Vagabond's House Aloha, Don Blanding
Columns published in the Hawaiian Life magazine section of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January - March 1955
~ ~ ~
January 1, 1955
An ocean swell begins as far out as hardly more than an over-sized ripple. It gains speed and power until it crests and crashes on the shore in a welter of foam, flotsam and jetsam. It may leave only shells, twigs and seaweed, or it may carry the timbers and wreckage of tragedy. It has spent itself. It has added one more wave to the uncountable numbers since the beginningless beginning.
The year, 1954, has crested and crashed on the shore of 1955 in a welter of tinsel, gift-wrappings, dreams realized, dreams shattered, heartaches, good resolutions both intact and broken.
For each one, the driftwood will be different. It is a matter of what we do with that driftwood of memory which dictates whether 1955 starts hopefully and joyously or burdened with defeat and despair.
Someone wrote a snippy letter saying, "You think you're so smart, telling everyone how to live. Are you such a success that you can act as an authority? I don't think so." O.K. You don't think so. I don't either. So, we have no argument.
BUT MY deepest conviction is this: WE LIVE TO LEARN TO LIVE. In order to salvage some degree of happiness, peace of heart and mind, and what I call "Dynamic Serenity" out of a confused, complex and unruly life. I HAD to find answers. I have found many which make these Autumn Years rich and liveable . . . for me. Maybe these are not the answers for you. I pass them along for what they are worth . . . to you.
I've had a grand time living . . . not that it's over yet . . .
Searching, finding, having, and releasing the things I get;
Never too much possessing; never too much possessed;
Grateful for all that has been so far . . . and busting to know the rest.
One of the key words is "releasing." I find so many people stack like moths on fly-paper in the memory of some tragedy or some vanished happiness. They can not move forward with life. They are refugees from a mortuary slab, dully awaiting the process of burial.
AS THE last of our family line, I have said farewell to many loved ones. Many good companions of the beginning of the Grand Adventure have gone forward ahead of me. I have known sorrow. But I find that, if we will release it. "Sorrow silently recedes down the gray twilights of time like a black swan moving as a dark shadow across the dusky waters of a still lake at eventide."
It is true that we often have to whistle extra loud, like a small boy passing a cemetery at midnight, when he doesn't actually believe in ghosts but isn't too sure. Aunt Cally used to say, "Ghosts is nothing acting like something." The whistling helps.
UNTIL PROVEN otherwise, my approach to 1955 is this:
If the rest of the road is half as good as the half that has gone
I'll swing along with a singing heart . . . and pray to the Lord
I ease my bones at the Half-Way House and turn my remembering gaze
From the twisting paths that my feet have sought to the new
How long? How far? How hard? How fine? How heavy or light
If it's HALF as good as the half I've known . . . Here's Hail . . .
to the rest of the road!
Happy New Year. It's up to you.
Aloha, Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
January 8, 1955
Last November, I spent several days at the Archives getting material for my article "Christmas, 1916, As I Remember It." It was fascinating research. It made me stop, however, and do some tall thinking. Considered from all slants, it's good that we can't peer into the crystal of tomorrow and see what awaits us.
If we foresaw our good, we would lose the "surprise package" delight of opening our wonderful present when it arrived on the conveyor belt of time. If we foresaw the tragedies, our lives would be blighted by anticipation and dread.
Looking back, I could see the pattern of so many lives and events worked out.
Who, in those comparatively peaceful Hawaiian days of 1916, could have foreseen Pearl Harbor. You might say, "If we could have foreseen it we could have prevented it." Is that really so?
Our greatest thinkers are warning us of disasters ahead. Are we preventing their arrival? Look at the current papers, magazines, books. Look at the international situation, the confusion of U.N., the stupidities of greed, power politics, the local and national tangles.
Yes, we rise to crisis superbly. Then, in the ebb tide which follows victory, we seem to lose all that we have gained.
I WAS ON Hollywood Boulevard when VJ day news broke. The city went mad with joy. I have a good memory. I was a youngster during the aftermath of the Spanish American War; I was in both First and Second World Wars. My memory is pretty good. I left the delirious crowd which was so confident that NOW, at LONG LAST, we would have peace, prosperity, security and all of the goodies of the Christmas stocking.
A deep conviction moved me to go to my room and write "Be with us, Lord, in times of PEACE" which was set as a hymn by Norman Soreng Wright, and used widely in churches throughout the country.
SINCE WE cannot peer into the crystal and see ahead, what shall we do with this day which is today? This true story is one of my guides.
Friends of mine moved out from Kansas to Los Angeles. The younger people adjusted to the new scenes and contacts, but "Gramp" was uprooted from the soil of old associations and cronies. He was visibly drooping.
