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Sharing Mana‘o

Goodbye, 2014. You were a good year. Not the best I’ve ever had, but certainly not the worst. My Chinese horoscope predicted a busy year with many job opportunities, generally good health and great potential for romance.

Two out of three ain’t bad, so I’m not complaining. I did have more storytelling and emcee jobs than in previous years, and while many were performed free of charge, I received ample compensation in currency more tender than legal. Warm hugs, inspirational stories, abundant aloha. At numerous events for nonprofit and community organizations, schools and other causes, I met remarkable people, witnessed chicken-skin moments, gained a little more knowledge. And had some really good meals. I’m waddling into the New Year with 10 extra pounds, unfortunately.

I think I gained at least three of those pounds earlier this month at the annual Kupuna Holiday Dinner hosted by the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association. A dozen of the island’s major resorts pulled out all the stops to place several hundred seniors in the lap of luxury for a few hours. The recipients were elated and grateful, naturally, and the folks providing the service were equally thrilled by the deep satisfaction of giving from the heart.

In November, co-host Wilmont Kamaunu Kahaialii and I stuffed ourselves with local delicacies at the first-ever Made in Maui County Festival, which was rather like the Friday Town Parties on steroids. Being the usual emcee at Wailuku First Fridays, and having hosted a couple of Kihei Fourth Fridays, I consider myself a fairly good authority on food-truck and vendor-booth cuisine. I’ve already planned my dining strategy for this week’s First Friday (which, by the way, will also feature music by Deborah Vial and a special appearance by the amazing Willie K).

Of course, good food wasn’t the only blessing of the year; I met good folks and good causes nearly every weekend, from Maui Adult Day Care Centers’ Caregivers’ Walk in February to the Imua Family Services Christmas party. Whether nationwide, like Habitat for Humanity and the American Heart Association, or homegrown, like Women Helping Women and the Maui Memorial Medical Center Auxiliary, all of these civic organizations rely on the tireless efforts of local residents. I was reminded that even big-name charity events, like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, are organized at the grass-roots level, by our friends and neighbors, for the benefit of our community.

My soul was nourished by folks who work for cultural education and perpetuation: the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival, Arts Education for Children Group, Maui ‘Ukulele Guild, Maui Choral Arts, Maui Matsuri, Maui OnStage, Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Zenshin Daiko and its annual Taiko Festival, Maui Arts & Cultural Center and, of course, Mana’o Hana Hou Radio.

Judging poetry slams at Iao School, giving a pre-test pep talk at Kalama Intermediate, joining Lokelani Intermediate students for Pay It Forward Day, introducing talented young entertainers at the Sacred Hearts Bazaar and at my alma mater, Baldwin High School, my faith in our future was reinforced by the youth of Maui. Just as impressive were the folks who strive to support them: Maui Economic Development Board’s Ke Alahele program, which focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), the Read Aloud Program and Celebrate Reading Maui.

I met people who staged events to help others, like Kokua Ag, organized for the support of the local farming industry, and the Realtors Association of Maui, which produced RAM’s Got Talent, with singing and dancing Realtors (really!) and raised an amazing amount of student scholarship funds. I mingled with folks who work daily to better our community: the Rotary Clubs of Maui, the various Toastmasters clubs, the hardworking county employees who were honored at the annual recognition luncheon (I’m so proud of my young cousin, Kurt Watanabe, named 2014 County Employee of the Year!).

And I met heroes from all walks of life. Besides organizing the beautifully touching Veterans Day ceremony at the cemetery in Makawao, the Korean War Veterans Association serves the community year-round with various volunteer efforts.

Last week, I was humbled to be included with Melen Agcolicol, Vince Bagoyo Jr., Rama Camarillo, Dr. Virgie Cantorna, Uluwehi Guerrero, Bonnie Newman, teenager Eileen Parkman, Duke Sevilla, the Most Rev. Larry Silva, former Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Dr. Jeffrey Thomas as the 2014 Maui Peace Heroes selected by Seasons for Peace.

All of the groups mentioned above could use more help in the coming year, so if any of these causes appeal to you, your involvement would be welcome. Feel free to email me for contact information.

Farewell and fond aloha, 2014. A good year in a great place.

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kathycollins@hawaii.rr.com.

Sharing Mana‘o

I don’t understand why some folks get so offended over the greeting “Happy Holidays,” as if the use of the phrase somehow renounces Christmas. I see it as an acknowledgment of a whole season of celebration: Christmas, New Year’s, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and whatever else you may choose to observe. It’s an inclusive sentiment, and how anyone can find fault with that is beyond me.

