Hawaii Says Aloha --Don Blanding
Columns published in the Hawaiian Life magazine section of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October - December 1955
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October 1, 1955
I had several reminders recently of how we take for granted those very things which we so desperately miss when they are removed or when we are removed from them.
I dropped a card to a friend in Los Angeles saying that I'd be up there on a lecture tour for awhile.
This is part if his reply, "So you're coming to Smogafornia. In preparation for your return to the Mainland would suggest that you spend half an hour a day inhaling the fumes from a car exhaust.
"I went to Big Bear recently and had to come home. Such weak unadulterated air! It makes you feel right puny. Nothing that you can sink your lungs into. Breathe deeply, long and often of your wonderful Trade Winds before you flit. Aloha (borrowing your signature word), Maurice Molloy."
Then on Kalakaua I met a friend who had just arrived, Bruce Coleman. He filled his lungs until I thought he was going to explode. "AH!" he said. "AND Again I say, AH! I'd forgotten how good fresh air tastes. And I mean TASTES. It's like tasting fresh spring water after years of that chlorinated stuff."
I DID some experimenting myself. Yes, the Trade Winds do have a real taste when you concentrate on it. In addition to the combination of ocean brine, plumeria, earth and forest and liquid sunshine which makes up its aroma, there is a freshness which is delicious.
I can see how the tourists are delighted with it just as they are thrilled with their first taste of fresh Hawaiian pineapple when the restaurants are wise enough to serve the delicious golden slices instead of the thin white acid ones that take the enamel off of dentures.
Which reminds me; Carmen Sawtelle's son, Courtland, when he was a youngster heard much talk of the benefits of fresh air.
One morning when he and his mother were walking in the San Francisco briskness of morning he sniffed deeply and enthusiastically and remarked, "Gee, Mom, isn't the air full of FRESH this morning."
Yep, the Trade Winds are FULL OF FRESH. I saturated myself with it in preparation for the stuffy air of trains, buses, lecture halls and closed hotel rooms while I go on the Calorie Culture Circuit.
THAT MIGHT be a good idea for those who are promoting Hawaiian Industries for export.
Get tanks of fresh trade-wind air and give it some overtones of plumeria, white ginger, fresh pineapple aroma, a soupcon of sea-weed for the sea-shore atmosphere, some sun tan oil for Waikiki and the steam from a fresh hot laulau, and ship these tanks to homesick Islanders on the Mainland to open when they give Hawaiian parties up there.
I could use a few at lectures when the air in the halls gets too heavy with the smells of wet wool, wet feathers, damp fur and warm humanity on a wet November evening in Seattle or Pocatello.
I'm a veteran of the Lecture Circuit and can take most things in my stride, but one evening in Eugene, Oregon, at a Knofe-and-Fork Club dinner I came in from the outside air just in time to be introduced and go into my routine.
As the curtains opened on the stage there came a wave of that heavy, steamy air saturated with food, radiator paint, smoke, thrice-breathed air, and blended Quelques Fleurs, My Sin, Nuit Noel and humanity. I had to leave hastily long enough to regain control over my rebellious gorge.
I'm asking friends here to remember during these months to take two breaths of Hawaiian air, one for themselves and one for me every so often. I'll be counting on it. Mahalo.
* * *
(Editor's Note: Our heartfelt thanks to the many, many readers who have written us and asked -- even demanded -- that Don Blanding continue writing his column. Frankly, we never had any intention of dropping it; Don just didn't want to feel like a dinner guest who overstays his welcome. We're sending all of your nice letters to Don.)
-- Don Blanding
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October 8, 1955
Thoughtfulness seems to be one of the gracious things which is threatened with extinction like the Dodo Bird and the Six Toed Sloth by the speeded-up hazards of contemporary living.
When I run across it I'm as delighted as I would be with an unexpected check from an editor. It's more generally in evidence in the Islands; but its lack is especially noticeable in the Mainland cities.
Ed Sawtelle, former organist at the Waikiki Theatre, is a thoughtful man. I almost said "was" because he's living on the Mainland but his friendly smiling spirit will remain long on Kalakaua Avenue.
His main worry about leaving Hawaii was this question, "Who will remember to feed the Theatre Cat." He extracted promises from the entire personnel, but he knows that what is EVERYBODY'S business is often NOBODY'S business.
THIS CAT is a cocky, independent cat which Ed called An Assorted Cat or the Product of a Syndicate. It shows swatches of Persian, Angora, Manx, Siamese and Alley. Is it humble about its about its undistinguished lineage? Not at all. It is exceedingly picky and choosey about its food, demanding the daintiest tid-bits.
At dinner time each evening, Ed would ask wistfully, "Is there some fish for the cat?" Carmen would say, "That cat can eat what we eat or go without." This was merely a marital bluff since Carmen is an especial softy for animals, including the human.
Ed would say, "Maybe it CAN eat what we eat . . . but it Won't unless it's fish." Carmen would argue that she was out of cat-food for the nonce (whatever a nonce is).
