Lost Boys of Wai’anae

Barbara Hamby Click to read more...

Barbara Hamby has published five books of poetry and a book of short stories, Lester Higata’s 20th Century, which won the 2010 Iowa Prize and was published by the University of Iowa Press.  “The Lost Boys of Wai’anae” is a chapter from a novel set in Hawai’i during the 1960’s.  Other stories have appeared in Five Points and Boston Review, which published “Dole Girl,” winner of the 2015 Aura Estrada Short Story Contest.

The big news was that we had a college student from the Mainland as a summer missionary. The Wai‘anae Church was sharing one of its three summer missionaries with us. They kept Lorna McMichaels, a pasty blonde with thick legs from Dallas, Texas, and Jim Sheridan, a bean pole with the biggest Adam’s apple I’d ever seen, and gave us David Anderson, a student at Southwestern Bible College in San Antonio. Dave was tall and wiry with light brown hair and blue eyes. Wai‘anae Baptist lent him to us when they found out he was a good carpenter and could play basketball. My dad had only been at the mission six months, but he realized his main ministry was to preadolescent boys. They were the only ones who showed up Sunday after Sunday. Even my dad knew they came for the fried chicken and big bowls of potato salad and green beans my mother served on our lanai after the service, but they were polite and sat in the hard folding chairs while my dad talked about God’s mercy and the bonfires of Hell. I think my dad must have been dreaming of roping in the parents through their children.

There were eight to ten who were there every Sunday in their shorts and T-shirts. Malcolm and Rupert Fugigawa lived in a green Quonset hut on Lualualei Homestead Road. Malcolm wore glasses and had a big overbite, so the other kids called him Bunny. Or I thought it was just the kids until I heard his mother call him Bunny when she came to pick him up one Sunday. George Figeroa came with his cousins Norbert and Isaac Melton. They were part Hawaiian, George said. “With some Portugee,” Norbert shouted, “and some haole blood, too.”  Then there were four or five boys from down the road, who were related somehow, nice Japanese boys, who were kind of rowdy and had hair that stuck out all over their heads like a soft black brush. I didn’t count Henry and Gilbert Pauole from next door, because they came with Linda Pauole, who was Gilbert’s mother but not Henry’s. Henry’s mother died in an accident in Waikiki. A drunk man’s truck had jumped a curb and killed her and a Japanese couple in Hawai’i for their honeymoon. Everyone called Gilbert “Gilly,” because his father was Gilbert Pauole, too.

My younger sister Lulu called them the lost boys, because she was reading Peter Pan in the big set of childhood stories that were part of the encyclopedia my dad had sold at night while he was still in the army before my grandmother died and left him the money to go to seminary. There were ten leather bound volumes with the stories and poems for children. Lulu and I would read the stories to each other at night, not because we liked each other so much, but so our blind sister Francie on her lower bunk could hear the tales of Aladdin and Zeus and all the Greek gods. Even when she didn’t understand them, she loved the wash of words over her. She’d close her eyes and grab her once-blue blanket and rub what was left of the silky border against her cheek. My dad would have said Zeus was pagan, but I liked him more than Jehovah, not that Zeus was in a better mood, but at least he liked girls and let them have some say on Mount Olympus. Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom, and she was born out of the side of Zeus’s head. Lulu said, “I bet that was some headache.” And Venus—well, we were still talking about her thousands of years later. The girls in the Bible were not much, just mothers and harlots, not that I knew what a harlot was exactly, but I knew it was a career path that I wouldn’t be taking.

Lulu loved the lost boys, because she saw herself as Wendy, in charge of a gaggle of dirty monkeys but smarter than any of them and braver than even Peter. Our Wai‘anae boys were a grubby bunch, but they had a wild animal allure that drew Lulu to them like an errant planet or asteroid bent on mayhem. Most of them were from the neighborhood, though David and Dad would take the van out every morning and pick up a family of four brothers from Nanakuli.  The Saveitussi boys were from Samoa. Setu had been in my fifth grade class last year. He was quiet and the oldest, and his brothers did what he said though he didn’t talk. He’d just look at them or say their names, and they’d stop what they were doing, which was usually wrestling with each other. During the school year everyone had to stay after school one week to clean the blackboards and erasers. During my week Setu had stayed behind and done my work for me. He hadn’t said anything, he just stayed and washed the boards and clapped out the erasers in front of the classroom. Miss Shimabukuro didn’t say anything either.  She sat at her desk in her perfect Jackie Kennedy shell and straight skirt. When Setu finished he left without saying a word. After a few minutes I left, too, and walked out to the car where my mother was waiting. We saw Setu walking along Farrington Highway to Nanakuli, which was a couple of miles down the road. When he showed up at Vacation Bible School, I said, “Hi, Setu,” and he nodded his head.

