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Sharing Mana‘o

Christmas came early this year. At least that’s how I felt Monday morning when I awoke to the splatter of raindrops outside my bedroom window. The brief downpour triggered a flood of memories, the kind you feel in your heart rather than see in your mind. Wrapped in my sheets, for a moment I was five years old, savoring the scent of wet grass in the morning mist. It made me long for the plantation-style homes of my childhood; nothing makes a bed cozier than the drumbeat of fat raindrops on a totan (corrugated metal) roof.

I remember those wet and wonderful winters in shades of gray. It seemed to rain every day, though not always heavily. After the occasional overnight deluge, we kids would listen to KMVI Radio during breakfast, fingers crossed, hoping to hear those blessed words: “The following schools are closed today due to heavy rains … “

We weren’t allowed to play outside while it was raining, but once the downpour stopped, we’d run barefoot through our waterlogged yards, stomping in puddles to see who could make the biggest splash. Sometimes I’d just stand quietly in a pool of mud, relishing the sensation of the brown muck oozing between my toes.

Before Maui Mall and Queen Ka’ahumanu Center opened in the early 1970s, we all did our Christmas shopping at Kahului Shopping Center, “under the monkeypod trees,” as the radio jingle went. We bought a five- or six-foot tree at Ah Fook’s every year. Maui Garden and Hardware, Ben Franklin, Toda Drug, and Crafts’ Drug Store would bring in extra toys for the season, and Sears had a pickup counter for the goodies we’d order from their Wish Book. One year, Honolulu’s Wigwam Store (where “your dollar buys more!”) opened a huge but temporary branch at the far end of the mall. I had never seen so many toys in one place!

Santa’s arrival at Kahului Shopping Center was a festive event; his helpers passed out brown paper bags, each containing an apple, an orange, two or three nuts still in the shell, and a few pieces of Christmas candy — unwrapped, so they usually stuck together or attached themselves to the bottom of the paper bag.

When Santa visited Wailuku town, he always rode in on a fire engine, leading the annual parade down Main Street. The Baldwin High School Band marched merrily behind, playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and other jolly tunes. There may have been convertibles carrying politicians and beauty queens, and perhaps a float or two, but I only remember Santa tossing candies from his fire engine perch and the pajama-clad marching band.

Another aspect of my early Christmases isn’t rain-related, but it gives me the warm fuzzies in the same way. The smell of gingerbread never fails to transport me back to the days of my youth.

Because my mother worked at Maui Pine’s Hali’imaile office, I would receive a gingerbread man every Christmas, baked by Margaret Cameron herself. The wife of CEO Colin Cameron, Mrs. Cameron also gifted employees with her homemade mango chutney. A week or so before Christmas, mom would bring home a jar of the chutney, still the best I’ve ever tasted, and a freshly baked gingerbread man secured in a plastic bag with a hook for hanging on the tree. I took my sweet time with my gingerbread man, eating just a few bites each day and saving the head for Christmas morning. Later, as a young mother, I started my own tradition of baking gingerbread, but it’s been several decades since my last batch.

I think it’s time to haul out my rolling pin and cookie cutters. I can’t think of a better way to get into the holiday spirit than baking gingerbread on a cool, gray day.

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM and KEWE 97.9 FM/1240 AM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her e-mail address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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