Vagabond's House Aloha, Don Blanding
Columns published in the Hawaiian Life magazine section of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July - September 1955
~ ~ ~
The column's name changed to Hawaii Says Aloha on July 30.
July 2, 1955
In the movies recently, Harry Chesty, the hero, leaned above the upturned face of Cutie Cuticle to deliver one of those open-mouthed, vacuum-cleaner kisses which seem to be the vogue in Cineromantic art these days.
A disgusted Teen-Ager near me delivered the ultimate comment on the action: "Aw, he acts like he's eating a mango."
* * *I mention this episode not to bring up the subject of kissing, which seems to be a self-starting conversation piece in Hawaii at all seasons.
Rather, it's to talk about mangoes.
I'm just asking a question. Probably there are answers, but as yet I do not know them. Why, during the mango season, is not this delectable and delicious fruit offered to the visitors in the eating places which cater to the tourists?
To most visitors, it's an interesting exotic which they would like to judge for themselves. Wouldn't fresh sliced mangoes be an interesting item to proffer the visitors for breakfast or lunch? What about mango sauce which is a dribblesome dish in my estimation. And as for green mango pie . . . wow!
I know they're mussy to prepare, but so what? We need more atmospheric effects if we're to give even a reasonable facsimile of the glamorous place which is advertised -- and certainly mangoes have atmosphere!
THE MANGO TREES are among the beauty-trees of our Islands. They are especially beautiful when the new leaves, looking like varnished leather, shimmer among the glossy green of the older foliage. And the pendant mangoes, blushing like a rouged gypsy's cheek, are truly a decorative and tempting note along the highway.
I understand the green apple stomach ache of small boys in the Mainland is duplicated by green mango complications among the small fry of the Islands.
Green peaches in Oklahoma were my downfall every year. I never learned that even the powerful digestive juices of boys could not handle green peaches too successfully. Annually, last year's digestive gripes were blurred from memory in our impatience to try the developing peaches, especially if they were in a neighbor's yard, although our own yard had branches breaking with their harvest of fruit.
It is kindly to warn visitors visitors of the hazards of eating mangoes; to avoid getting the oil of the skins on their own skins. Some folks are especially allergic to this oil. I manage to survive the hazard, but some of my friends claim that I come from a long line of Disposal Units and can digest anything. Lucky me.
I HAD A WONDERFUL treat recently. A friend of Carmen Sawtelle's brought some mango seeds treated like the sweet-sour cracked seeds which I have loved since my arrival in Hawaii 38 years ago. I never ate anything more delectable! The fibrous coating of the seeds retained the flavor for a long time and I could larrup the item around in my cheek for a good half hour before the deliciousness was all gone.
Mango chutney, too, is one of the top favorites of mine among condiments for meats. But green mango pie rates right along with green apple pie and peach pie, when properly made, as the food of the gods.
Why not give our visitors a treat and let them have one more talking point when they go to lure other visitors to Hawaii. It's word-of-mouth praise which counts most, anyhow, in advertising, and a mouth-full of mango is a good conversation piece.
There's the idea, for the tourist-caterers, and I don't ask for screen credit. I'd like to get these items myself in the restaurants, being an eater-outer most of the time. Whadda yuh say?
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
July 9, 1955
For various reasons, which are probably just flimsy excuses for that old mahope spirit of "do it tomorrow," I hadn't been down to see the Lurline come in for quite a while.
Which just shows that it's not Fate but our own stupidity which cheats us out of a lot of the free pleasures and delights of our life here.
I was not meeting anyone in particular so I just met everyone in general and had a thoroughly grand time. The music, the fragrance of the leis, the harbor smells and the assorted people served to revive vividly my memories of my arrival on December 22, 1915 [sic].
There was one thing, however, that I could not recapture, and I envied those "first-timers" their first impact of Hawaii on their expectant hearts and eyes.
Although I wouldn't sacrifice a day that I have lived in the Islands, I'd still like to come as fresh as an unexposed camera film and let those first impressions hit me as they did that day so long ago.
IT'S A REAL face-lift for the heart to join unreservedly into the gayety and noise and happy confusion of that welcoming event for the ship and its passengers.
I found myself grinning broadly at all and sundry, old friends and strangers. I found a couple of leis hung on my neck before I'd been there five minutes as I went down the line of lei-vendors.
What a grand crew they are! And how much beauty they give to a heart-hungry world. Each time I see them, I am struck afresh with wonder at the patience and ingenuity of their handicraft.
I saw and smelled my first yellow ginger lei of the season. It was a double-double lei boa of beauty and fragrance from Hilo.
It brought waves of memories of the wonderful months I spent on Hawaii ranging from Kona to Kalapana, and weeks of vagabonding in the Kapoho district in 1937 and 1938.
The hour on the docks was like going through an old snap-shot collection with color, fragrances, texture and taste effects.
I back-tracked over 39 years to thank the Chance or Design which took me into the theatre in Kansas City and exposed me to the stage play, Bird of Paradise, and precipitated my decision to come to Paradise.
THE FRIENDLY crowd at the docks is a shining example of the World Brotherhood movement in practice, unselfconsciously. All of the national backgrounds are fused into the happy Hawaiian spirit of Aloha. Everyone seems glad to see everyone else being glad. It's infectious.