My dad’s idea was to trick the lost boys into coming to Vacation Bible School for two weeks by offering a basketball camp. Dave Anderson had been on his high school team, and they were almost state champions. He had the chance to play college ball, but he got the call from the Lord and decided to go to Southwest Bible College instead.

“Don’t they have a team?” asked Lulu, her voice as sweet as Hawaiian punch.

Everyone knew she was being mean, but David didn’t. “No,” he drawled. “Oh, sometimes I pick up a game with the fellas, but we’re too busy studying the scriptures to play on a regular basis.”

“I think he’s stupid,” said Lulu as we lay in bed that night. Francie was asleep, so we whispered from top bunk to top bunk.

“You think everyone’s stupid,” I said. There was hum at this time of night. The window was between our bunks, and the soft trade winds were blowing through the screens. There was a big plumeria tree right outside our window, and the scent wrapped us like a blanket. We must have made a thousand leis from that tree, our fingers sticky with the poisonous milk that Lulu licked off once just to see if it would really kill you. It didn’t but she had a belly ache that made her sorry for once.

“Well, people are stupid,” she said, snorting. This was something new she was doing, inhaling so fast she sounded like a cross between a pig and someone with a bad cold.

“Would you stop snorting like a pig?” I said, sounding a lot madder than I felt.

“I am a pig, a pig in the camp of lost boys.”

“Stop it.”

“What’s the matter with you? Did you start your period?”

How did she know about periods? She was fifteen months younger than I was. They had only showed us the movie during the spring, and Lulu was in the fourth grade, so I knew she hadn’t seen it. My mother had not breathed one word. I knew that women had babies, but I was as interested in the mechanics as my dad was in picking up the guitar and playing “Hound Dog” like Elvis during the Sunday morning service. Then to find out that I was going to bleed between my legs once a month, I couldn’t believe it. My mother tried to console me.

“Honey, it’s what being a woman is all about.” She was changing Carlos, who was fat and whose penis was wiggling around like some kind of garden worm.

“I don’t want to be a woman then,” I said.

Lulu, who had been eavesdropping, said, “What do you want to be? A boy and have a wiggly cock-a-doodle-do?”

“Louise,” my mother said. “This is a private conversation, if there’s any such thing in this house.”

Which would be worse—having a penis sticking off the front of your body, shooting out pee or having blood come gushing out of your vagina every month? My dad was always going on about the perfection of God’s design of the world, but if I had designed the world, I think I could have come up with a less sticky solution.  I was almost eleven, and I didn’t want a body. Then Dave Anderson came from San Antonio for six weeks.

I loved to watch him work, shimmying up on the World War II Quonset hut that housed the mission. He wore shorts and a nail apron and no shirt, and as the summer progressed he became browner and browner, losing that opalescent haole sheen. I don’t know what made me love Dave Anderson. I couldn’t stand it when he opened his mouth and that South Texas twang erupted like lava out of the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano Pele’s volcano. It was worse than my own tweezed accent that I first heard on a tape in Miss Shimabukuro’s fifth grade classroom at Wai‘anae Elementary.

And his conversation was stupid. He and my dad would sit around talking about situational ethics versus rock-solid Biblically inspired morals. And they’d talk about the rapture and the second coming of Jesus, though what was going to be left to come back to was something I couldn’t figure out. They believed that at any minute Jesus was going to come down to earth like an alien invader in a space ship and incinerate everyone who wasn’t saved. The problem with this, in my ten-year-old opinion, was most of the saved were idiots or boring or both, so what did that say about paradise? It was enough to make you want to take your chances as a sinner. Plus, what could be better than Hawai‘i? The beach, the great weather, the flowers, the food–God was going to have to really put himself out to top this.

I really hated it when Dad and Dave started talking about the end of the world. My mom did, too. It’s not that she didn’t believe that it was going to happen. It’s just that as a woman with eight children she was looking forward to the end of each day and couldn’t be bothered with thinking about such a luxury as the actual cataclysmic end of everything. Hope as she might, she had an inkling that the world was not going to end, and she would have to get up the next day and make coffee, pour cereal, wash clothes, iron, scrape shit off bottoms, and make dinner for ten.

I wasn’t the only one in love with Dave. My older brother Johnny had a crush, too. He never said anything, but he hung on every right-wing word that came from Dave’s mouth. That’s unkind. Dave was a nice guy. He must have known I had a crush on him, with my thick glasses and my scraped knees, but he was always sweet. He asked my opinion on everything Hawaiian, as though it really mattered.