I do understand the dismay felt by Christians who think that the significance of their religious holiday has been suppressed by materialism and marketing. But the celebration of Christmas has always been both sacred and secular. While the birth of Jesus may be the main “reason for the season,” it’s not the only reason. When early Christian officials decided that the Nativity should be observed as a church holiday, Dec. 25 was chosen because it coincided with winter solstice festivals. Then, as now, many Christmas season rituals had nothing to do with the birth of Christ.

According to my own informal, unscientific poll, most people, Christians and non-Christians, regard Christmas as a celebration of our highest values: Peace, Love, Hope, Charity. Whether motivated by the birth of your savior and the ideals he represents, or by the traditions set by your family and community, we all agree that this is a time for giving and forgiving.

But when asked for a more personal perspective (“What does Christmas mean to YOU?”), the answers were as varied as the respondents.

Several friends who grew up in cold country – and even one who didn’t – get a bit melancholy as the day approaches. “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without snow,” they say. I can relate, sort of. The heavy rains that arrived Monday put the final touch on my holiday spirit. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without rain. After all, a good December downpour is what makes our Mele Kalikimaka green and bright.

Only one of my 50-plus Christmases has been white, and it was, indeed, a beautiful sight. Breathtakingly so. Waking up in my in-laws’ Michigan home and looking out the upstairs bedroom window at a freshly fallen blanket of snow, I felt as though I’d fallen through Alice’s looking glass.

For most of us, though, the color of Christmas doesn’t matter as much as the flavor. Eggnog, gingerbread, baked ham, hot cocoa with marshmallows and peppermint were all mentioned as Christmas essentials. And fruitcake, although I only know three people who actually like the stuff, and one of them picks out all the candied fruit before she eats the bread.

All of the locals my age and older had fond memories of brown paper goodie bags, but hardly anyone knew where they came from. I think the custom began with business and community organizations, but others said it was their church or school. Whatever the source, the contents were always the same: an apple, an orange, a few unshelled nuts and several pieces of hard candy, unwrapped and usually fused together in a sticky clump. I have foggy memories of Santa Claus handing out the brown paper bags at a holiday party, assuring us kids that he’d be back on Christmas Eve with our real gifts.

When you’re a kid, of course, Christmas is all about Santa and gifts. At least, it was for me, even though he never granted my wish for a baby brother. I did get the puppy, my second choice.

Later, when I was old enough to think beyond my own desires, the best part of Christmas was the gift-giving. I loved the rush of shopping, finding the perfect present for each loved one, and wrapping – oh, how I loved wrapping presents! Helping my mom sign and address Christmas cards for all of my father’s dental patients was another favorite tradition.

Fifteen years ago, instead of holiday greetings, Mom and I mailed hundreds of thank-you cards after Daddy’s funeral. It would be another decade before the joyful holiday spirit of my childhood returned.

But it has, with a vengeance. I’m feeling merry and bright, and I look forward to returning to the radio airwaves Thursday morning to play Christmas music on Mana’o Hana Hou Radio (91.7 FM). Much of it will be traditional carols, along with blues, rock, jazz and, of course, Hawaiian versions of yuletide classics. And a good dose of irreverent but good-natured novelty songs to put the ho, ho, ho into the holidays.

Whatever Christmas means to you, I wish you the best ever. Happy Holidays, one and all!

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kathycollins@hawaii.rr.com.

Sharing Mana‘o

A recent article in The Maui News cited a scientific study that actually measured the degree of power in a pair of high heels. Behavioral scientists at a French university found that women wearing heels received more attention from men, and the higher the heel, the better the response. Well, duh.

The study merely quantified what societies around the world have known for centuries – that high heels can have a powerful effect on men’s behavior. It didn’t address the effect on the women who wear them.

As one of those women, I must say, I feel the power. My business shoes all have 2- to 3-inch heels. My party shoes are nearly twice as high, but most of them have platform soles to compensate for the angle (and the ankle). Otherwise, I’d topple over. The only flats I own are athletic shoes and slippers. And yes, I do have a pair of high-heeled slippers.

I’ve been wearing elevated shoes since junior high, when my mother allowed me to get sandals with sensible, 1-inch heels. Even that tiny boost in height made me feel grown up and feminine. Before that, my preferred footwear was rubbah slippahs or nothing at all.

At Makawao Elementary School, our dress code required us to wear shoes, not sandals, and certainly not rubber slippers. An exception was made on May Day, when we could wear casual footwear to go with our aloha wear. But the rest of the year, we wore shoes and socks. At least, until morning recess, when we would kick off our shoes in the schoolyard to run around barefoot. When the bell rang to call us back to class, we’d quickly slip into our Mary Janes, not bothering with our socks. At the end of the day, most kids would put their socks back on with their shoes, but I rarely took the time to do that. I remember my mother coming home from Parents’ Night with a sack of balled-up socks, retrieved from the back of my desk drawer.

