The brightest silver lining I’ve found in this COVID-19 cloud is the leisure time spent with my mother. Three months ago, both our calendars were full, hers with kupuna activities and volunteer work, mine with storytelling and emcee gigs. We were in daily touch by phone, but only saw each other twice a week. Now we visit daily, and we’ve incorporated weekly excursions into our new routine. We’ve covered quite a few miles and nearly a century on these journeys.
The week of Maui High School’s drive-thru graduation, we took a spin past the Kahului campus to see the posters and photo banners lining the chain-link fence. “They can’t have commencement exercises or big celebrations because of the social distancing rules,” I explained. “This is a nice way to honor the graduates, but I think it’s sad that they’ll miss out on all the pomp and circumstance.”
“I feel sorry for them, too,” Mom remarked. “Our class didn’t have commencement either, because of the war. I think we got our diplomas at a lunchtime assembly.”
As a member of the Maui High Class of 1943, Mom attended the original school in Hamakuapoko. We drove out to her alma mater and parked there for half an hour, gazing at the facade of the old administration building while Mom reminisced.
“After Pearl Harbor, everyone was issued gas masks. We had to carry them all the time. They were big and heavy. And ugly! I guess we weren’t supposed to, but we carried our lunches in the masks.”
Picturing my mother as a petite teenager hauling around a gas mask, and pondering the implications of that wartime requirement, I felt embarrassed for every sigh of annoyance I’d heaved before donning a cloth face mask.
A couple of Sundays ago, after dining on Pukalani Superette bentos and tako poke at Rice Park, we continued up to Keokea, admiring the jacaranda trees along the way. Mom was hoping to recognize a particular one, the purple-canopied giant that marked a beloved picnic spot. “On Saturdays, Mrs. Kajihara would make sandwiches, and we’d ride up to Kula. Mr. Kajihara would park the car by this certain tree, and we’d go eat in the pasture and admire the view.”
The Kajiharas owned Ichiki Store in Makawao, two doors up from my mother’s childhood home. The two families were very close; between them, they had 12 children and Mom says she spent as much time at the Kajihara house as she did at her own.
I, too, reaped the benefits of the Kajihara-Shibasaki connection. When I was 7 or 8 years old, Mrs. Kajihara babysat me some afternoons. I walked to the store from Makawao School and waited there for Mom to pick me up after work. I had my own corner behind the counter where I’d do my homework and read comic books. Mrs. Kajihara always greeted me with a bottle of soda.
“Mr. Kajihara used to make his own root beer,” Mom remembered. “He bottled it, and sold it at the store. I don’t know what he used, but it was ono.”
Continuing that train of thought, she smiled, “My mother made sake during Prohibition. Your grandfather always had two cups of sake with dinner, so she made a batch every week. Not to sell, just for home. There were two policemen; somehow they always knew when the sake was ready. They would come to our house and Obaban would give them some, every week. The Portuguese officer said Obaban made the best sake.”
We didn’t find the Kajiharas’ favorite tree that day. The landscape has changed too much over the past 80 or so years. Ichiki Store has also transformed, numerous times; currently the Makawao History Museum occupies the old storeroom.
Our family ties remain, though. Mom, the last of the Shibasaki kids, still keeps in touch with the three surviving Kajihara siblings. My dear friend, Debbie Kahaialii, is one of Mr. and Mrs. Kajihara’s grandchildren. So is Auntie Irene’s son, Maui News Managing Editor Lee Imada.
Silver linings, golden memories. Precious and priceless.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.