His family had the inspiration of taking him down to the big central square of Los Angeles. This was before smog. He found other gaffers like himself. He brightened up like a fertilized garden.
His folks always asked, "Well, what did you do today, Gramp."
He told them, lengthily and in infinite detail. They learned to listen without listening to his windy tales. But one day he jarred them into attention. "I found a pill today . . . right by my feet." The folks humored him, "What kind of pill, Gramp?" "It was a BIG pill, bigger than a peanut. Pink, it was." The folks asked idly, "What did you do with the pill, Gramp?" Gramp replied enthusiastically, "Couldn't waste a good pill like that . . . I took it."
It was too late for stomach pumps or other emergency measure, so the folks waited anxiously for Gramp to explode, turn green or otherwise react to the unknown qualities of the powers of the pill. Gramp seemed to thrive.
So, when faced with the unknown "Pill of Today" I say, "Well, I couldn't waste a good pill like this. I'll take it."
-- Don Blanding
Note: Several columns bear only the author's name at the end. Most include a photo and his classic signature decorated with the little bird.
~ ~ ~
January 15, 1955
A friend of mine is always finding money. When we're strolling along, he will frequently stoop to the sidewalk, curb, or gutter and come up with a half-dollar, quarter, dime, nickel and sometimes currency.
I accused him of sleight-of-hand. "Nope," he said, "Wait."
We walked along some more. he pointed out. There on the curb was a quarter.
I shifted accusations. "You're just lucky."
"Nope," he said, "no sleight-of-hand, no luck. Here's the idea. If you were a coin or a bill, where would you be likely to fall out of a pocket?"
"I'm money-dumb," I said, "I give up."
"Where ever people take money out of their pockets in a hurry, you'll find loose change lying around. Keep alerted when you're near bus-stops, theater ticket windows, cashier's cages, news stands and outdoor slot machines. That's the secret."
I tried his system. So far this month I've found 35 cents. A friend to whom I told the secret found a $5 bill and four $1s in a wad! Try it yourself.
MY SEARCHING for loose change hasn't lifted me into a higher income bracket but it did bring me an idea which is actually more valuable.
Too many people are not very happy because they are not alerted to happiness. They can find a microscopic worry and make a big worry out of it; they can find slights, hurts, and fears at every turn, because they are alerted to them, but they seem to miss happiness.
As far as I'm concerned here in Hawaii, it would be hard to avoid a thousand Coins of Happiness every day right where I'm walking or standing. They're free for the taking. It's not too much to ask that we stoop to pick them up and use them.
Of course, my training as an illustrator has given me an increased awareness of color, design, line and pattern. That's why I recommend taking some lessons in painting for almost anyone. No use passing up Life's Free Lunch Counter!
THE OTHER morning when it was raining, I heard so much griping that I expected to see a picket line of Forty-Dollar-A-Day tourists with placards saying, "Hawaiian Weather Bureau Unfair to Disorganized Visitors."
And yet the day was beautiful. The sun was trying to come through and there was an opalescent luminescence in the sky which was as lovely as Debussy music.
The palm fronds were waving in graceful motions that reminded me of Iolani Luahine in one of her more strenuous hulas. The mynah birds were cussing the weather but they cuss everything at all times. Their raucous voices fill in the times between political brawls, just to keep us conditioned for election times.
Being at heart a beachcomber, I took off my shoes and paddled through puddles and had more fun than I've had since I was a kid squashing mud between my toes in Oklahoma. And soon after the shower there was a double rainbow arching from Punchbowl over the city.
It's very comforting to have a wad of bills in the pocket, but -- times being as uncertain as they are -- it's a good idea to learn how to enjoy life on a thin time. As a friend told me, "I guess you don't HAVE to be crazy to be a poet, but it sure helps."
O.K. I'll settle for being a bit lolo if it enables me to find coins of happiness on a gray day.
Worthless treasures and priceless trash,
Silver that gleams in the lightning's flash,
Gold that the sunset spills on the sky,
Gauzes and tissues in mists trailing by,
Diamonds, a necklace of dew on the grass,
Filagree silver in frost on the glass,
Lace in kiawe trees shadowing brooks,
Riches a money-blind man overlooks,
Perfumes of araby scenting a lane,
Opals that fall from the sky in the rain,
Gold in the sands of a shallow lagoon,
Platinum dripping cold white from the moon,
Silk in the rose petals flung on the breeze,
Velvet in moss on the trunks of the trees,
Day-dreams and memories, moments acute
With thrice-distilled happiness . . . vagabond's loot.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
January 22, 1955
I'm learning to live with stark, impersonal contemporary architecture and furniture, whether I like it or not. I don't disapprove of it . . . but I just don't like it. I know that it's my fault.