Ed, who seems very mild and unassertive, can hold to a point, "There's a can of tuna out there." Carmen would say, "That's for tuna-mushroom casserole for lunch tomorrow." Needless to say, there would probably be chicken-mushroom casserole for lunch, and tuna-on-the-half-can for Senor Popoki that evening.
Knowing a little about that cat, I don't think Ed need worry too much. It will put the finger or the claw on someone in the theatre personnel and get its kaukau. Otherwise there will be some feline vocal coloratura arias which will interfere with the sound effects of the current pictures.
AS A MATTER of thoughtfulness for our Postal People here, I'm telling friends, creditors and people who write anonymous letters that my forwarding address over the holidays will be 1154 North Ogden Drive, Hollywood 46, California.
Mail is forwarded to me from there to the various points along the Creamed Chicken circuit where I'm spraying the Mainland with word-pictures of the charms of Hawaii and making myself homesicker and homesicker every time I do it.
Folks ask, "Well, why do you go?" I ask myself that question often.
There are several answers.
Probably because I was born and more-or-less reared in a temperate zone climate, I need and intermittent "frosting down" to produce the necessary harvest of such products as are mine to make a living.
Apparently I need the abrasive spank of cold weather to start the creative sap flowing for books, drawings, articles and such stuff. It's hard to stay inside and grind at the typewriter or drawing board in Hawaii with all outdoors calling with siren voice of moonlight, tradewinds crooning in the palm-fronds and the surf booming on the reef.
And, if there are no books, there's no poi-and-laulau. The bony finger of necessity tapping on my shoulder is a great inspiration for work. That's one of the reasons why I keep myself chronically demi-broke.
I'm never so alive and full of pep-poi-and-popcorn as when I'm hungry, very much in love or under way with a book. I'm usually hungry, flush or broke, and congenitally in love with life if not with a person, and my wave length for producing a book is anywhere from two to three years.
Anyhow, here I am up here with one half of me enjoying it thoroughly and the other half yearning for Hawaii.
Say "Aloha" to Diamond Head for me.
-- Don Blanding
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October 15, 1955
Island People come from such widely varied backgrounds and they travel so much and so far that when the holiday season comes with its greeting cards, Hawaii Says Aloha to every part of the world.
The spirit of Aloha goes out to Patagonia, Australia, Iceland, Siam, Alaska and points north-south-east-and-west. Some cards even go to Christmas Island. They're getting under way now and will continue to flit away through the holiday season.
From my own experience, and in continuation of the theme of thoughtfulness of last week's column, I repeat a plea which is backed by the Postal People.
The initials D.P. stand for Displaced Persons. The initials D.F. stand for Displaced Friendships. And these Displaced Friendships are often due to the failure to put return addresses on all communications, especially on holiday greetings.
I'm on the move so much, and I am away from my address files so often that when I get a letter or greeting without a return on it I feel completely frustrated because I would as soon fail to return a friendly nod on the street as to fail to reply to a friendly greeting across space.
In one move, I lost my entire address file of 4,300 names. I've never been able to pick up many of those contacts because with their cards, letters or greetings came without return addresses . . . what could I do? People are on the move so much these days and their forwarding addresses are not renewed in many cases, so the threads of friendship are snapped with much misunderstanding on both sides.
ALL OF US have gone through this experience. Mr. Anyman, "Dear, where is that next-to-last letter from Bob? I want to write him."
Mrs. Anyman, "Oh, I thought you were through with it. I cleaned out the desk and threw away a flock of those old letters and cards."
Mr. Anyman. "I just had an urgent note from him without a return address on it, and I don't know how to reach him. I've forgotten the numbers. Haven't you got that address in your address book?"
Mrs. Anyman. "I told you that Billy dropped that address book in the gold-fish bowl and all of the addresses were blurred beyond recognition."
Mr. Anyman. "Bob will think I'm a heel not to reply. I hope he writes again and PUTS HIS RETURN ADDRESS ON HIS LETTER."
AS HOUSES and apartments get smaller and more starkly functional, there are not so many handy cubbyholes to tuck away things which will show up later. There just isn't room for accumulations, and the efficient elimination of yesterdays' items often causes the disappearance of things we need for later reference. This includes address books and old letters with addresses on them.
Under pressure of contemporary living, we have little enough time for neighborliness and our friendships as it is. And letters and greetings are a sort of long-distance neighborliness which should be maintained. But how can we do it if the "line is down" through the thoughtlessness of failing to include that little item, the return address.
Incidentally, it may be very elegant and very smart and very fashionable to send greetings with printed or engraved signature, but when there isn't even a hand-written "Hello" or "Aloha" or signed names, I feel as though I had been handed an ice-cube or had shaken hands with a chilled fish. This is just a personal taste.
I've been accused of being sentimental. I AM. That's why I've gotten along so well with the REAL Hawaii, and not so well with the imported intellectual icings and attitudes which are increasingly decorating (?) the scene.