The band's lusty oompah-oompah helped raise the spirits of the crowd, and I saw a white-haired "tutu" swinging her hips like a giddy metronome in answer to the lively rhythm of one of the hula tunes. She wasn't doing it for the benefit of anyone, but her eyes told me that she, too, was remembering days long past and was happy in the remembering.
From my own experience and from watching the faces of the crowd, I can unreservedly recommend attendance at the Lurline's docking as a massive shot of vitamins X-Y-Z and even "etc.," to counteract the depressions which seep into our minds and hearts when we look too long at the world picture of confusions and tensions.
Hope I see you there next time. Aloha.
-- Don Blanding
Note: Don Blanding arrived in Honolulu on December 22, 1916, aboard the Great Northern via San Francisco and Hilo.
~ ~ ~
July 16, 1955
As a youngster in Oklahoma, it was my great good fortune to have a number of friends who unconsciously shaped the pattern of my thought and affections so that in later years many doors were open for rich rewarding associations which have paid dividends beyond coupon-clipping.
One of these friends was Caledonia Abernathy. She was "Aunt Cally" to the whole town. She was born a slave on the Abernathy plantation in one of the Carolinas.
The "Abernathy" part of her name was identification with the family that owned her. When the plantation was broken up she came out to Oklahoma.
She was not conventionally educated, but the wisdom of her heart made her, as my father said, "one of the greatest natural philosophers he had ever known."
He was a judge and a shrewd judge of character.
SHE COULD take the great wisdoms of the Bible and interpret them to the understanding of a question-asking child.
It was said that she had "healing hands." She had a healing and loving heart which worked white magic with all those who came under her protecting and serving hands.
Through her I got to know intimately much of the sorrow and hardship and agony of the Negro question. Whenever I heard one of those stupid generalizations about "Negroes being thus-and-so," I knew better by experience.
Her wise sayings and earthy spiritual insights supplied me with much material for my books through the years.
Another friend was Manuel, the hot-tamale vendor. In the dusk of winter evenings he would pass through our neighborhood calling his cheery yet plaintive cry. "Ta-mah-lees. Hot Ta-mah-lees." They were wonderful tamales, spicy, steaming hot in their corn-husk wrappings. Believe it or not, they were 10 cents a dozen. I was the buyer for the family, and Manuel always gave me a couple extra "just for me." He used to sit on the porch step and sing songs for me.
Again, he taught me to accept no generalizations about Mexicans which are so carelessly tossed about. he opened the door to the kindliness, song and graciousness of another race.
John Loco was one of the younger Apache men in the group with Chief Geronimo who was officially a "prisoner of war" at Fort Sill nearby.
Father used to turn me over to John Loco for trips up into the Wichita Mountains. He sang me the Apache songs amd told me the stories and legends of the mountains, forests, streams and the animals.
He also told me much in relation to the Apaches which puts a different complexion on the spurious portrayals of the indians in movies and fiction. The injustices and sorrows of the Indians were intimately revealed. No generalizations about Indians had any authority with me because I had my information at first hand.
THESE FRIENDS and the friends erased any racial prejudices from my mind and heart early, and enabled me to go to any land and live happily and lovingly with the people. The benefits were all on my side.
Which all leads to direct mention of an organization, working with limited funds but unlimited courage and splendid practicality, to a realization of that ideal which is more than an ideal, it is a desperate necessity, and that is that we who have been forced to live in ONE WORLD, in pressured proximity, shall do so intelligently and wisely.
This organization is the Hawaii Chapter of World Brotherhood, P.O. Box 3106. Telephone 6-5565.
Get first-hand information of its work and your participation in it. You will help yourself by helping it. We are all neighbors in this contemporary world of ours. They are doing here what our greatest world leaders are trying to do internationally, to find a practical working answer TO THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN.
This big job begins with you and me. With us.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
July 23, 1955
This column is for people who are chair-bound, bed-bound, room-bound, responsibility-bound or money-bound to one place at this season of the year when folks are blowing down the 14 winds like confetti.
I learned the trick of traveling in one place while I was bed-and-room bound for some months following the Second World War.
Here's how it happened. A friend in the Northwest had sent me several dozen big color postcards of Mount Rainier, Columbia River, and the lakes and forests of that enchanted land.
At the same time a nurse stopped by to see me and told me of a flock of youngsters who were miserable and bed-bound in one of the Army Hospitals near Tucson, Arizona. There was no air-conditioning in that hospital at that time and the boys were having a ragged and rugged time of it that summer.
One of the postcards showed a lake that looked as cool as a mint julep in August. Snow-capped Mount St. Helens, looking like a great ice cream sundae, was reflected in the lake. There were aspen trees which are the western equivalent of eastern birch trees, dripping the green and gold coins of their leaves into the blue waters. A ripple on the surface of the lake suggested a quick breeze blowing across it. A little point of land covered with thick green grass jutted into the lake from the bottom of the picture.
I HAD A SUDDEN hunch. I wrote on the back of the picture, "How about using your imagination and sitting on that grass and soaking your feet in that lake? It might help some."
One of the pictures showed a trail leading into the forest. There were clumps of rhododendron on each side looking like gigantic scoops of strawberry, raspberry, pineapple and guava sherbet. Between the tree trunks were glimpses of a small lake in the background.