I jelled in an era when sentiment was not considered "excess baggage." I feel about it as much as the woman felt about her husband when she explained her reason for wanting a divorce, "I love him but I can't stand him."
I'm making heroic efforts to catch up with the supersonic age, but it's slow going for me.
FOR INSTANCE, I was completely thrown by a "functional" conversation between two Punahou students which I overheard. It took me 15 minutes to translate.
One student was inside the house; the other outside.
The outside one yelled, "YIN?"
"GAH EH MUHEY?"
"NP. U GAH?"
It translated roughly . . . very roughly as, "Are you in?" "Yes. Come in." "In a minute. What are you doing?" "Nothing." "Let's go to a show." "Have you got any money?" "No. Have you got?" "No." "No show."
ANOTHER EXPERIENCE made me realize that I am fossilizing rapidly. A young dancer gave a dance recital recently. She had a beautiful articulate body, a charming and forceful personality, and her sincerity was beyond question.
But she was speaking in the idiom of her generation which we bequeathed a world of confusion, tension and agonizing uncertainty, without providing roadmaps adequate for the times. She was thinking and speaking in supersonic language; I was listening in horse-and-buggy language. Naturally, it made little sense to me.
I UNDERSTOOD about three of the dances. The rest were strictly Jabberwocky to my comprehension. There was a clever burlesque of this type of dancing in White Christmas.
Most of the dances belonged to the "Gosh, how I suffer" school of choreography which seems to express rhythmic arthritis, complicated by disorganized frustration.
One number, danced in a green light, could have been called, with equal appropriateness, "Lady With Pain in Tripe," "Roquefort Cheese Articulate" or "The Rusty Windmill."
The music in no way helped the situation for an old fashioned me. It sounded like squeaks, creaks, screeches and static in a second-hand radio or a Balinese gamelan record played backward.
I was not alone in my befuddlement, bewilderment and discouragement. Several of the people in my generation wore the same dazed look that glazed my face.
I'm thinking of glueing some feathers on myself and applying for a cage in the Zoo as a reasonable facsimile of the Extinct Dodo Bird. Life will be simpler that way. Any other recruits?
Aloha, Don Blanding
Note: A Blanding illustration, "An Old Fashioned Luau," graces the January 22, 1955, cover of Hawaiian Life.
~ ~ ~
January 29, 1955
Some folks collect stamps, land shells or birds' eggs as a hobby. I'm constantly seeking and finding new slants, meanings and applications of our word "Aloha."
I believe the Island "Spirit of Aloha" in its true sense is the genius of Hawaii.
It is our unique contribution to the world.
This is not sticky idealism or sentimentality.
True Aloha is more functional than structural steel. It cannot be packaged nor processed nor dehydrated, and yet it is our greatest "export product." It goes along as baggage in the hearts of most of our visitors.
It's not just our scenery, which can be matched in many other countries; it is not our flowers although they are a great asset. It certainly is not Waikiki Beach which does not compare with most of the beaches in other pleasure resorts.
It is that indefinable "spirit of Aloha" which captures the hearts of malihinis.
THIS SPIRIT is being dangerously diluted by the rapid influx of strangers who do not understand nor care for Island traditions. If we lose it, or let it be diluted too much, we'll lose our greatest attraction.
I was talking with a couple of delightful people from the East whom I met on the beach. I watched their plastic envelopes of conversation melt down like an ice cream cone in the sunlight. The following is about their summary of their idea of the enchanting "aloha" which they learned to love:
"After a short while here, our New England conservatism was as uncomfortable as woolen underwear in June. I suppose that when people were friendly we thought they were trying to sell us Iolani Palace or a gold-plated mongoose.
"Finally we learned that people just wanted us to enjoy ourselves as much as they were enjoying this delightful place. We could find no price-tags on any of the gifts of friendliness.
"We decided that your 'spirit of Aloha' is like a very gentle lomi-lomi which relaxes tense nerves and soothes irritated surfaces. And like most converts we became more enthusiastic than the regulars who were more or less used to this all-pervading graciousness. We are trying to 'sell' Hawaii as happily as though it were our own home . . . which we think it might be as soon as we can arrange it."
ABOUT MY only reason for going to the mainland any more is to be gladder and gladder to get back. After a few months on the Mainland, I feel emotionally dehydrated. When I get back I can feel my heart "greening up" like Diamond Head after our Winter rains.
It's a grand feeling.