I suppose those of us who were born in the tempo of the horse-and-buggy era got into the habit of taking time out for the little "extras" of living. Maybe those who were born into the jet-propelled scene have too much velocity built up to pause. Like the big expensive Super Chiefs among trains, they can't stop at water tanks and small towns. Well, they miss a lot in their hurry.
-- Don Blanding
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October 22, 1955
If hunger is the best sauce for meat, then a dash of absence is certainly a soyu sauce to stimulate the appetite for Hawaii.
Except for the over-flowing Memory Chest of Hawaii which I always carry in my heart, I thought that I had left Hawaii behind me when I boarded a plane for Los Angeles last month.
When I arrived at my former studio in Hollywood, I wondered if a section of Hawaii had been shipped up ahead of me and was waiting to fulfill my statement "Hawaii Says Aloha."
I had forgotten that five years before I had done some extensive planting in the yard in front of the studio.
What greeted me in Hawaiian style? The cup-of-gold vine, which was just getting under way in 1950, had taken over a full half of the long trellis and was fighting it out with a wine-colored bougainvillea which was growing at the other end.
Below, and cheering the fight on, were four hibiscus bushes WITH BLOSSOMS. One old-fashioned red one which I especially love; one sentimental pink bush; one white one and one dark orange.
The white ginger plants had pooped out. Apparently they need someone from Hawaii around to thrive at their best. That has actually been proven. Here the ginger plants DO respond to Islanders better than for Mainlanders who don't have that ol' ALOHA to stimulate the plants.
Mainlanders sniff at that statement but Hawaiians know that it IS so.
Anyhow, I sure had a socko of nostalgia for the Ala Wai and the beautiful dawns which were my especial delight every day.
THE MAINLAND is certainly Hawaii-conscious. When I go into stores here I usually get the comment "where did you get that gorgeous tan?"
When I tell them that it is Waikiki barbecue sun-tan, they start asking questions. You know how reluctant I am to respond to that lead; hmmm.
One friend with me remarked, "Look out. He's easier started than stopped when he gets on the subject of Hawaii."
I certainly get some valuable inside information on the favorable and unfavorable reactions to contemporary Waikiki. I'll pass the ideas along to the right sources when I get organized, although in some cases it's love's labor lost.
There are a few tourist-trap operators who seem to have the ideas and ideals of Mamie Stover's Bull Pen. And it's curious about tourists; they'll make more noise about one small disagreeable experience than they do about all the graciousness and beauty.
But aren't we all foolishly like that, pretty much? Because a skunk smells "louder" than a rose, we forget there are more roses than skunks in the world.
IT'S EASY to get lecture dates in this area with Hawaii Says Aloha as the subject. Half of the world seems to have been to Hawaii and is wanting to get back, and the other half is yearning to come. Can't blame them.
Hawaii is habit-forming -- as has been proven over 38 years with me.
Anyhow, what with the cup-of-gold vine, the bougainvillea and the hibiscus plants to greet me daily when I go out and return, I won't feel so far away from the Ala Wai.
About all I need now to feel at home are Aunty Elizabeth's and Lili's lei stands across the street, a few rainbows in the sky, the word "aloha" as a greeting occasionally, and a taste of fish-and-poi every so often.
Oddly enough, after I got to the studio and cleaned up and started to walk up to Hollywood -- Follywood Boulevard -- the first person I met was Erne Truman who wrote for Hawaiian Life for a while. She and her husband manage an apartment court nearby.
I think it was Adam who originally remarked, "It's a small world, after all, isn't it?"
It sure is, and it has its advantages and draw-backs, but I think it's good that we can now measure distances in time rather than smiles.
The first time I came to Hawaii by air in 1937, we were 19 hours in the air; this time we did it in 9 hours.
After all of the wonders that I've seen come about in my life-span, I'm prepared to believe anything including flying saucers. Maybe this Vagabond will get a trip to the moon or Mars or Venus yet. I'm hoping to talk with Adamski, the flying saucer man, soon. The interest in the subject in this area is really lively.
Be seein' you some day . . . not too long away, I hope.
-- Don Blanding
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October 29, 1955
This Mainland trip has taught me one thing. When I get back to the Islands I'm going to manage somehow to get over to the Volcano House or up Haleakala or some of the high places for a week or so whenever possible for the sake of the abrasive spank of cooler air. It has certainly done things for me up here.
I had about as much snap and zip as a damp cracker when I left. Now I'm really buzzing. Of course I've got a lot of bait for activity. The lecture dates are blizzarding in fast and I haven't even had time to go out after them. They're just spontaneous combustion. People are certainly avid to hear about the Islands.
I'll be going like a jet-propelled wild goose, up to Corvallis, Oregon, down to San Luis Obispo, California, then Santa Rosa, Redding and Marysville on one series of jumps. Later, a heave over to Denver, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Texas, and Gosh-knows-where.
I'll get a lot of scenery in a quick-lunch sort of way but that's good anyhow.
BUT, GETTING back to the let-down after four years in the Islands. Maybe Island-born-and-reared folks don't feel the need of that cold lift every year. Probably because I grew up in a climate of strong seasonal changes I may physically need some equivalent of the variety of temperatures.