I wrote, "How about using your imagination and taking a stroll down that path. Looks like there might be some ducks on that lake and trout in it."
Each one of the pictures suggested a hike, a swim, a canoe-trip or a mountain-climb, or a snooze on a blanket on thick grass-mattresses. They were "cool" pictures just to look at, but with the help of imagination there were "experiences."
This batch of pictures was shipped to the fellows at the hospital. The nurse distributed them. She wrote later that they raised the morales and lowered temperatures in a truly magical way. The men began extending the "imagination game" to travel magazines. It became part of the therapy of the ward.
I HAD SOME grand trips of my own while I was bed-bound. I did a very complete tour of India with pictures and travel books.
When the author really went to town with description of the smells, tastes, colors, sounds and textures of various spots like the bazaars or restaurants or temples, I'd stop and try to imagine the smell of ancient insense fumes in the wood of the temples, or the steaming fragrance of mounds of rice and curry with mango chutney, tamarinds and grated coconut, or the throbbing of tom-toms and the exotic wailing of flutes where the dancers swirled in their nautch ceremonies.
It didn't matter to me that my picture might not be accurate.
What I wanted was the "experience" which my imagination could give me by "walking into a picture and looking around and snooping hither and yonder." I held wonderful conversations with Fakirs, although I do not understand Hindustani or Urdu.
Anyhow, there's the idea in case you can't get away this summer. As for me, at this stage of the game, a day away from Hawaii is just a day away from Hawaii, and I'm content to live in this Eden, and not be evicted like the Adam family.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
Hawaii Says Aloha
July 30, 1955
The title of this weekly column has been changed from Vagabond's House to Hawaii Says Aloha, for several reasons.
This amphibian tumbleweed, who for years has trailed drifting roots over the soils of many lands, seems to have changed from a move-oner to a stay-putter. Instead of wanting EXtensive exploration of many far places, I want INtensive exploration of the place which has been heart-home since 1916.
Yes, Hawaii says Aloha.
But "Aloha" is a two-way word. It is not complete until Aloha has been said in return by the one who hears it.
For years, Hawaii has said Aloha to me in the form of beauty, color, friendliness, adventure, and inspiration for books and drawings which have in turn brought me a pleasant living.
My latest book is called Hawaii Says Aloha. For me it was not just another book. It was my desire to say "Aloha and Mahalo" in tangible form, hoping that thus I could convey to others, here and abroad, some of the joyousness of our beautiful land, and perhaps point out loveliness which they might have failed to see.
HAWAII, FOR ME, is not just a land, a people, a place. It is a Spirit, intangible but real, who speaks in the songs of the people, the graciousness of the customs, the all-pervading friendliness of our life.
But a smog is drifting into the clear atmosphere of Hawaii. It is a cold, pressured commercialism. It puts a bitter, acrid flavor into our liquid sunshine. It is obscuring something very precious.
I hope that, with what means I have, I can help in a preventive way to awaken others to this danger.
Many are aware of it, but many, lured by the glint of quick dollars, are not sensitized to this creeping menace.
There was a moment in the film, The High and the Mighty, where the pilot says, "We have passed the point of no return."
Hawaii has stepped into the swift course of progress. It is past the point of no return; that is, a return to the days and the tempo which kamaainas call the "good old days."
All we can do now is to try to see that this swift jet-propelled plane of our destiny does not crash against the hard harsh peaks of commercialism uncontrolled.
No state can be great except through the heart of its people . . .
Do we measure a church by the height of its towering steeple?
I would be great through you, my Sons and Daughters,
Native-born sons and you who journey vast waters,
Drawn by your visions, your seeking and heart-weary hoping
To people my valleys and shores, to furrow the sloping
Hills into harvest, to harness my swift traffic-rivers.
I would breed builders and planners and makers and givers.
I would have Sons who dream greatly, hope greatly, live greatly.
Who would build me a mansion of Life that is splendid and stately.
Read the great stars of my destiny shining above me.
Teach my children to know me, to help me, to love me.
You who are Warriors of Faith, inspire, exalt me.
No Alien Foe, only you, may degrade me or halt me.
Here is a haven for homeless. It is yours for the taking.
Heaven or Hades. Yours is the choice of its making.
You are my Children. Be Brothers . . . a Family uniting.
Destiny offers her torch . . . You are fuel for the lighting.
You are my greatness, my triumph, my splendor or sorrow.
Give me the boon that I ask . . . a splendid Tomorrow.
* * *Yes, Hawaii Says Aloha. Let us say Aloha in return . . . with the best that is ours to give.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
August 6, 1955
There's a curious breed of people whom we run into occasionally. They seem to resent happiness, either in themselves or others. I call them "smogminded" people. I don't resent them but I'm, certainly sorry for them.
I don't think it's deliberate on their part. They're just wired wrong and are always giving off static which probably disturbs them more than it does those who have to listen to it.
I'm always caught off guard when I run into them or, as is often the case, they hunt me up and run into me, hard, because I've declared myself as an active practical disciple of Applied Joyous Living.
One tangled with me this morning and before I could disentangle myself I had enough needlings to make me think that I'd run into a wasp's nest.
I said, "Good morning."
He snarled, "What's good about it?"
I asked, "What ISN'T good about it?" That seemed to be a practical question.