I'd rather have one cheery "Aloha" and a good old Island grin of friendliness here than a half-hour speech of welcome by the mayor and a flowery introduction at the Fuddle and Duddle Culture Club of anywhere else in the world.
I repeat my little verse which may not be poetry but which expresses my feeling:
The nicest leis in all our Isles
Are miles and miles and miles of smiles.
Aloha, Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
February 5, 1955
While I was waiting for a plane in one of the big terminals on the Mainland, an attractive young woman came in and sat on the bench oppposite me. She was well-groomed and properly proper in her manner. She opened a magazine and started to read. After a few minutes her feet showed restlessness. Without pausing in her reading or seeming to be aware of what she was doing she slipped her slippers off with a quick practiced gesture. She wiggled her toes happily and sighed.
I ventured a friendly, "Aloha Pehea oe?" and grinned.
She looked up, startled. Then she smiled.
"How did you know I was from the Islands?" she asked.
"I saw the way you slipped off your slippers and wiggled your toes. There was something very Islandish in the way you did it."
"Good grief!" she exclaimed. "I didn't realize that I had done that. My aunt scolds me all the time for it up here."
LIKE MOST Islanders who meet in other places, we settled down to talk of our favorite subject. Hawaii.
"When my folks asked me what I wanted for Christmas," the young woman went on, "I told them to send me a lauhala mat for my room. My feet were hungry for that cool, smooth, wonderful feeling. I suppose that we Island folks never get over that."
One of the many charms of Hawaii is the fact that I can wear open sandals most of the time. When I have to be civilized for an evening and wear shoes my feet feel like canned sardines.
I had to give a talk at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel recently. I lassoed myself and put shoes, white shirt, tie and coat on my framework. I was hot, stuffy and miserable. As I came down the long corridor I saw my reflection in the mirror, and mistaking myself for a tourist, I went over and asked myself how I liked Hawaii.
WHEN IT'S necessary to go back to the Mainland for a tour, usually in the Winter, the folks up there ask, "Don't you mind the cold?"
No, it's not the cold. It's the HEAT of closed rooms, closed windows, closed clothes, and the closed faces of so many of the people.
I love our open-doored, open-windowed, open-throated, open-hearted, open-pored and open-minded life, year in and year out.
MAT WEAVERTutu, with your patient wrinkled hands
Weave me a mat of lauhala.
Let one strand be a song . . . an old song of Hawaii,
Plaintive and lingering with the nostalgia of faded romance.
Let one strand be a story . . . a legend of Maui or Lono.
Weave the friendly gossip of the village
With the gay unceasing laughter of the luaus
And the chatter of children
And the long sighing of the wind in koa trees,
And the murmur of surf on the reefs,
So that wherever I may be
Some part of Hawaii will be with me.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
February 12, 1955
It is a matter of eternal amazement to me how smart we can be in some things and how dumb in others. For example, we take planes with supersonic speed for granted, and television, and rockets to the moon, and electric eyes that open doors for us, but we still endure street signs which are obsolete and inadequate in this age as hand-turned ice-cream freezers.
A friend volunteered to drive me to the address of another friend who lived on a street which, as nearly as we could find out over the telephone, was Huhukukupupunonolilihumuhumunukukunukuapua's street, or a reasonable facsimile of same.
Being kamaainas, we figured that we'd recognize the name if and when we saw it. We found that in many cases we had to drive PAST a street and look back over our shoulders to find the name of it.
This made us drive like the pattern on a Hawaiian quilt and put us in jeopardy of getting a ticket for careless and reckless driving, endangering pedestrians and heedless and criminal disregard for the safety and comfort of the public at large.
AFTER WE had passed a street in order to look back and find out the name of it, we turned right on the next street so that we might circle the block and come back onto the street we sought. This led us into a blind alley which had no sign to warn us of the traffic trap. By the time we had crushed a few hibiscus bushes and two begonia plants in attempting to turn around on a cramped dime, we didn't know whether we were headed mauka, makai, Diamond Head or Ewa or perhaps straight up or down.
By this time, dusk had fallen and any legibility that remained in the signs was blurred out by twilight. We didn't know whether to proceed by touch system or phone Switzerland for a pack of St. Bernard dogs complete with small kegs of Scotch or Bourbon attached (I'll take mine with just plain water, murmured my friend).
THEN WE found that house numbers enjoyed playing the same guessing game with earnest searchers for the right address. A Pruzzle became a kindergarten game compared with the challenge of "Number, Number. Who hid the number?"
The street lights came on and we brightened hopefully. We found that in many cases they are so located in relation to street signs that we had to get out and peer to oversome the dazzle that blinded our eyes. By this time my astigmatism in my right eye was making me see menehunes in coconut hats where I was looking for numerals on a board.