But it can be had in the Islands, I know. The last time I was up Haleakala a year ago I returned to that big fireplace again and again after taking sort of a windy cold-shower out on the rim with the wind blowing and the clouds swirling like dancing dervish ghosts. A week of that would certainly put zip into the zipper.
I got a sun lamp to keep up the Hawaiian sun tan as well as I can up here. I can't very well do talks on Hawaii and look like the cousin of an oyster. Imagine needing a sun lamp in Southern California! But the climate has certainly changed a lot, it seems. Only a few hours of kinda diluted sunlight since I've arrived.
There's another thing I found out up here. It's a lot easier to stay in and type on Ellie, the electric typewriter, when it's not too agreeable outside, than it is to work at writing in the Islands with the beach, sun and surf calling by day and moonlight and what-not calling at night. I resist temptation a lot better when it's not in easy reach.
I'm beginning to feel the signs of another book coming on, or at least stories, articles and maybe some verses. The bookreviewer that snootily wrote, "BLANDING WRITES AGAIN" was right. I hope it'll be true 25 years from now.
IS THERE anything wrong in that? Maybe so, in an intellectual's opinion, but I'm happy to know that there are more intelligent people than there are intellectuals, so I don't expect to call on the ravens for handouts for a while yet.
There's always Hawaii, and always an audience for Hawaiiana. I haven't run out of enthusiasm for the Islands after 38 years, so I figure that there's enough left to last as long as I can keep putting it out.
The thing I'm missing most, even more than sunlight, is the open-faced smilingness of faces on the streets. We take it so for granted in Hawaii that it takes a little while to keep your face locked unless you want to get glared at suspiciously in the Mainland cities.
Oh, Hawaii, don't let our sunlight get blanketed off from us by commercial ventures that might pollute that blue sky and glorious sunlight! There are not enough quick dollars in the world to make up for such a loss.
There'll be terriffic pressure put on, but resist it while there's time. Ask the people up here who have lost their sunlight. They'll tell you . . . plenty.
There are so many dear things which are slipping away from Hawaii through our indifference, unawareness and let-Pua-do-it. Then we cry in our poi because they're gone. Whose fault is it? Ask yourself.
-- Don Blanding
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November 5, 1955
In two more days there'll be another year-mile added to the accumulated mile-years on this 1894 chassis. Where did the last year go? I'm not the only one asking this question. Again and again I hear people echo the question: "Where did this year go? It seems just a few months since last Christmas, and here advertisements already are urging us into the holiday hullabaloo again."
Maybe it's because we have so many time-saving devices that they make an endless chain, and every minute that's saved on one time-saving device is promptly taken up by the next one.
I remember a woman saying on the phone, "Ethel, I can't get over this afternoon for the party. I have all these danged time-saving devices to clean." That is not a joke.
It makes me think of that scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice and the White Queen (I think it was the WHITE Queen) were racing breathlessly through the scenery. Finally Alice was out of wind. She stopped, gasping for breath. She said to the Queen (Red or White), "But we've been running and we don't seem to be getting anywhere." The Queen (Red or White) said something like this. "My dear, here you have to go twice as fast just to stay where you are."
THAT WAS written a long time ago, but it certainly describes the contemporary scene, even in Honolulu. This frantic hurry to get . . . where; and to do what . . . if and when we get there?
Regardless of this unanswered question, the time of a birthday seems to make us pause, with all brakes on, and ask some serious questions of ourselves. I ran across a little four-line verse of mine today in looking for something to read to one of the Clubs up here.
The years go by at such a pace.
We have so few tomorrows.
There is no time for little hates
And little sorrows.
Have I any little hates and little sorrows that are going to try to sneak a ride into this next year, like fleas on a pooch for the Dog Show? Yes, I found some. Futile, stupid little resentments which should have been tossed into the ash-can, and some little sorrows and regrets which are of no earthly use and yet they stick tighter than bubble-gum to tweed pants.
CAN I get rid of them? I think so. I'm going to find some sort of dry-cleaning place for my Memory and get rid of them. One good cleaner for such blots and stains is the Talisman that Mike Hanapi gave me long ago. I just forget to use it. It's the statement, deeply pondered and considered and accepted. "Lord, I DO give Thee thanks for the ABUNDANCE that is mine."
I think I'll begin getting in practice for Thanksgiving Day so that on that day I'll be filled with more gratefulness than turkey . . . and there's going to be a good turkey in the studio, cooked in Missouri mountain style by Edythe Hope Genee's mother.
Hanging on to old resentments and regrets as we go into a new year is like putting old musty sox and soiled shorts in the clean laundry.
OR, ANOTHER metaphor or simile or whatever it is. If we were offered a glass of good pineapple juice or guava juice or papaya nectar on one hand and a glass of dishwater on the other, which would we take? The answer is obvious. And yet is it so different?
With all of the pleasant, kindly and gracious things to remember from our contacts with people, why do we spend time on some snippy, snappy dig from someone whose stomach-ulcers or in-laws or boss were probably giving him a bad time? We do it, but it IS stupid. Why do we do it?