"For one thing," he said, "the title of that book of yours makes me sick at my stomach. Hawaii Says Aloha. Phooey! (only that isn't what he said). Hawaii doesn't say Aloha to ME. And if it did, I'd give it the Bronx cheer. It's the most over-rated, over-advertised imitation of Paradise that I've ever been in."
I WOULDN'T have minded his knocking me so much; I'm used to that. But this tirade got up the Irish-Scotch-French-Dutch-German-American-Kamaaina in me.
"You're the kind of guy that when Opportunity knocks at your door, you knock Opportunity. You've got the biggest opportunity you ever had to enjoy life while you're here. And you've got the biggest opportunity you ever had to have a really relaxing holiday. And you're deliberately kicking it in the teeth. You're making a project of not enjoying yourself or Hawaii.
"And you're spreading the infection of your discontent to others. I'm not your Best Friend, but I'm going to tell you, just the same. You've got emotional halitosis, and you'd better do something about it . . . for your own sake."
I WAS IMMEDIATELY sorry, as always, when I popped off. I was doing the same thing that he did, spreading the infection of my resentment, justified or not. It's no good.
I'm telling the episode not to show him up but to spank myself. It took a couple of minutes to get my own snapping terrier of anger by the tail.
I looked the other guy over. His complexion betrayed that his stomach ulcers were steaming hotter than Pele at Kapoho. He reminded me of a pup that I saw caught in a coyote trap, snapping and biting the hands that tried to help him. Actually, in his strange wrong-way he was asking for help.
A stormy truce was declared and we had coffee together. I got his story, a long story of relatives, a pressured job, frustrations from an ambition bigger than his capacities. It did him good to get it out of his system.
Our little waitress helped. Her pretty cheerful friendly attentions caught his attention. When we got up, he put down a quarter, and then changed it to a half dollar.
Hawaii has curious ways of saying "Aloha, Love to you."
Whether he learned his lesson lastingly or not, I don't know. But I learned something. "It's better to say Aloha than 'To Heck With You' . . . any day . . . to anyone."
We live to learn to live, and sometimes we learn more from a wasp than from a marshmallow. So thanks, Malihini. Hawaii says Aloha and so do I . . . now.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
August 13, 1955
If any of us old-timers of Waikiki came out into the open in the morning and saw that Diamond Head had mysteriously disappeared in the night, we'd have to take a couple of quick double-takes before we'd realize what was missing.
We take so for granted what we look at every day that we forget actually to "see" it.
There's another "fixture" of Waikiki which most of us took for granted at being a permanent part of the scenery. But it's going to be missing after August 22 when the Lurline departs, and we're going to miss this familiar bit of Waikikinery.
It's Ed Sawtelle, for 20 years organist and part-time manager of the Waikiki Theatre. Yes, he and Carmen and Baron and Dixie, the two police-dogs who don't know that they are dogs, are migrating to the Mainland.
How long? Who knows? "No strings on tomorrow" is their motto.
Anyhow, the furniture has been shipped. Carmen's splendid collection of hibiscus and Javanese honeysuckles and other flora has been distributed among friends.
Baron and Dixie have willed their few choice fleas to canine friends, and they're waiting for sailing day. Not too happily, I can say with authority, as the time approaches.
THERE'S GOING to be a vacancy as noticeable as a missing tooth by the box office, where Ed held forth with his warm brown eyes twinkling out of complexion like a freshly spanked baby, with his long sensitive fingers holding his "signature" -- which is a good cigar.
The Sawtelles' friends range through the entire fabric of Waikiki and Honolulu because they are neighbor-hearted people. They have had the true Aloha spirit. I did some research about them. Invariably the response to the news that the Sawtelles were leaving has been, "Aw, no. Waikiki won't seem the same."
And then would follow comments on how much Ed's music meant during the war years when his broadcast programs reached to the deep Pacific and to lonely outposts of the war-territory. Or others would mention kindliness which Carmen's large abundant heart had spilled into the lives of people through the years.
ANOTHER COMMENT usually contained a heavy element of wish-fancy. "You see; they'll be back. They're part of Hawaii. After they've toured around a while and have said Hello to a flock of old friends, they'll be thinking in fish-and-poi language. They went away before, a long time ago, and they came back. They'll do it again."
Privately, that's my own conviction, too. I know Ed and Carmen and the dogs mighty well. We've been through thick-and-thin together, sharing of our abundance and of thinner dimes at times.
One of Ed's secret yearnings is to drive that big shiny car of his (which he grooms like a pet race-horse) for a thousand miles in one direction without going in circles as on Oahu. Once he's gotten that out of his system he's going to be yearning equally strongly for that cheerful, "Hi, Ed." "Hello, SawTALL." "Good Evening, Ed Sawtelle" of the newsboys, cops, dowagers, usherettes, beachboys, bankers, movie patrons and assorted public who count him as friend.
WITH THE NEW skyline at Waikiki showing new outlines every month or so, we're seeing the passing of a lot of "kamaaina landmarks." Well, it's good to have known them, but it does give a sharp twinge to the heart to see them go.
I know that when the ship pulls away from the dock, the Sawtelles are going to drop some special leis off Diamond Head with specific instructions to drift to the shore as a promise of coming back some day.
Just to make sure, I'll drop a couple for them myself.
