown horse and carriage in the front window – Schuman Carriage, and the strong smell of leather still wafts through my nostrils as I remember it. Then we proceeded to The Fair Department Store and to Howard’s Jewelry, which belonged to my Uncle Bill’s brother and was adjacent to the huge Kress Store. When I entered Kress Store, I was enchanted by the endless displays of trinkets and toys! Further down the street were Watumull’s and Liberty House where my Aunt Dorothy worked in the lingerie department. The last store that we visited on our journey home was a Chinese seed and snack shop. Invariably mom would drop in to buy our favorite snack – dried sliced abalone, an island delicacy.
The move to our second home came as a surprise. My father announced he had quit his job as a shipwright for the Navy at Pearl Harbor and intended to sell magazines for a living. What a shock that was for my mother who now had two children, my two-year old sister plus me! We couldn’t afford to rent the duplex anymore and had to move into my paternal grandparents’ home. Because my dad’s childhood home was built on a hill, there were 52 steps leading up to the front door, which was quite a climb for a four-year old girl! My grandmother, who had bound feet – a Chinese practice for well-to-do women in China, took nearly a half hour to climb these stairs when she had to rest every ten steps along the way. I was told that her oldest son, who despised her, had planned the architecture and home without regard for her condition. I remember resting midway up the steps, too, when I came home ill from school or had an asthma attack.
My second home here in Pauoa Valley was a pleasure for a little girl. There was space to run and play. There was a large yard at the bottom of those concrete stairs filled with fruit trees and foliage. It was a paradise! There were mango, lichee, loong ahn, star fruit, fig, papaya, coconut and sour sap trees. My grandfather also raised chickens and invited me to help him whenever he fed them. After feuding for two years with my grandmother and Aunty Linda who lived on the second floor, my mother decided we should find a new home. We then moved out to Kolea Lane, into a duplex in a tenement building that my grandfather owned in Chinatown.
What a difference this tiny duplex was in comparison to the house we left! It had a bedroom, a living room, and kitchen – all identical squares, about ten by ten feet. The bathroom and toilet were outside which we shared with the adjoining neighbor. Moreover, the tenement building in back of ours was just a few yards away, and Filipino bachelors would leer at me from their porch whenever I went to the bathroom or toilet. Fridays and weekends were full of action in that neighborhood! There were domestic fights everywhere with the sound of screaming men and women, breaking glass bottles and crashing furniture all through the night. Strangely, across our building there was a very quiet and dark duplex lit only by red and blue bulbs. My sister and I sat glued to the window during those nights to catch a glimpse of the action.
During the year we lived there my grades went downhill. From an honor roll student, I deteriorated to a C student at Sacred Hearts Convent, the Catholic elementary school which I attended for nearly four years. Catching the city bus to and from the school pretty much upset my old routine of walking to school, and I found solace in reading library books instead of studying my lessons. I discovered the main public library on King Street, which was an easy fifteen-minute walk from the duplex. I could easily read two books a week, and in doing so I sacrificed the time for school assignments. I am pretty sure that is how I ruined my eyesight. An additional distraction was my neighbor Annie who would become my aunt later on. She was in junior high school and was absolutely my best friend although she thought otherwise. I followed her wherever she went, and she thought I was an absolute pest! I also visited Mun Lun School, the Chinese language school across our lane, to visit a cousin who was much older than I. She was probably about 40 years old and packaged Chinese preserves and snacks for distribution. She rented a room there to do her business. I would drop in to chat and sample her products – dried plums, cracked seed, dried lemon peel, pickled peaches, dried olives, and more!
Surprise! My mother divorced my father in less than a year. His magazine venture proved to be unsuccessful, and domestic quarrels were non-stop. Our next major move was to the country with her new husband, a pure-blooded Hawaiian, who had a lot on the Nanakuli Hawaiian Homestead. It was a beautiful Quonset hut situated across the beach, next to a mom and pop store. We would go to the store to read all the comic books whenever we were bored – thanks to our generous neighbor. I spent ten golden years on the homestead, adapting to a carefree lifestyle full of Hawaiian aloha and culture. Gone were the days of slaving over books and worrying about grades. The ocean and the beach became the center of my life. Raw fish and poi was my favorite meal along with oriental dishes prepared by my Chinese mother, who received her fresh produce from my grandparents’ farm nearby in Mikilua Valley. Sadly, Hawaiian values were too casual for my mother, a die-hard Catholic, who saw fit to leave my Hawaiian dad, and that meant we had to move out again.
I was 18 when we moved from the Hawaiian Homestead so suddenly. My mother lacked enough time to find a decent place for us to live, so we ended up in a small three-room duplex in the so-called “Nakatani Housing” behind the restaurant where she worked. Those were difficult days. I had no space to study for my college classes; the outside shower was narrow and open at the top, which allowed my neighbor – a seven-year-old boy, to peek and spy on me; and the cesspool near the front stairway overflowed during days it stormed. I think my mother was on a mission. After six months of living there, she married a guy who promised her a new house. We three kids sighed with relief. We finally moved into a three-bedroom home with a yard big enough to grow flowers and trees – and a little vegetable patch!