I translated the lost boys’ pidgin. I told him how to use “cock-a-roach” as a verb and what they meant when they said, “Hanakokolele” and “That one junk car.”

“Hey, Claire,” he would say. “Ralphie Tengan said, “That’s your kuleana.”

What he had probably said was, “Hey, brah, dat your kuleana.” I explained that he meant it wasn’t Ralphie’s responsibility.

I taught him how to say, “Laters,” instead of “Goodbye,” and what “moke” meant and never to say it in front of one of the tough local boys who were mokes unless you wanted a broke head.

Dave, my dad, and Johnny put up flyers around the neighborhood for Vacation Bible School, featuring a basketball camp with Mainland Star Dave Anderson from San Antonio, Texas. My dad always said San Antone. They wanted to put up a basketball court between our house and the church, but my mom said, “Over my dead body,” because that was the prettiest part of the two acres we lived on with a stand of papayas on one side and three yellow and one dark red plumeria on the other side. So they put the basketball court behind the church. I don’t know where they got the money for the hoops.

Our Vacation Bible School would never be so successful. We had boys from Wai‘anae and Nanakuli, which meant that there weren’t many girls, only the rough tomboys, the girls like Ramona Tengan and Stephanie Kanohi, girls with muscles, who could throw a ball and raise a welt on your arm and leg. Ramona had a crush on Lulu, and I as little as I liked her, because she made fun of the way I threw like a girl, I felt sorry for her, because Lulu treated her like a medieval empress with a vassal slave. Ramona would bring shells for Lulu when she found out she had a collection. Lulu would take them, but she would rub the shell on her shorts as if wiping off Ramona’s cooties. One time I saw Ramona waiting behind Lulu in line for a drink, and she put her pudgy little hand up so that it hovered over Lulu’s blond curls. She was smart enough not to touch Lulu, but the vision of that hand was something I’ll never forget, and the look in Ramona’s eyes, as if all the gold in Fort Knox was glowing in the dusty curls that crowned my sister’s head like a halo.

My mother tried to put something together for the girls, but she had blind Francie and Carlos to take care of, and she was really sick then, throwing up and running a fever. I knew she felt bad, because I could hear her crying at night after dinner when my dad and Johnny were driving Dave back to Hal‘e Aina, the old plantation house behind the Wai‘anae church, where he ate dinner and spent the night. Lulu played with the lost boys and Ramona and Stephanie. I gave up on Vacation Bible School and read or took Francie and Carlos off my mother’s hands, so she could rest.

Johnny always went with Dad to take Dave back. I heard him tell dad that he was going to be a summer missionary just like Dave. That was never going to happen. As soon as Johnny lost his mind and started screaming at the little kids in whatever Vacation Bible School was unlucky enough to get him, it would be all over. Even the Baptists drew the line at psychos.

I  had to hide my love of Dave, because Lulu would have been like the birthday girl at a party with the biggest cake in the world, that’s how much she would have loved to torment me in front of Dave. She was sly, too. I couldn’t take up for Dave when she said he was stupid, or she’d know I loved him, but I couldn’t bad mouth him either because she’d  tell him the false thing I’d said as though it were true. She figured it out anyway because she took to crawling on Dave’s lap and kissing him. She was nine and still little and cute enough to get away with it. She looked straight at me when she was doing it, so don’t think she didn’t know what she was doing.

Dave was good with the boys. He set up drills in the morning where they ran and practiced shots. Then they’d have a game before lunch. I helped my mother make peanut butter sandwiches for the school, and we’d have fruit punch and cookies for dessert. Then Dave would load the boys into the van and take them to Pokai Bay for a swim.

So every day Francie and I managed to be sitting on the grass beside the big pre-lunch basketball game. I’d tell Francie what was going on, but since she was only three, “Bunny made a shot,” didn’t really connect with her, but she was the one person I could tell how much I loved Dave Anderson, because she didn’t really know what I was saying. She’d just burble, make duck sounds, and say, “Cookie” or “blankie.”

One day at the beginning of July, Francie and I were watching a game, and the team with the girls was beating the other team. Setu and Henry Pauole were the captains. It was the end of the game, and Henry’s team was ahead by six points. Setu had all the lazy boys on his team—Bunny Fugigawa, George Figeroa, Isaac Melton.

“Hustle, Malcom,” Dave was shouting.

“Yeah, Bunny,” shouted his brother, Rupert. “Hustle. We beating you, and we have the girls on our team.” Ramona and Stephanie were better players than most of the boys, and Lulu made up with grit what she lacked in muscle.