Ed will be on the job up to the second day before departure. Take a long look at the guy, although we hope it won't be too long before we'll be seeing him "in person, not a picture," back at his old stand. Aloha, Ed, Carmen, Baron, Dixie. Aloha.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
August 20, 1955
Someday I'll learn (maybe) not to say outloud that I WILL do something or that I WON'T do something. That Ol' Mynah Bird in a Coconut Hat that perches on my signature overhears me and tells that Guardian Angel of mine, "That Vagabond Guy is getting cock and out of hand. Better give him a sock in the eye. Just to teach him."
In the column of July 30, I said (in print) that I was through being a tumbleweed and was settled down for good-or-bad and nothing was going to pry me loose from Hawaii again.
How little we know what tomorrow can bring in a surprise package for us. A letter from my publishers said, "The new book is going hot on the Coast. Come up for a lecture and autograph tour." That's like word from the General saying, "Private Blanding, report to headquarters . . . on the double." Private Blanding is reporting to headquarters.
Well, if you want to write books telling the world how beautiful Hawaii is, you have to go to the Mainland to sell the books telling how beautiful Hawaii is so that you can come back and live in beautiful Hawaii and write more books telling how beautiful . . . but I guess I've said that before.
After all, Island people know how beautiful Hawaii is . . . we live here, so why get excited about a book about it?
THERE ARE MORE people away from here who have been here and are yearning to get back, and there are a lot more who have NOT been here but are yearning to get here, and they're the ones who boost royalties on books telling how beautiful Hawaii is.
It's said that a Prophet is not without profit except in his own home town. That does not sound like an exact quote, but it applies to verse writers who write books telling how beautiful Hawaii is . . . doggone it, I've said that before, haven't I?
So out come the old Tux to be de-soup-stained; and I'll have to order creamed chicken at the local eateries for a couple weeks just to get in condition for the Girdle-Gabble-and- Gobble Circuit. I hope my stomach can take it.
I've softened up on poi, laulaus, green mango pie and poha ice cream. It takes rugged digestion to handle creamed chicken five days out of seven, and sometimes twice in one day, luncheon and dinner.
I will say this; my propaganda AGAINST creamed chicken at luncheons on the Mainland has had its effect. Yes, they serve creamed TUNA now sometimes.
Maybe after three years I'll enjoy the spank of more abrasive weather along the Coast and in the Northwest. While I'm spellbinding the frost-nipped inhabitants of Spokane, Pocatello, Denver and Reno, I can console myself that I'm doing my bit for Hawaii by luring more tourists here to benefit the tourist industry in particular and Hawaii in general, if that is a benefit.
Some may not.
I'm making no comment. I was a tourist myself once, and so were a lot of Kamaainas. There are tourists and tourists. Most of 'em are mighty nice.
So, A MONTH from today I'll be hurtling up to the Mainland and back into the old routine.
It's fun while I'm doing it . . . that is, while I'm on the platform sharing my love of Hawaii with the audience, but it's the jumps in planes, buses, trains, and the different hotels each night, and the public monuments which I am dragged to see by the President of the Calorie Culture Club, and the sleeper-berths which are too short and . . . oh, well, it's gotta be done so it's gotta be liked, if only while I'm doing it.
There's one consolation. Going away gives you another chance to know how good it feels to get back. I'll get back, alright . . . I always have. You can't change the habit of 38 years easily.
In case you're interested, I'll be shooting these weekly columns down from the Coast. Some of them will be about Coast items and some of them will be Island items. After all, I carry Hawaii in my heart wherever I go, and can write about it at the North Pole . . . just out of nostalgia. Aloha, Folks -- but I haven't gone yet.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
August 27, 1955
Some people seem to retain through the years a child-like sense of wonder, a durable belief in the unbelievable, an urchin's ability to play "let's pretend" which brings them great delight, but also many tears as a material world tries to destroy that belief that we DO live in a great big beautiful world.
Such a person is Jim Francis of Waikiki, artist, craftsman, writer of grand tales for children which have whimsey without whimsy-whamsy, and artist with a Peter Pan touch which convinces us that mermaids, dogfish that bark and catfish that mew are actualities.
The shops have shown many varieties of his craftsmanship from painted ties to the gluttonous luau-bird which last year graced party tables both here and on the Mainland.
HE BROUGHT me as a house present his latest creation, the FEATHER-ME BIRD. I've named her Fanny because she reminds me of Fanny Brice doing a rather arthritic imitation of Ziegfield Follies girl in full regalia of plumes, fooferaw and glamour. Fanny also looks like Zasu Pitts going to a party in Zsa Zsa Gabor's finery, with a heavy touch of inferiority complex drooping the plumes. Anyhow, I love Fanny, and we have some ribald talks of a quiet evening in the studio.
Fanny the Feather-Me is utilitarian in a round-about way. She stands about 15-inches high and is made of monkeypod. In the raw, or nude, she is more sturdy than glamorous.
Her feet are large, flat and firm. Her legs are supports, and no more, no alluring curves; just underpinnings. Her body is on the bosomy side in direct defiance of Christian Dior. Her neck is pipe-stem thin, and her face does not launch ships, not in the sense of Troy's Helen. There's a look of frustrated yearning in her eyes, which mutely says "Feather me, Lover. Feather me!"