At last we solved the problem. I went into a corner drugstore and phoned my friend. "I'm lost. I'm at -- wait a minute while I go out and see where I am."
I found that one street sign was bright and legible but the other was so faded that it was no help at all.
The search was ended by my friend at the other end of the phone telling me that it was TOMORROW night that I was supposed to call.
Anyhow, the whole business was more exciting than watching most of the mystery stories on television and the driver and I were fully as frustrated and goose-pimpled as though we had sat through the entire picture The Strangled Blonde at a popcorn-filled movie house. And we wonder why stomach ulcers are an occupational hazard of living these days!
Aloha, Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
February 19, 1955
Flotsam and jetsam. . . .
Waikiki gets 'em.
Just to play safe I looked up the words "flotsam" and "jetsam" so I wouldn't seem to belittle myself and my companions in the pleasant pastime, which is sometimes a project, of barbecuing our hides to a rich sun-tan and absorbing the therapy of the sunlight, surf and sea air.
Flotsam: Anything floating or drifting on the surface of a body of water.
Yes, and many of us floating, or swimming desperately, in the powerful riptides of the sea of life.
Jetsam: Goods washed ashore.
Yes, some goods, some not-so-goods, some darned goods, some damaged goods, and some trying-to-be-goods.
We are admonished, "Judge not by appearances." That certainly applies to the beach. A superficial glance at the sand sirens, two legged mermaids, sportive seals, spouting whales, beached jelly-fishes and lolling walruses and walrusines on the sand would make us think that there wouldn't be a serious thought from one end of the beach to the other. Don't be deceived.
THERE ARE enough tragedies, dramas, melodramas, comedies, comedy-dramas and fantasies to supply TV shows for a year.
The caressing sunlight which seems to open the pores of the lollers also opens the pasts and presents to the sympathetic ear which is willing to listen and wait and listen for the stories of the shifting human driftwood of Waikiki.
You'll see more scars than mere appendectomies and vaccination marks. Some of the wound-stripes show in prematurely gray hair, or in darkly shadowed eyes betraying pain of corrosive memories. Some of the scars are covered with the thick make-up of a false and forced gayety, but the sunlight has a X-ray way of revealing these wounds.
There was one little cutie-pie that anyone would have bet on her brains being merely bubble-bath suds. She had fought and overcome a cruel crippling illness. Her gayety was the almost hysterical friskiness of a puppy turned loose after months in Quarentine Station.
The man whom we considered a sour-puss of the most vinegarish order was trying to conceal the signs of an unremitting inward devouring pain.
The curvaceous, luscious blonde who froze the ardent advances of the more eager-beaver towel-hoppers was keeping lone rendezvous with the ghost of her lover whom she had sent away after a quarrel and would never be able to make up with again.
So it goes. The beach is a public library of mystery stories for the perceiving eye to read. "What is the mystery behind the face of our neighbor along the beach?"
BEACHCOMBERThere was some fragile fiber that the sun destroyed.
He stared with vacant eyes into a cloudless void
Where thoughts and wishes vanished like a formless mist
Before the dawn. At times, to casual friends, he reminisced,
"I missed too many boats," he said. A vague regret
Came like a buzzing of an insect's wing to fret
His stagnant calm. He would not lift a listless hand
To brush away the thought. He knew that in this land
Each new-born day was like the day that passed before,
And each tomorrow wears the face that this day wore.
The sense-song was, to him, an old and weary tune.
He scarcely heard the trade wind's soft alluring croon
Among the palms. The rhythm of the surf's slow beat
Matched the dull pulsing of his languid heart. The sweet
Perfumes of flowers were an opiate to still
The reflex stirrings of his mind. "You wait, I will
Go back some day," and as he said it, knew he lied.
He would be on the beach to meet the morning's tide.
A day would come (he wondered when); the morning sun
And miss the greeting of one pair of faded eyes.
The careless winds with drifts of sand-grains, white and
Would soon obliterate the imprint of his driftwood form.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
February 26, 1955
That's the way it is, friend, foe or brother
In passing we "brush off" on each other.
What you left on me is an easy cue
But I wonder what I brushed off on you.
Yes, that's the way it is, we're all radioactive in a way. Even in the slightest contact we do "brush off" our moods, ideas, influences on each other. A toothless grinning baby in its trundle cart, or a wag-tail dog going down the street can raise the gray mood of passers-by. One grim sour-puss, spraying pessimistic words and looks, can lower the joyousness of a gathering of people. We have a terrific responsibility.
Many people, in honest humility, feel they are not important, or that they do not count. That is not true.