Once I wrote the line in Memory Room "a forgotten kiss, a remembered blow." Someone objected, but I pointed out that we've forgotten many of the people who have kissed us, but how many have we forgotten who slapped us or blacked our eye? Not many?
But I still say it's stupid, and I'm going to try to do something practical about it.
I'll bet that every time I remember something that I resent, I can remember a DOZEN wonderful things that people did for me and to me and with me. I know that I can. So, any Snippies, Snappies or Snoopies whom I've bawled out, either actually or in my mind, you are hereby forgiven and forgotten . . . . . I HOPE.
Aloha. But I WON'T forget Hawaii.
-- Don Blanding
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November 12, 1955
A one-time visitor, who is now a resident of Honolulu because of the charm of the Aloha spirit of the Islands, wrote me something like this:
"There ought to be some name for us who are no longer malihinis but are not yet full-fledged kamaainas. Couldn't we be called "kamahinis" or "malahinaas" or something that indicates that we are "Honorary Kamaainas." And maybe we should combine Hello and Aloha and say "Haloha" or "Alohello." Being "on probation" like that would make us work harder for our "Kamaaina degrees."
This "kamahini" also said something which I had not realized.
She said, "I feel the Aloha spirit and love it, but as a demi-old-timer, I can notice something which you may not have noticed; that is, you hear the word "Aloha" in greeting less and less often and you here "Hi there!" or "Howdy" or "How're yuh?" more and more.
It's a pity for that beautiful word Aloha to withdraw until it's only on labels or greeting cards, losing the active dynamic power of being said aloud again and again. There's something psychological about saying "Aloha" instead of "Hi, there."
OLD CUSTOMS slip away unnoticed. Then we regret them. Just before I left the Islands on this lecture trip I saw a white linen suit on Hotel Street. I remember when we all wore white linen and white duck. Of course, the price of laundering or cleaning may cut them out of everyday use.
Another thing which has slipped away is the wonderful fish chowder, with five kinds of fish in it, which used to be one of the wonderful dinner dishes for parties.
We see so few flower or feather lei hat-bands any more because we see so few hats. I haven't gotten a hat up here yet, and probably won't until I head up for Portland and Seattle and their colder, drippier climates.
And I'll probably do as I usually do, which is: hang up my hat when I go into a restaurant. Then, when I start out I'll leave it there if it's sunned up outside.
I leave a trail of hats up and down the Coast every time I go on tour. A hat makes my head feel like a parcel post package. I like to ventilate my scalp.
That's another charm of Island life . . . the ventilated life we lead with open doors, open windows, open pores, open throats, open hearts and comparatively open minds. I'm nearly suffocating INDOORS from the over-heated rooms when it gets the least bit chilly. And it IS chilly, very spanky and nippy outdoors now, here in California.
JUST FOR the fun of it I ask audiences "How many of you have been to Hawaii." It's astonishing to find the proportion of the audience who HAVE been. Then I say, "How many of you WANT to go to Hawaii." In most cases the response is UNANIMOUS.
Later, in the reception after the lectures when I have a chance to talk with individuals from the audience, I ask, "What's keeping you from going." There are about three answers.
"We're afraid of getting stuck over there." (Curious how long a bit of bad publicity will linger.)
Another reply is "We're afraid of that Volcano. Well, there are only a few of that timorous sort.
But most frequently the reply is, "We hear it's getting so commercial."
My reply to that latter objection is, "Can you tell me what place ISN'T?"
Tourists demand comfort, speed, ready-made "atmosphere" and all of those things cost money to supply, so you can't have authentic "native atmosphere" brought in on a tray in cellophane packages. All of the places are showing the commercial temperature, Santa Fe, La Jolla, Carmel, Cuernevaca, the Bahamas . . . anywhere where tourists in volume go for quick atmosphere sips and snacks.
SINCE tourists demand ready-made and short-order "authentic atmosphere, even if it IS synthetic," about all we can do in Hawaii is give them the best synthetic that we can, as alluringly packaged and delivered as we can.
It's the creeping tendency to offer the shoddy or second-rate because it brings in the quick dollar for a while that ultimately destroys the market entirely.
Visitors to the Islands react just as we do when we leave the Islands to see other places; we don't mind paying a good price for something good but we hate to be taken for suckers.
Incidentally, Californians are going for white, yellow and kahili ginger in a large way. It's responding very well. I'm seeing more and more of it all the time. The blooming season is just passing now. Brought home a big bunch from last night's lecture party. Sure wonderful in the studio!
-- Don Blanding
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November 19, 1955
Thanksgiving Day has come and gone, and here's a day less than a month to get pre-Christmas things done. Not that most of us DO get them done.
You'd think that with anywhere from 25 to 60 years of experience, we WOULD get everything out of the way and not have the flurry-scurries during the last hectic three or four days. But do we? I don't, regardless of good rsolutions.