In the box which contains Fanny there are various envelopes holding giddy-gaudy feathers, red, blue, yellow, green, white and orange. There are pukas like inverted goose-bumps all over Fanny's body and the topknot. The idea is for children, adults, party-people who want novelty, shut-ins, or assorted humans to bedeck Fanny according to their own taste . . . or lack of it.
Actually, the more you do for Fanny, the less you achieve for her . . . she still looks like Fanny Brice in a rain-storm. But the effort is valiant.
FANNY HAS double-purpose design. When she's not being the Glamour Girl, she can have tooth-picks put into the pukas and the tooth-picks can hold all sorts of hors d'oeuvres items. In her array of cocktail sausages, olives, onions, smoked oysters and shrimps she becomes her other self, PUPU DOLLY . . . just a home-girl out on the town.
When Jim Francis brought me FANNY-POLLY, I asked him, "How do you doodle up these whimsies, Jim?"
He said, with simple childlike sincerity, "When I was sick, she was running around barefoot in my mind. The only way to get rid of her was to take her out of my mind and put her into wood and feathers, as you see her."
And that's how the glamour-fowl Fanny Feather-Me came into being. You'll see her around. You can't HELP seeing her. She's that kind of girl.
Jim's hatching a couple more odd-bird ideas but they're still in the shell.
I told him that in a former incarnation he must have done time as a setting hen, because hatching-up something is almost a chronic state. Well, it's a good state to be in.
Good luck, Jim. Thanks for Fanny. She's given me some good laughs.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
September 3, 1955
PLEA OF THE BOOK
I'm ALIVE while I'm BEING READ.
When I'm ON THE SHELF, I'm the SAME AS DEAD.
Now, I like living as well as you. . . .
So, pass me along when you've read me through.
The only sorrier sight than a living room without books is a living room with rows of bored, frustrated books which, outside of a dusting occasionally or an airing to prevent mildew, get no attention month after month and sometimes year after year.
They're good books, fine books, but they're as dead as a corpse on a slab except when they're being read, looked at and enjoyed.
This is no reflection on the intellectual qualities of their owners. There are fine books which, once read, stay read.
There are other books which, due to some quality of their own or due to the owner's fondness for them, get read again and again. They're happy, alive books. They are serving. They are fulfilling the purpose for which the authors studied, got headaches, drank gallons of black cofeee, typed calouses on his or her fingers, suffered agonies of frustration during the "dry" periods of inspiration, and underwent equal agonies of anxiety before their manuscripts were accepted, published and released.
BOOKS ARE literally the blood, sweat and tears as well as brain-distillations of their authors, even when they're not very good books. The author may have been physically dead for a year or for centuries but he "comes alive" when his book is being read.
You'll know the great minds of time better through their books than you might by knowing them in person because many authors are very inarticulate except through their typewriters, pencils or pens.
So, a shelf of unread and unenjoyed books is just a cemetery of dead authors unless their books are put into circulation. If those books could come alive and organize they'd probably be holding up banners: "UNFAIR TO DISORGANIZED BRAIN-CHILDREN."
Whenever I move from one place to another, I take out my central core of favorite books or those technical books which are "tools of my trade of writing," and the rest go to the local library. And they're good books, expensive books because I'll put a patch on my pants in order to buy a fine book which appeals to me.
But I'd as soon put a loved puppy or cat or bird in a dark prison of a closet as to put fine books into storage.
I write books, and regardless of any hui of intellectual snobs who belittle them, they are books which carry dreams, laughter, hints of beauty and vicarious travel to the near-and-far places of the world to shut-ins, and home-bound people all over this earth.
My daily mail proves that, so I can afford to ignore the needlings of the towering intellects who have usurped the power to say what is "good" or not "good."
And I know that it delights and encourages me when I know that these books are serving, just as I feel sorry and defeated when they are "shelved."
THERE ARE hundreds of book-hungry people here in the Islands whom the Public Libraries serve with food and drink which is more precious to these readers than even hamburgers, with or without onions and relish.
Go to the reading rooms of our Public Libraries and see for yourself.
AND THEN GO HOME AND TAKE THOSE "DEAD BOOKS" which you're not likely to read again for a long while, and give them to the Library where the Friends of the Library Association will see that they "come alive" through use and enjoyment by readers.
It's largely vanity which keeps those unread books on display; it's vanity, inertia and a false sense of "possessiveness" because you only "possess" a book while you're reading it.
Art books, travel books, books of philosophy and religion and faith, all kinds of book, technical book, children's books; they are needed and they will be appreciated, more than you can realize unless you've gone hungry sometime to get a book that you wanted and needed.
The Book Drive is on for the end of September. Give yourself a good warm feeling by taking down GOOD books to the Libraries anywhere around during this month. The authors will thank you; the library staff will thank you, the books will silently thank you, and flocks of students and book-lovers will thank you. Why not do it TODAY or MONDAY, and enjoy the feeling.
I've just cleared my shelves of a flock of really grand books preparatory to my indefinite trip to the Mainland lecture tour. And I feel SWELL for doing it.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
September 10, 1955
As someone originally remarked about 4,000 B.C., "How time flies these days!"
A year ago tomorrow, two major events came into my life. One: my picture was on the front cover of Hawaiian Life Magazine and Two: my body was on the operating table at the hospital where I was opened up like a Christmas package or a laulau while a subversive appendix was snatched out.
