As I write this, I'm wearing my official Makawao RAMS (Really Awesome Makawao Student) T-shirt and a grin that's been stuck on my face since last week, when I visited my grade school alma mater. Forty-five years after leaving Makawao Elementary School as a 7th-grader, I returned last Thursday night to participate in the Read Aloud Program (RAP).
Administered by the nonprofit Read Aloud America, RAP is aimed at building a lifelong love of reading among families. Hundreds of parents and children crowd into school cafeterias for high-energy, fun-filled RAP sessions. As a guest RAPper for the past couple of years, I've had the pleasure of reading to parents at several elementary schools. But when I learned that this semester's series would be held at Makawao School, I literally jumped for joy.
The thought of returning to the hallowed halls of my youth delighted the sentimental fool in me. My memories of Makawao School go beyond sweet; they practically drip guava syrup. Even my most embarrassing schoolyard moments are recalled with warm, fuzzy giggles. Perhaps it was just a gentler, more innocent time, but I feel fortunate to have spent my grammar school years there. That's what we called it back then. I used to wonder why we had to bother with arithmetic and science on top of grammar.
On RAP night, I arrived early so that I'd have time to explore. The first thing I noticed was that the cafeteria had shrunk to half its size. The wood frame windows at the serving counter were just as I remembered, so were the concrete steps where I slipped in my new shoes and rode the stairs from top to bottom, on my bottom. Yet the cafeteria itself was way smaller than I had pictured it. I know, our perception of size is influenced by our own size. But I'm not much bigger now than when I was in the 6th grade.
Peeking though the counter windows into the kitchen, I could see the door to the cafeteria manager's office. Back in the day, at least at our school, kids actually looked forward to cafeteria duty. Mrs. Makimoto never yelled; instead, she enticed and rewarded us with her crunchy cinnamon toast and lilikoi juice poured from ice cold metal pitchers.
I walked through the entire school, delighting in my memories: our kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Sakamoto, showing us how to stand and walk like little ladies, one foot in front of the other . . . Mrs. Holomalia's flowery perfume filling our 4th-grade classroom . . . Mrs. Pacheco admonishing us to "get on the kinipopo!" I had never heard that expression before entering the 3rd grade, but I knew what it meant right away - shape up!
One day in class, Mrs. Pacheco heard two of the boys snickering over a naughty playground rhyme:
"Indian, Indian, hiding in the grass.
"Cowboy, cowboy, shoot 'em in the --."
Indignantly, she shoved several desks together and instructed the boys to climb on and crouch on their hands and knees. Then she gave each of us a rubber band and marched us in a circle around the rascals as they recited the poem, over and over, and we enacted the shoot 'em part. I'm sure their budding male egos felt more pain than their, umm, other parts. And they were lucky, Mrs. Pacheco didn't send them and their parts to the principal's office for a paddling.
Mr. Tavares ruled Makawao School with a firm hand and an eagle eye, administering tough love long before it became a catch phrase. Always impeccably dressed in white shirt and tie, he spent more time around the campus than at his desk. He'd visit our classrooms, chat with us at recess, all the while instilling high standards of behavior and enforcing a strict dress code.
Once, at a school assembly, he stunned us all by barging into the cafeteria barefooted, his shoes laced together and slung around his neck. His tie was undone, his shirt untucked, his pants rolled up to his knees. He jumped onto a table and shouted at us, "Is this what you want your school to look like? Does this make you proud?"
I'll never forget that lecture. It wasn't the content of his message that struck me; it was the passion of his delivery. Even as a child, I could see that he cared so deeply for us, he was willing to go far beyond his comfort level to shape us into responsible, self-respecting citizens.
That was the kind of care and love we felt every day as little Rams. From Mr. Tavares to Takerui, the janitor/handyman, all of the faculty and staff nurtured us as if we were their own. It was a Really Awesome Memorable School and yes, Mr. Tavares, I'm proud of us.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.