“Who are you calling a girl,” shouted Lulu. “We don’t need you on our team.”

Rupert was small, but he wasn’t going to let that go. “If you not one girl, show me your thing.” He was right in Lulu’s face.

Lulu stared him right down and started pulling down her shorts. She was standing there in her panties, when Ramona mowed down Rupert. She was punching his birdlike chest, when Setu, Henry, and Dave pulled her off.

“Put your shorts on, Lulu,” Dave said, but she walked away and left them lying in the red clay of the basketball court.

“Let’s call it a day,” Dave said, and everyone formed a circle for the end-of-the-game prayer.

“Dear Lord, help us to be better sports and watch our tongues. We’re all equal before you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.” He raised his head and opened his eyes. Now let’s shake hands and get some lunch.”

The teams lined up and shook hands and headed to the table outside our lanai for sandwiches and Hawaiian Punch. I was gathering up Francie’s blanket and bunny rabbit, when I saw Ramona pick up Lulu’s little pink shorts. She shook them out and looked at them as if trying to decipher some code. She then folded them and looked up to see me watching her. She walked over and handed them to me without saying a word and trudged along with the other Bible School basketball players.

Vacation Bible School was only supposed to last a couple of weeks, but everyone wanted to keep playing, so Dave and my dad extended it until the end of the first week of August. The last game was on a Friday afternoon. Everyone was there, and some of the boys’ mothers sent cupcakes and nori rolls. We sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” as we rode to Pokai Bay to swim.

Lulu refused to go. She said Ramona tried to drown her one day. I figured she deserved it. Who knows what she said to Ramona?

At the end of the summer, we were at the Wai‘anae church on Sunday for a big end of the summer service. The summer missionaries were going home, and there was going to be a big pot luck lunch after in the Wai‘anae church’s recreation hall.

If you have never been to a Baptist Church then you don’t know about the call. At the end of every service, the preacher calls out to everyone who hasn’t been saved to come to the front and accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. If you’re already saved but haven’t been putting Jesus first, you can rededicate your life to Jesus or move your membership from one church to another. Reverend Marlowe gave an extra dull sermon that evening. It didn’t matter much anyway, because I was entertaining myself with one of two sagas that filled the two most boring parts of my life: the church sermon and the time between lights out and going to sleep.

In the bedtime saga I starred as a Hawaiian princess, who was a servant of Pele the volcano goddess. Pele was one scary lady with hair that was long and black and had little flames licking around the edges. Most of the time we punished boys or went on underwater adventures in a machine that was right out of Jules Verne.  Pele was a combination of Captain Nemo and Athena with a lot of fires and explosions.

The story I entertained myself with during the sermon was a pioneer saga, in which I was orphaned and had to live on my own in the Dakota wilderness. At first the bears were howling during the night and trying to break down the cabin door. Then I saved one of the baby bears from being eaten by a slavering wolf. I shot the wolf and skinned him, and wore his pelt as a cape sewed on the back of my wool coat so that the wolf head was like a hat on the hood of my cape. I filled a notebook with drawings of that wolf coat, and my friend the baby bear, and the coven of grateful bears, who protected me during the blizzards that swept across the Dakota plains. I knew about hibernation, but wrote it out of my story. Don’t ask me why someone who was living in Hawai’i would want to spend time in a log cabin in the middle of a blizzard fighting off bears and wolves. I think it started after I read The Long Winter, my favorite book in the Laura Ingles Wilder series. She and her family are living in the Dakota territory, and an Indian comes to the local store and says, “Get ready, haoles, because the next winter is going to be a humdinger. Every seventh year is bad, but this year is seven times seven.” He didn’t say “haoles,” but if the word fits, use it.

In the summer of 1963 Dave Anderson became my companion in the cabin. We’d fight wolves all day, and then pop corn and sing at night. Dave could play the violin in my dreams, and I was one hell of a piano player, ripping off rousing versions of “Sweet Betsy of Pike” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” Every once in a while there would be a chaste kiss between us, and then we’d go off to our separate beds and wake up the next day to the sounds of wolves snorting outside our door. There was a strict apartheid between the stories. The Pele saga was for bedtime, and the pioneer story was for church. Only the Rapture would have broken down the wall in my mind that separated the two.

That Sunday at the Wai‘anae church, I was shocked out of a scene of Dave’s face lit by the glow of the fireplace in our Dakota cabin. Lulu was punching my leg. Dave had escaped from my cabin and was walking up the aisle.

“I thought he was saved,” said Lulu. She was picking at a scab on her knee and blotting the blood with the hem of her skirt.