It was very interesting and much more exciting than Las Vegas. I had one chance in a thousand; I was fairly sure that I had the right chance, but it was fascinating to see whether my number WAS up or would come up with the winning.
I had a perfect spinal anesthesia, so I was wide awake and watching what seemed like a TV show starring ME. Of course, I'm ham enough to enjoy that, so it was all quite diverting . . . or would that be an understatement?
Now, in 10 days I'll be watching another interesting event in my tumbleweed life. I'll be heaving up to the Mainland for an indefinite time of lecture and autograph tour of the West, going as far East as Denver and thereabouts.
One never knows what can occur on those creamed-chicken treks, so I'll be watching with interest as the day-by-day newsreel of my life unreels on the screen of my consciousness, such as it is.
There's no known anesthesia for creamed-chicken, so I'll just have to be sturdy and valiant about it, I suppose.
NOW THAT I KNOW (as nearly as one can know anything these days) that I'm going, I'm beginning to check on what I'm anticipating.
For one thing, the autumn coloring. Swamp maples are no redder than our hibiscus or poinciana, but they have a frost flavor which gives them tang and zip.
I'll want to see the Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Forest above Visalia. There's always a terrific lift from being among those earth-gods of the forest. I spent two different times from snow-go to snow-come in that unforgettable area, and will feel that I'm among old friends.
I'll be glad to see the desert areas, both the Arizona-New Mexico deserts and the deserts of the Northwest. After the lushness of Hawaii they will offer fascinating contrast in their starkness and abrasive dryness.
The Oregon Cascades will be welcome sights again since several years of my youth were among the great snow-capped peaks, and I climbed several of them. I was in the Bend, Oregon, desert area before I jumped down to Micronesia, via Honolulu, several years ago.
The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are boyhood friends, too, and I'll be glad to salute their rugged austerity. I may be there in time to see the slopes covered with a golden mantle like the feather cloaks of Hawaiian kings as the aspen are alchemized to gold by the touch of the frost.
I'll probably peer into the nothing-but-nothingness of Grand Canyon, and maybe get a visit into the Aladdin Chambers of the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico. Both are always "musts" if I'm within 500 miles of them.
THERE'LL BE AN element of sadness in each visit because there are fewer and fewer of the old time friends in each place, so many of them have moved on to their Next Adventure in the last four years. But the same can be said here. As I remarked in the beginning, "How time flies these days!"
And so many treasured things fly with the flying time!
I don't know when I'll get back, but even if it's a shortie trip I'll probably have to take guides to find my way around in the changed skyline of Waikiki. As it is, I have not re-oriented myself to the changes in Honolulu during my last "awayness" of 10 years from 1940 to 1951. A third, if not a half, of Honolulu is practically foreign land insofar as my acquaintance with it is concerned.
When I came here in 1916, I was something of a wet-eared youngster. Now I'm an old-timer. Well, how time flies . . . or did I say that before?
The next 10 days will be spent in packing my Memory Chest with all of the things that I especially want to take along with me.
There'll be mynah birds in the dawn, lunar rainbows, the sound of "Aloha" from friendly voices, snatches of hula-tunes in the moonlight along the highways and low-ways, papayas that DON'T taste medicinal as the Mexican and Floridan and Cuban ones Do taste, fresh pineapple for breakfast, and the view from the Ala Wai at sunrise with the sweep of grandeur from Punchbowl to Diamond Head. All of these will be tucked away in my luggage -- but I won't have to pay extra-poundage on them.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
September 17, 1955
Quite frequently I get letters from people on the Mainland saying, "If you see my daughter (or son or grandson or nephew or what-not) will you just gently remind them that it's an awfully long wait between letters for those whom love them.
I followed through once or twice and got properly told that it was none of my business -- which of course it wasn't.
But Hawaii does something to the letter-writing urge. Oh, the urge is there, but the follow-through is eternally put off until tomorrow . . . and, of course, there's no such thing as tomorrow, actually. There's only NOW. And, down here, there always seems to be something more important than letter-writing in the eternal lovely NOW of Hawaii.
However, as blanket coverage on all of those who SHOULD write to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and creditors, I'll pass along an item which was used on me when I was away from home.
I STARTED on my tumble-weed life when I was 15. With all the things to see and do and know in the great big exciting world, I lived in space-without-time, so a week and then several weeks or a month would slip by without my being aware that I had not written home. I INTENDED to write. Oh yes, I INTENDED most virtuously, but that seemed to end it.
One day I got a letter from my father. "Son," he wrote, "there are 60 minutes in an hour, as I'm sure you know. There are 24 hours in a day. That makes 1,440 minutes in a day, if my arithmetic is correct.
"The average month has 30 days. 30 multiplied by 1,440 makes 43,200. If you only take 10 minutes out of the 43,200 minutes of the month to write your Mother and me, that will leave you 43,190 minutes to spend on the more important things of living.
"We know we're asking a lot and we're just greedy enough to ask that maybe you MIGHT even spare 10 minutes out of the 10,080 minutes that you have each week to spend in adventure and sleeping and eating and reading and going to movies and such truly important things of life. You'd still have 10,070 minutes for yourself.