These good resolutions are usually made in the week following Christmas when the frayed and frazzled nerves are reproaching us for treating them so badly. But a year, even in this jet-propelled age, is long enough for our good resolutions to blow away or get lost in the shuffle of day-by-day activities.
And so, here we are again. I'm in my usual quandary. Where are you?
I have half a dozen cronies who are writers, and consequently interested in ideas which might give us inspiration for marketable products in our craft. One of the group asked, "Do you remember where you've spent your various Christmases through your life?
THE IDEA intrigued us and we got out paper to make lists. I could account for only about two-thirds of mine.
I've been such a tumbleweed that I've lost account of any number of Christmases. Many of them came when I was on lecture tours when I've been in strange cities and have taken them lonesomely by myself.
Anyhow, the last of my immediate family has been gone since 1928 and I feel it's less lonesome to be lonesome by yourself than to be reminded of that lonesomeness when you're among other people's family gatherings.
A traveling man gave me the solution to that Christmas aloneness, so actually I had only a few of them when I was stranded.
He said, "Instead of trying to solve your lonesomeness by barging in on someone else's family Christmas, just make a 'Christmas Day family' for yourself by gathering up some people who are lonesomer than you are. They're easy to find wherever you are. By curing someone else's lonliness, you'll cure your own."
It's a good idea. In this age of uprooted people and scattered families, there are always strays who are too far from home (if they have a home) to make it back for the holidays.
And not all people are resourceful in providing antidotes for their aloneness. Some are too shy to make the contacts, so they are like the kids who press their noses against the candy-store windows to watch others, more fortunate, enjoy the goodies displayed inside.
WE'RE TOLD it's more blessed to give than to receive. I've found that in giving we often receive much more than we give. In fact, the returns are so out of proportion to the investment that we actually feel guilty about it.
Givingness is such a native quality of Hawaii that nearly every day in the Islands seems like Christmas Day to me. I think it is one of the secrets of the charm of the Islands, especially for visitors.
People divide roughly into the "getters" or vacuum-cleaner temperaments and the "givers" or "lawn-sprinkler" type of nature. A lawn-sprinkler always seems to be having a better time than a vacuum cleaner. Did you ever see what comes out of the insides of a vacuum cleaner?
A woman who makes a good living from professional gift-wrapping told me something. She was in the midst of a welter of gold and starred and holly-ed papers and shimmering ribbons and colorful Christmas seals. She said, "You know the loveliest gift-wrapping of all? You don't have to buy it, either. It's thoughtfulness. . . ." She really said something.
Well, happy holidays and all days, always and all ways. May they NOT be holidaze.
-- Don Blanding
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November 26, 1955
Still on the subject of Thanksgiving Day (Mahalo-day).
Aunty Lahi-lahi Webb used to say a number of pungent things with plenty of kick in them. Once someone was mahalo-ing and hoomalimali-ing her, a little too effusively. She turned and remarked to me, "Mahalos don't fill the poi-bowl."
That's certainly true. A perfunctory "mahalo" is just so much breath unless it is followed through.
When Mike Hanapi gave the phrase, "Lord I DO give Thee Thanks for the Abundance that is mine" he was actually saying, "Take inventory."
When we take a long and careful inventory of our Abundance, we are like a workman checking the tools of his trade or a mountain-climber checking the contents of his pack. We're finding out what we have to work with; and there's usually a lot more, both tangible and intangible, than we thought we had.
I HAD a lecture for a group out at Knott's Berry Farm the other night. This is an amazing and astonishing place. A whole "ghost town" has been assembled and brought out of ghostliness into a living replica of those pioneer days. They were familiar to me because I was reared in such pioneer conditions, for which I am eternally grateful.
But in prowling around through the retread ghost town I was reminded so vividly of how much our people of those days got out of so little. Why?
Because they PUT SO MUCH INTO THE LITTLE THAT THEY HAD.
People realized their inter-dependence. The give-and-take was more constant, more generous and more deeply appreciated.
Hawaii is pioneering in its own way in the actual, practical and demonstrable "brotherhood of man" idea. It's far from realizing it, but it is also as far ahead of the Mainland as the Islands are farther west than the Coast in this ideal.
That's why in discussions of various racial groups, it is necessary to balance any criticism of possible irritating qualities by measuring carefully the fine constructive qualities that they are building into the Island life.
It is so easy to say, thoughtlessly, "The so-and-sos have thus-and-so faults." Yes, but what about their fine qualities? Every time the balance is on the good side, if we'll see it and cooperate with those qualities. And we invariably benefit by cooperating and appreciating, and we invariably lose by concentrating on a few negative traits. We cut ourselves off from friendships which could be of infinite value to us.
A THANKSGIVING Day without the active thanks-LIVING demonstration of our spoken gratefulness is like the perfunctory saying of "Grace" which is so often a mumble of words ending in "Amen. Pass the potatoes, please."
The most eloquent Grace that I ever experienced was the one said wordlessly in the newsreel picture of the release of the men from the communist prison-camp. One gaunt haggard man was led to his place at the table. He looked at the heaping plate before him. It was not merely thought of the food before him which twisted his face in an agony of tears. The whole great vista of America with its overwhelming abundance must have come before his inner eyes.