I nodded but couldn’t take my eyes off Dave in his pressed madras shirt and chinos walking up the aisle and whispering to Reverend Marlowe. The congregation was singing “Just As I Am,” one of my least favorite hymns, but one they used a lot for the call.

Just as I am without one plea
But that thou gave my life for me
Oh, Lamb of God, I come. I come.

When the verse ended Reverend Marlowe held up his hand for us to stop. The call could go on forever with the minister holding up his fingers for everyone to sing the last verse again or worse to start over and sing all four again. I found myself hating the newly saved because they made the preachers greedy for more. When no one came to the front, the service was over.

“This young man, Dave Anderson, who most of you know as John Salt’s right hand man at the Ka‘ala Mission this summer, has come up to rededicate his life to Jesus. He and John have been praying, and Dave has felt the Lord calling him to be a foreign missionary.”

Dave was smiling as if he’d just won a million dollars.

“John,” said Reverend Marlowe to my father. “You come up here, too, because Dave has told me how your example has given him so much courage to make this decision and open his heart to the Lord.”

My dad bounded up to the front of the room and shook Dave’s hand. This was good news for me, because I could leave that stupid cabin and go with Dave to Africa or the Amazon. Those wolves and bears were beginning to be a dead end for me.

After Dave went back to San Antone, we all had a hard time adjusting. My dad had lost his metaphysical conversationalist. He had just finished seminary a couple of years before, so the philosophical discussions were still burning in his brain. Johnny tried, but he was only thirteen, and my mom was just too worn out with feeding and cleaning to have much of an inclination. My mother said something one night on the lanai when she didn’t know I was listening.

“Do you think it was serious between Dave and Lorna?” she asked my dad.

Dave and Lorna. Dave and Lorna. Lorna had piano legs, big white legs that never got any darker just a ugly red that peeled and turned white again. And her hair—it was turned under in a perfect pageboy and she wore a hairband. I looked down at my legs. They were brown with a dusting of blond hair. I wasn’t as pretty as Lulu, but when I took off my glasses, I wasn’t bad. I’d read about contact lenses, and I knew they would change my life.

“I don’t know,” my dad said. “I told him to write her and go see her at Thanksgiving or Christmas. He’s a fine boy. He’ll be able to tell.”

Later when Lulu and I were lying on our top bunks listening to the Chiffons singing “He’s So Fine,” I couldn’t stop thinking about Dave and Lorna. My mother must have told my grandfather that I wanted a transistor radio, because for my eleventh birthday he send me four five-dollar bills and a little Panasonic radio, which Lulu and I listened to at night. I hung it on a hook between our beds, and we heard all the hits of 1963. Some songs were fun like the Beach Boys “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.” But most of the songs were about love, and there were so many things that could go wrong. Lesley Gore sang “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” What was love if you could go to a party and have your boyfriend lock eyes with another girl? My mother’s favorite song was Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz,” which was “It’s my party” but in the fifties. Lulu’s favorite song was “Walking the Dog” but I loved “Up on the Roof.” I lay on my top bunk and pretended it was the roof in the song. I thought about the tangle of feelings in my chest like a ball of yarn after a cat had chased it. I loved Dave, but I hated him, too, because of Lorna, but also because he wanted to be a missionary. How could love and hate be so close like a good twin and her evil sister?

All summer I had wanted to draw Dave, but I couldn’t because of Lulu. When I showed him my drawings, he even asked me to give him one that I’d done of Carlos sleeping on a blanket under a banana tree. I had really gotten the curve of his cheek and his lashes and his fat baby hands. I had spent most of the money my grandfather sent me on art supplies, paper, and German pencils. My mother had taken Lulu and me into Honolulu one day as a special treat. I didn’t really want to give Dave the drawing, because it was one of the best I’d done. I could have gotten him to sit for me but I was too chicken.

I’d sketched him in secret. When I was sitting with Francie, I took my sketch book sometimes and did quick drawings of the players. I was careful not to draw too many of Dave, because Lulu went through my drawers everyday like it was her part-time job. But he was there with the others. Drawing is a surprise. I never knew which sketch would turn out. I had a great one of Ramona’s calves, big and round as if there were a hard ball under the skin of each leg. There was also one of Setu running up for a shot and one of Henry Pauole dribbling. I thought of putting the drawings in a book and sending it to Dave for Christmas. I could see him in San Antone, opening the package and wondering what it was and then seeing my drawings of the Lost Boys’ Basketball School that also included girls. I’d put in a sketch of the mission and the palm trees and the plumerias.

But if he married Lorna, that was it. I couldn’t love him anymore.

Lorna.

If he married Lorna, for once I’d have to agree with Lulu. And that really hurt.

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