I think more true Aloha for Hawaii is built in the hearts and memories of visitors by a genial driver of a tour car, or the pleasantness of waitresses in our eateries than a lot of high-powered propaganda. The publicity is needful to bring visitors. But it is repeated contacts with those who consider themselves "little people," yet who, by their innate graciousness are pleasant and aloha-ish in their hearts, that will make "repeaters" of the visitors. And a "repeater" is always our best advertisement.
THERE ARE at least two medium priced restaurants in town where I would go again and again, even if the food were not as good as it is, because of the friendly cheerfulness and courtesy of the busy little waitresses.
It is a matter of wonderment to me that they do not pour a serving of hot gravy over some of the customers who, in their thoughtless and unjustified rudeness, seem to try to introduce an acrid smog of complaint into the sunny atmosphere.
Whatever these girls may say in the pantry, they return with their undiminished smiles and courtesy. I have seen them melt down the spines of more than one human porcupine and turn that prickly personality into smiling amiability.
MY BIG EARS have a lot of human stories poured into them. Loneliness and aloneness are occupational hazards of contemporary living where speed, speed, speed and more speed has stripped life of neighborliness and thoughtfulness.
We can not know what balm we pour on sore and harassed hearts by a moment of friendly contact. Many people who travel are seeking escape from tragic memories. Few of them wear their tired hearts on their sleeves, but the signs are there for the thoughtful eye to read.
What are a few rebuffs? We don't have to wear rubber smiles pinned up over our ears to give off radioactive kindliness.
At the end of the stage play Rain, the bedraggled heroine, Miss Sadie Thompson, speaks an immortal line. The reformer's wife says to her, "I'm sorry for you, Sadie Thompson." Sadie, with the wisdom of knowing the worst of the worst, and some of the best of the worst and the worst of the best, says, "I guess I'm sorry for all of the people in the world." I imagine Mary Magdalene said something of the sort in her time.
It is easy, in my tumbleweed life, to take my little 40 pounds of airplane luggage and walk out of a Vagabond's House full of trash and treasure, but in my intangible luggage is the memory of every kindliness which has ever been given me.
That is truly treasure.
Aloha, Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
March 5, 1955
That gust of wind that made the palm trees sway and toss like hula dancers' skirts a few weeks ago was not a sudden storm. It was just the stupendous sigh of relief that I heaved when I mailed the proof-sheets and the pasted-up dummy of my Spring book to my publishers.
It's a weird business, having a book. At least it is for me. There's a long spell of uneasiness when I'm not sure that my discomfort is inspiration or gas. Then I realize that I'm hooked with a book to do.
Everything else goes by the board.
There are days when inspiration comes easy and happy. Those are swell days. The typewriter sings and the verbal yardage comes out like cracker dough in a cookie factory.
Then there are days when I'm as empty as a popcorn sack on the floor of a movie theatre. Those are ghastly days. I'm convinced that I'm through, empty, pau, make loa.
JUST WHEN I decide to give it all up and go fishing, inspiration hits again and I'm back at the typewriter or drawing board.
The manuscript goes to the publisher. As soon as it's mailed, I think of a hundred things I wanted to add or take out. Then there's a period when I almost forget the whole thing, and I'm glad of it. One day a big package comes and it's the proof-sheets to correct, and the proofs of the drawings to distribute and paste into the dummy along with the verses. The book seems almost strange, as if someone else had done it.
Finally it's all assembled. I don't know whether I've given birth to a brain-child or a mess of mongooses. Heave-ho! To the publisher. Then another wait.
One day a package arrives. Big thrill. It's the six copies which are traditionally given to the author, I don't know just why. (After that, by the way, and contrary to the general public's ideas, the author has to buy his books just like anyone else.)
I look at the books and say, "Well, Junior, you're on your own now. I'll do what I can, but it's up to the public from now on."
I don't pay much attention to the critics because I'm not writing and drawing for them. I'm writing for people, being people myself and not a Towering Intellect, A Great Aching Brain or a Sainted Soul.
THEN I have to wait. If people like the book, I'm glad, because for some obscure reason, I HAVE to pass along the beauty, the joy, the funniness, the comedy and the tragedy of life as I live it and as I see others live it. It isn't just the royalties that come in, although they do provide hamburgers for the deep-freeze and rent for a room to put the deep-freeze for the hamburgers to go into.
So, the Spring book, HAWAII SAYS ALOHA, is in my publisher's hands. Sometime in April (I hope) I'll get a package and it'll be my copies of the book. Then I'll know that I'll NEVER write another one . . . until I write the next one.
As I say, it's a crazy business and I don't know much about it, but in case anyone is curious (or even if no one IS curious) that's the way I have a book.