Also the thought of people thinking of him and of his like, and putting those thoughts into tangible form must have swept through him with a gratefulness which made a great-fullness of warmth and love which spoke "Grace" mutely but so poignantly that I shall never forget it.
I hope I shall never forget it, I hope that in times of plenty and in times of want that picture will remain with me.
YES, A TRIP away from Hawaii is a great builder-upper of our appreciation of Hawaii when we get back . . . for a little while. Then the old easy take-it-for-granted attitude creeps up on us and we are squawking "want" when our needs are so bountifully filled.
Speaking of trips. It was a little trip taken a year ago which made me doubly appreciative of the plain old every day life which is so filled with beauty if we will use our eyes for seeing and our hearts for appreciating.
This trip was over the border of life and back. I felt as though I had never truly seen a dawn before when the next morning dawned. Yet, it was just one of a hundred Island dawns in the year.
To me, it was like Genesis in Technicolor . . . a living experience which is photographed fadelessly in my memory. This is going to be a very wonderful Thanks-living day for me. Hope it is for you. Aloha.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
December 3, 1955
In the summer of the year that I was 15, my Father did something for which I have blessed his memory almost daily, although at the time I brayed in protest like a "kona nightingale" with a kuku under his tail. Father said, "This summer you're going to spend your vacation learning the touch system on the typewriter."
That seemed like a cruel adult trick to play on a youngster with all outdoors calling, especially with the Wichita Mountains beckoning with adventure in full sight through the windows of the Business College where I learned to use the touch system of typing.
But it has been of uncountable value through the years because of the kind of roving life that I have led. With touch system and a good typewriter, it's easier for me to write a letter than to make a phone call, and in many cases wiser.
You can look over a letter before you mail it, and sometimes delete items which are better junked than sent, but it's hard to call back words blurted in direct person-to-person contact, especially under the pressure of emotions.
I enjoy letter writing, and it has enabled me to maintain friendships over long distance which might have fallen away otherwise through lack of contact.
Many of these friendships have been with people whom I've never met in person. They have been friendships established through an initial letter from someone who has been moved or interested by something in one of my various books, especially through Vagabond's House, which has given vicarious travel and adventure to people who were room-bound, house-bound, bedridden or job-bound.
THERE ARE two things that I found that especially delighted shut-ins with whom I've maintained contact through the years.
One is the jumbo-sized postcards of Hawaii. We are so inclined to take all of the Island beauty for granted that we can hardly appreciate what these beautiful scenes mean to folks who have four walls for scenery year in and year out.
They are especially wonderful to folks who have been reared in Northern cities, or to those reared in the flat prairie country where the mountains, the sea and the fabulous greenery and scenery of Hawaii seem like something out of fairy books.
I've passed along to them the trick of "experiencing a picture"; that is, to use imagination and to try to "walk into the picture" and prowl around, imagining what the flowers smell like, or to see what lies around the turn of the path in the photograph. Their response has been heart-warming. A set of 12 such pictures can bring untold delight to a shut-in youngster or adult.
BUT THE small investment that brought the largest return came from sending those little air-plant leaves which are packaged in cellophane and attached to postcards, ready for mailing.
The letters of response often go something like this: "To think that I have something actually living and growing from Hawaii. How wonderful." They report in raptured detail the growth of the little new plants from the pinked edges of the leaves. And the pleasure has gone far beyond the room of the shut-in. Those who succeeded in raising the air-plants have in turn given leaves to others, and so the beneficent infection spreads.
The neighborhood around my California apartment has many of these air-plants due to Edythe Genee's mother sharing the leaves of the original one that I sent to her. They are real "conversation pieces."
I was delighted to find a flourishing windowbox of the air-plants to welcome me when I returned to the Coast in September. I've moved a bunch of them inside to survive the frosts. They say, "Aloha, Don" every time that I come into the studio.
But getting back to the touch-system letter writing. The letter contacts have made me aware, through the wistful hunger for details of Hawaiian life expressed in letters, how fortunate are Island dwellers surrounded by beauty throughout the entire year.
Folks who have never been away from Hawaii cannot possibly realize their good fortune. It would take extraordinary imaginations for Island people to visualize lands where a brief tinting of spring is about the only joyous coloring which comes into many lives of prairie dwellers or city-bound folks.
What with memory and imagination and the copies of the Star-Bulletin which some to me with irregular regularity, I don't feel too far removed from Hawaii, but for those other people Hawaii is Shangri-la. It's so easy to share our abundance. Let's remember this especially as Christmas approaches.
Editor's note: in answer to many inquiries from Islanders making up their Christmas card lists: Don Blanding's address is 1154 N. Ogden Drive, Hollywood 46, California. We know he'll be grateful for a Holiday Hello from Hawaii.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
December 10, 1955
I had occasion to drive through the desert country of eastern California and part of Arizona recently.