The standard feminist view of high heels is that they reinforce the notion of women as sex objects. Girls who came of age in the 1970s, the heyday of the Women’s Liberation Movement, were urged not to blindly follow society’s sexist stereotyping, but rather stand tall in our flats against the tyranny of misogyny. My friends and I chose to walk the path of peer acceptance in our clunky platform shoes.

My favorite pair of platforms – we called them clogs – had chunky cork heels and white leather straps across the tops. They added a good couple of inches to my height, and I loved the way they made me feel, even after I twisted my ankle in them while walking across the Baldwin High School front lawn.

Back then, my footwear decisions were based entirely on what the cool kids were wearing. Now, they have less to do with fashion than with feeling. I pick my shoes for each occasion depending on how I feel – or how I want to feel.

When I started my radio career as an overnight DJ, alone in a carpeted studio, I was more comfortable working barefoot. But in the recording studio, voicing commercials, I discovered that wearing heels gave me the sense of confidence and authority needed to sell things; it helped me get into character. Now, whenever I perform as an emcee or comedian, heels are a fundamental part of my wardrobe. Except, of course, when I tell stories as Tita. Tita don’t need no power heels; she prefers being firmly grounded in bare feet. But when she has to wear something on her feet, it’s rubbah slippahs all the way. After all, they keep you closer to the ‘aina than heels do.

We should do a study of our own, measuring the effect of local-style footwear. I’m willing to bet that, here in Hawaii, there’s a lot more power in rubbah slippahs than even the highest stilettos. That’s because rubbah slippahs are more than fashion statements; they are the footwear of the people, practical and economical. And for my generation, at least, they also served as disciplinary tools. I know of grown men who still cringe when they hear the words, “I’m taking off my slippah!”

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kathycollins@hawaii.rr.com.

Sharing Mana‘o

Betty Crocker is 93 years old, but she doesn’t look a day over 35. That’s because she’s had seven face-lifts since her first portrait was painted in 1936. She hasn’t had any work done in a while; her last makeover was in 1996. I guess it doesn’t really matter; unlike Chef Boyardee, whose grin has remained unchanged for 86 years and millions of cans, Betty prefers a background role. Her signature on a big red spoon is much more recognizable than her face. And that’s good, because she looks nothing like the Betty Crocker I remember from childhood.

Recently, I saw a TV commercial featuring several young mothers showing off their holiday goodies baked with Betty’s sugar cookie mix. The catchy little theme was “It’s cookie time . . . Get your Betty on!” Offended is too strong a word, but I was definitely annoyed by the lack of respect for the motherly icon.

The Betty Crocker who taught me how to bake bread from scratch and prepare the perfect standing rib roast would never approve of such indignity, would she? Granted, I hadn’t paid attention to the evolution of Betty’s image, having relinquished kitchen duties to my third husband more than 25 years ago. So I went online to catch up on her career.

At the official website, I learned that the character had been created in 1921, but it was 15 years before she would get an official face, painted by then-prominent New York artist Neysa McMein. The portrait first appeared on a 1937 package of Softasilkcake flour. Other artists were commissioned over the years to update Betty’s look; the third portrait, released in 1965, is the one I’ve always associated with her. In that portrait, she has the same hairdo my mother wore in the ’60s. The website says “her hairstyles, clothing and demeanor have evolved to reflect the changing faces of American women.” In fact, the current portrait was inspired by a computerized composite of “75 women of diverse backgrounds and ages who embody the characteristics of Betty Crocker.” I realized that, while the General Mills imagemeisters were simply keeping Betty in step with changing times, I wanted to continue seeing her as a maternal figure, not a contemporary.

The original Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book (nicknamed “Big Red”) was first published in 1950. My mother received a copy as a first wedding anniversary present from a dear friend. When I became a bride for the first time, Mom passed her cookbook on to me. It was my step-by-step manual, a source of comfort as well as advice. While my mother taught me how to make chicken hekka and beef stew, I turned to my trusty cookbook for haole recipes to satisfy my haole husband’s cravings. I baked French apple pies and basic white bread on Sundays. And I used Betty’s classic recipe to make gingerbread for my son every Christmas. I found a cookie cutter in the shape of a lady in a long dress, and for years Jimmy and I decorated our gingerbread tutus with candy flowers for lei and muumuu designs.

The cookie cutter is long gone, but Big Red still sits on the shelf above my perpetually cold stove. The spine has been worn away, and the pages of the baking section fall out whenever I open the book (which, admittedly, happens only once every couple of years), but it remains my second-most treasured kitchen item. First is the stainless steel spoon that I used to eat my cereal when I was in grade school.