The book might be called LOVE LETTERS TO A LAND I LOVE because that's about what it is . . . trying to tell the world about this land which has given me so much of joy, beauty, experience and aloha.
Each time, I think I've said about all that I have to say about Hawaii. And then comes another glorious dawn and I'm spouting ideas like a leaky hose. That's Hawaii. That's what it does to me.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
March 12, 1955
When I was a little short-pants shaver, I was alone a good deal so I used to invent games to pass the time. One game I liked was, "I wonder." I'd think, for instance, "How would it feel to be a polar bear?" I'd wonder and wonder.
Then I'd go get my books about the Arctic and read up so as to find out more about how a polar bear might feel. I could give myself goose-flesh with my vivid imaginings.
I still like to play "I wonder." The other day after watching Aunty Elizabeth string leis on Kalakaua Avenue, I got to thinking, "I WONDER how many hundreds of miles of leis the lei-makers have woven in the half-century just passed. I wonder."
"I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of golden ilima blossoms have gone into the leis worn at luaus, at parties, at state occasions. Each delicate ilima blossom as thin as a tiny circle of crepe paper.
"I wonder once when Princess Kawananakoa had 12 splendid ilima leis reaching almost to her knees on some great occasion. There must have been thousands of blossoms in just that dozen leis.
"I wonder how many thousands of lovely white ginger blossoms have lent their moony whiteness to hours of romance and beauty in Hawaii during the years. How many spicy red carnations and white ones have given heady excitement to young hearts at dances and parties.
"I WONDER if our lei-makers have any idea how much beauty and Aloha they have released into our troubled world as they have sat there patiently selecting the blooms, shaping them into intricate patterns, choosing the choicest ones, threading them on the strings."
No wonder that most of the lei-makers have such happy smiling faces. I remember only one who had a grim look. Probably he had some inner sorrow or trouble which gnawed at him beyond the control of his features.
The beautiful pictures of Hawaii in the magazines are powerful lures to Hawaii. Our songs reach out to hearts through radios and through our troupes of singers all over the world.
But the memories of beautiful leis, worn in Hawaii or cherished as they were taken away when "going away" time came, have brought many people back to the Islands again and again, either in the body or nostalgically in memory and imagination.
Speaking of Ambassadors of Good Will, I think that our lei-makers are among our most important ones.
SOMETIMES WHEN we go down town, all absorbed in worrisome business, and going along with nothing of beauty or joy in our minds, how wonderful it is to catch the sudden fragrance of ginger or carnation or plumeria, and stop to enjoy the colorful leis of our lei-makers!
I've watched people under just those circumstances, and 8 out of 10 people will pause for a moment, and the expression changes to a gentler one, soothing out for a moment the lines of strain or anxiety.
I'll never forget a sad-faced woman, a visitor, wandering alone along Kalakaua Avenue. Beauty can hurt when there's no one to share it, and I think that that was making her sad. Aunty Elizabeth, with that psychic insight of a kindly heart, reached out with a lovely white ginger lei and said, "Fo' you. Alooooha."
The woman pressed the flowers to her cheeks. Happy tears ran unchecked from her eyes. "This is the most beautiful present I have ever had," she said.
Bless our lei-makers. If I ever achieve Heaven I hope that I'm met by a Hawaiian angel with a lei and the gentle word Aloha. It won't seem so strange then.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
March 19, 1955
If there is ever an occasion to change the name of our Hawaiian Islands (perish the thought), I'd suggest that they be called Rainbow Islands.
Among the many enchantments of our Islands -- and the enchantments are uncountable -- I find our rainbows among the most enchanting and magical.
The tattered fragment of a rainbow trailing its luminous veils over Punchbowl or Diamond Head can lift me out of the darkest and dankest mood of self-pity into an effervescence of happiness that makes bubble-baths seem like oatmeal.
It's a rare day in Hawaii when I don't see at least one rainbow between sunrise and moonset. If we don't get one during the day, there's likely to be a moon-rainbow to make up the quota.
NO WONDER the rainbow is called "God's Promise." Those arched prisms curving across the sky can lead the eyes from the earth into the Heavens so swiftly and subtly that we scarcely realize what has happened, and why we feel suddenly lighter and happier.
Nearly every afternoon around 5 o'clock, I see a gorgeous rainbow beyond the Ala Wai where I live.
There are usually a few clouds piled up over the mountains back of Manoa or toward Diamond Head. The spotlight of the setting sun slants across the gauzy curtain of liquid-sunshine and there, as though all of the fire opals and moonstones in the world had been fashioned into a glorious arch, is the rainbow.