"At your age, of course, that's not half enough. We do understand and we did the same thing ourselves when we were young, but we're not young any longer. The same amount of time is much longer for those who wait at home than for those who adventure away from home. You won't understand that now, but you will some day. Love, Your Father and Mother."
He added a postscript. "Don't let your Mother know I urged you to do this. Let her think you did it because you love her. Dad."
WELL, THAT'S IT. I've passed the word along. Let those with ears hear it and those with eys see it, and those of the younger generation who CAN write letters do so. I've heard there are a lot of educated younger generation who can't. I don't know about that.
Not hinting, or anything, but until I get back my mailing address over the holidays will be 1154 North Ogden Drive, Hollywood 46, California. Mail will be forwarded along my way. And, by the way, while we're on the letter writing subject, for Pete's sake, PUT YOUR RETURN ADDRESS on the letter inside as well as on the envelope. Sometimes the outside addresses get rain-blurred or stamped over by cancellations, and, since I'll be away from my address files, I can't answer. An unanswered letter or an unpaid bill is like cracker-crumbs in bed for me.
You see, my father's admonition did sink in.
Anyhow, it's thoughtful to put return addresses on ALL communications. It saves endless looking up of old letters, or searching for misplaced address books by the one who receives your communication.
The Post Office has to dispose of literally tons of undeliverable and unreturnable holiday greetings which have no return address on them and which have gone to addresses without forwarding addresses when people move.
Anyone who says it's not "chic" to put return address on holiday greetings needs the services of a head-shrinker. About the only reason for sending them is to let friends know you're still alive, that you're thinking of them or that their name is in the address book anyhow, and that you're either at the old address or at a new one. The nit-wit sisters who write etiquette books have reversed themselves and are now saying that it's "poor taste" to omit the thoughtfulness of the return address. Hurray for them!
If you want these columns to continue while I'm away drop a note to Hawaiian Life Magazine, c/o Star-Bulletin. The editor will let me know and I'll continue or discontinue according to your wishes. Anyhow, Aloha . . . and aloha.
(P.S. to the Editor: I'll bet a flock of this column gets sent to kids on the Mainland and elsewhere, marked and underscored. Parents are funny that way; they like to hear from their kids.)
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
September 24, 1955
Last week's column dealt with "letters home." It brought excellent response from folks who said something like this, "Maybe the youngsters will take it from you. But they resent it from their folks. They think we're nagging, or ga-ga to ask them to write more often."
So here's another idea out of actual experience.
Several years ago on my way East from Honolulu I stopped off in Seattle to spend a day or two with the parents of a friend whom I'd see in New York, so that I might bring him first-hand news of his folks.
The young chap and his wife were trying for the stage in New York. That is absorbing business and time jet-propels at that stage of life. So the folks wondered if I could do a little propaganda toward shorter letters oftener rather than longer letters seldomer.
When I reached New York I called Johnny and his wife. They promptly asked me to dinner. I went over expecting the usual Bohemian studio dinner of canned spaghetti and coffee. Nope. They were really going to show me around.
I KNEW they ran on the usual thin pennies that struggling young actors have . . . or haven't. It was nice of them but I didn't want it. I bided my time. We yakked for a while in the studio until about time to go out.
I asked Johnny, "I'm not being commercial about this, but what do you kids expect this to cost you? I have a reason for asking."
Johnny knew me well enough to suspect that something was in the wind, but he figured that drinks would be so much, dinner about so much, tips, taxi, etc., would add up to at least $5 for each of us. I let the subject drop despite question marks going up from both of their faces like bubbles from a burping gold-fish.
Finally I asked, "Johnny, how soon do you expect to get out and see the folks?"
He said that it didn't look as though they could make it for a year or more.
I made the proposition, "Let's cook up a refrigerator dinner here with a few things from the delicatessen. I'd rather talk with you here than to listen to the din and wham-wham of Greenwich Village. And let's take that cash you were going to spend on me and use it for a long-distance call to your folks. There's no present in the world except your personal appearance at home that would delight them more. It would be a wonderful surprise. And, as far as they're concerned, it's YOUR idea."
I COULD see him start to think the usual thing,"But a long-distance call to Seattle would cost a lot." Then he realized it wouldn't be any more, at night, than what he was going to blow on the party, if as much. The idea caught hold. His wife came forth with the idea, "We could make it a good chat. Let's."
They did. There were tears and laughter and incoherent questions and bumbled answers but it all added up to a lot of love going person-to-person across the space of our United States. Everyone felt simply swell, and a good time was had by all.
About six months later, Johnny's Dad died suddenly.
Later I saw Johnny's Mother. She said that his Dad had treasured that call beyond any estimate, because the Father knew what neither the Mother nor Johnny knew, and that was, that he was living on borrowed time.
I made a transpacific call the other day. It's still a miracle and it always will be to me when I realize that our voices in friendly talk are flicking across that vast Pacific which I had journeyed first in five days in 1916, in 19 hours by plane in 1937, in less than nine hours more recently. Yet only split seconds intervene between question and reply over the telephone.
I'm glad I've lived the era that I have lived from the slow clop-clop of the family horse's feet to the slashing speed of today. I wonder what I'll be wondering about 10 years from now.
Anyhow, this column is an idea for away-from-homers. It's your baby now.
-- Don Blanding
Copyright © 2004-2007 Cadia Los - Revised December 1, 2007