In doing the online research, I was surprised to learn that Betty Crocker has stepped into the gay marriage debate. In her home state of Minnesota, Betty has donated wedding cakes to same-sex couples and participated in this year’s Minneapolis gay pride parade. “An activist for the modern homemaker” is how a spokeswoman described Betty’s involvement in the cause, and a report prepared by General Mills’ Families Project defines “homemaker” as “anyone who makes a home.” The report points out that, as of 2010, less than half of all U.S. households included a husband and wife. According to the company, Betty’s appearance in pride events is part of an effort to redefine homemaking while celebrating the diversity of today’s families.

So I’ve decided that I’m OK with the modernized Betty, even if she no longer looks like Mom. I might even clear the cardboard boxes out of my oven and, uh . . . get my gingerbread on.

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kathycollins@hawaii.rr.com.

Sharing Mana‘o

As a storyteller, I appreciate a good narrative. Long or short, tragic or comical, true or not. As British author Philip Pullman said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

This week, our cup runneth over, with the debut of Brian Kohne’s Hawaii Cinema Showcase at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The stated intent of the showcase is to celebrate island movies and content creators, and Brian has picked an award-winning pair for Thursday’s event.

“The Haumana,” written and directed by Keo Woolford, is currently one of the top-selling DVDs in Japan, second only to “Maleficent.” It is an insightful, beautifully photographed glimpse of the hula world and beyond. The issues faced by the young men of Jonny Kealoha’s halau are familiar to all and presented with a loving touch.

A more lighthearted, but just as loving, story of local life is told in Brian’s Maui-made comedy, “Get a Job,” starring Willie K and Eric Gilliom. It’s my favorite movie; after all, I’m in it and so is my mom, along with another couple hundred Mauians. But even without the local connection, “Get a Job” has won film festival awards across the country and overseas.

Both filmmakers, Keo and Brian, will meet and greet moviegoers, and Maui ‘ukulele sensation Derick Sebastian will entertain before each screening. The showcase begins at 5:30 p.m. with “The Haumana” in Castle Theater.

A little farther down Lower Beach Road, at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center (NVMC), “The Hawaii Internees’ Story” is told through personal accounts, photographs, documents and memorabilia. It’s not the full story, of course; thousands of tales have yet to be told about the U.S. government’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Sadly, many of these stories will never be heard, as the former internees are now elderly or deceased. Most chose not to speak of their experiences, not even to their families. Trauma, disappointment and anger silenced many a potential storyteller.

The Japanese in Hawaii fared better than their Mainland West Coast counterparts, all of whom were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated – 120,000 people, most of them American citizens. Here, the Japanese made up more than a third of the total population, so mass internment was virtually impossible. Instead, certain persons of interest – Buddhist priests, community leaders, fishermen and select others – were detained, less than 1 percent of the 158,000 local Japanese. Anticipating the outbreak of war, military authorities had kept the Hawaii Japanese community under surveillance for more than 10 years prior, and by the evening of Dec. 7, 1941, dozens of men had been arrested, simply for being ethnic Japanese.

Those arrested on Maui were taken to one of two detention camps, in Haiku and Wailuku, before being transferred to Oahu’s Sand Island and, eventually, facilities on the Mainland. “The Hawaii Internees’ Story” features the personal stories of five of these men: the Rev. Masao Arine, Shichiro Haga, Haruo Koike, Katsuichi Miho and Dr. Seiichi Ohata. They are poignant stories of prejudice and perseverance, injustice and cruel irony.

The exhibit also includes displays by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, which not only recount historical facts and figures, but reveal the artistic spirit of humanity. Many of the internees turned to creativity as a coping mechanism, in amazing ways. Some fashioned jewelry from toothbrush handles and scraps of wood, others unraveled burlap sacks to weave wallets and cigarette cases, while still others expressed themselves through painting or poetry.

“Moonlight shines on barbed wire

“Moon is clear, but my heart cloudy

“Guards watch us with guns and bayonets . . .

“I miss good old days of Hawaiian paradise.”

– From a poem written by Shoichi Asami while interned at Camp McCoy, Wis.

Presented by the NVMC and Maui’s Sons & Daughters of the Nisei Veterans, “The Hawaii Internees’ Story” is open to the public, free of charge, from noon to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, until Dec. 13.

And if you have a story to share about the internment or the detention camps, the NVMC would love to hear from you. Please stop by the center or contact them at 244-6862 or through their website, www.nvmc.org.

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kathycollins@hawaii.rr.com.

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