Sometimes it's a double rainbow, which is glory added to glory.
That's the very time when so many people are speeding along the Boulevard that if they did peer out and were caught by the glory of it, they'd probably hurtle into the canal.
But it is a pity to have all that indescribable loveliness wasted. But, no, it isn't really wasted.
It's there, and we do not know the number of people who may be peering from windows, or strolling with sad thoughts, or sitting, just waiting, who catch the beckoning gesture of that luminous color and are gladdened by the sight.
DID YOU ever notice that the apparent texture or color of the sky inside the arch of the rainbow is different from the color outside? One is milkier and one is clearer. I can never remember which is which until I see a rainbow again.
But notice for yourself, especially when the arch is complete. It's a curious effect.
So many people have never seen a lunar or moon rainbow. A lot of them think it is the circle around the moon on a misty night. But it is a real rainbow in the opposite side of the sky from the moon.
If you ever see one, a good one, don't hesitate to point it out to other people. Most of them will say, "Thanks, I never saw one before. I thought it was just Visitors Bureau propaganda."
Like the easy tears of children the liquid sunshine falls,
With spells of laughing brightness between the weepy squalls,
It spills in gauzy curtains from a clear and cloudless sky
As quick as moods in passing . . . and no one knows just why.
If you're new to these rainbow islands, you may curse the rain and frown.
If you're wise you'll look straight skyward and see opals drifting down.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
March 26, 1955
I never expected ever to apologize for our Hawaii to anyone anywhere at any time, but from the 15th of February on, I thought of getting false whiskers and a fright wig when I headed up to Kalakaua Avenue.
Every time I went up I found, instead of sunny smiles and gay "alohas" a barrage of dark accusing looks, or actual verbal strafings by indignant tourists who waved copies of Vagabond's House and said, "Where's that celebrated glamour and enchantment of Hawaii that you rave about?"
"Liquid sunshine! Indeed!" they'd say. "All liquid, and no sunshine."
I could only hang my head and slink away. Never in the 38 years, off and on, that Hawaii has been my home have I seen such drippy, drizzling, ornery, soggy and sodden weather. It was strictly the witch's whiskers.
One of the "go get 'em boys" who is always looking for a quick dollar was wondering if he could turn out a fleet of one-man outrigger canoes, or two-seater kayaks for the tourists to navigate the Kalkaua and the tangent streets.
It did no good at all to tell the tourists, "See what's happening in Florida or California, or almost any of the Mainland resort places." They merely said, "But we're NOT IN Florida or California. We're here." Well, what can you say?
I WAS SO sorry for them. They had built up their expectancies from our tourist literature and the ecstatic accounts of their friends who had been here before them.
They were like kids who found laxatives instead of gum-drops in their Christmas stockings.
I found that my best alibi was to say, "Well, what can you expect when we give Mother Nature goose-flesh with our atomic bombs?" That struck a responsive chord in them. they usually ended up telling ME about the "unusual weather" that they had in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oskaloosa, Tallahassee, Mulligatawny or Kanakee.
And then about the time I had their ruffled feathers smoothed down, something would turn on the Celestial shower-bath in the sky and I'd have to start all over!
Personally, I have no complaint. I'll take any kind of weather that Hawaii wants to give me and I'll enjoy it somehow.
I've never seen Diamond Head so green for so long, and I know that screen credit goes to our rains. We'll be enjoying the benefits of it for months to come, but that's not stuff that eases the tourists' gripes.
I REMEMBER in 1944 when my right arm was knotted up like an old kiawe tree with neuritis I was advised to go to Yuma, Arizona, to bake the kinks out in that wonderful sunshine.
I went. What did I get?
For three weeks, the temperature was down within sniffing distance of freezing. I remember how distressed the Yumaites were about it and how skeptically I accepted their explanations and apologies.
We humans are a self-centered lot. We feel a real but remote distress when we read of famine in India, and we probably contribute generously to a Relief Fund, but when our own opu starts growling, then we really lift our voices in protest.
In Memory Room I wrote a line about "a forgotten kiss and a remembered blow." Several people protested that it should be a "remembered kiss and a forgotten blow."
Well, it would be nice if we could all maintain such an ideal Christian spirit, but you just stop and think. You've forgotten a lot of the kisses that have come your way, but I'll bet you haven't forgotten a black eye or bloodied nose.
So, these tourists are going to find the wetness of their memories makes livelier conversation than the sunshine (such as it was) that they enjoyed.
Hawaii is going to have to turn on a plethora of charm for a long time to neutralize the tourist's acidity which was generated last month.
But it WAS unusual weather, now wasn't it?
-- Don Blanding