This was not the spectacular desert country which is featured so beautifully in the colorful magazine Arizona Highways. It was the area of drab little sun-bleached, wind eroded, dehydrated towns with long distances between where there was nothing much but nothing to look at.
The desert sun bleaches the color out of paint very fast. The houses have a wearied hopeless look. The vast empty distances seem to drain the water from the land and the blood from the people. There is a hungry feel to the area. The hunger seems to be for color, for flowers, for greenery of trees and grass and gardens.
Even there where there seems to be so little to brag about the people have a curious loyalty to the land. "You ought to see our sunsets," they say. Every man has to have SOMETHING to brag about. These beauty-starved hearts find food for that hunger in the sunsets and moonlight nights and dawns.
BUT ONE thing I especially noticed was this. Nearly every little house, whether it was bleached weather-beaten wood or simple adobe, had a few geraniums in tin cans in the windows, or a cluster of cherished plants which were watered at real cost in a land where water is so precious and scarce.
As I looked at these pitiful garden efforts, I could visualize the little houses in Hawaii, each with its great flaunting magenta bougainvillea like a mantilla over the roof, with vari-colored hibiscus generously offering the gorgeous beauty of their blooms, and the glossy leaves of mango trees and the grace of palms and the sweet fragrance of ginger blooms, and the fruity abundance of papaya trees.
We don't fully appreciate these things until we have to do without them for a while.
And again my heart filled with the message of thankfulness which Mike Hanapi gave me long ago at a time when I thought that I was at the bottom of the heap. "Lord, I do give Thee thanks for the ABUNDANCE that is mine."
The people of Hawaii have such double-abundance to be thankful for daily, hourly and minutely.
AGAIN I was reminded of this in Portland when I had occasion to be down in the slummier districts of that cold city. A settlement workers was talking with me. I was telling her of life in Hawaii.
She said, "How fortunate even the poorer people of Hawaii are. It is one thing to be hungry. It is another thing to be hungry AND COLD. There's where misery truly begins. There's something about the penetrating chill of wet cold winter which seems to get into the marrow of the bones and the deeps of the heart to take courage out of the lives of people."
I did some remembering. In my time I've lived on thin dimes both in Hawaii and in Chicago and New York. She was right, being broke or nearly broke isn't quite so fearsome in Hawaii as it is on the Mainland.
THERE'S another blessing of Hawaii of which I'm so aware up here due to its lack. Clean, fresh air.
If the flower-scented, sea-breezed air of Hawaii could be compressed in tanks and shipped, I'd keep a constant supply of it on hand.
I'd let a whiff of it out and then dream and remember the "taste" of the air in the morning on the Ala Wai at dawn with its potpourri of fragrances flowing down from the palis behind Manoa Valley or the fresh tangy smell of the sea at Kailua and Lanikai. Even when it's a bit over-ripe with seaweed beached on the shores at times, it's better than the Diesel fumes and smog which permeate the atmosphere up here.
Take a couple of long deep draughts of it for me every so often until I get back. And say "Mahalo" to Hawaii for me while you do it.
It's not too early to say "Mele Kalikimaka to all of you." So I do say "Mele Kalikimaka" and may it be "Mele nui," if that's correct Hawaiian. Even if it isn't, you know what I mean.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
December 17, 1955
Some folks dream of a white Christmas. Some dream of a gold Christmas (Hawaiian sun-gold). It looks as though I'll settle for a gray Christmas if Santa Claus doesn't have some influence with the Weather Man and is able to lift the Smog from the Los Angeles area where I'm living (or busily existing) at present.
Years of batting around the world under all kinds of circumstances have taught me not to depend upon outside weather for the inside weather at Christmas time or any other time.
I got a good lesson in moods at a rodeo out in a little New Mexican town some years ago. The bronc riders were putting on a grand show for us.
One rider mounted an ornery rangy bronc and shot from the mounting chute in a swirl of dust, snorts, squeals, cussing and general confusion which completely obscured bronc and rider from view. We heard an extra-heavy double thud. When the dust settled, there were rider and horse sprawled on the ground, BUT the rider was under the horse. The horse looked very embarrassed.
It knew that something was kapakahi (although I doubt if it knew the Hawaiian word). The horse was so confused that it just spraddled there across the saddle which had somehow gotten across the rider.
FOR NO especial reason, I suddenly thought, "That's like us and our moods. Which is supposed to ride which? Do we ride our moods or do we let our moods ride us?"
I'm not always successful, but most of the time I can manage to keep in the saddle, at least as far as spectators are concerned. Sometimes it's a struggle equal to the bronc rider's dilemma. But it can be done.
Early Oklahoma training in making a little out of a lot taught me to make a lot out of a lot or a little wherever I might be. So, with memory and imagination I can spend part of my Christmas day in Hawaii in spirit if not in person.
Because I believe in taking my own medicine before I dish it out to others, I put one of my recipes for JOY into this verse:
THE LIGHT IS MINE
Gray day. Gray sky. The slow sad drip of rain.
Gray twilight filming on the windowpane.
The shadows stir with ghosts. The wincing nerves
Shrink from the Waiting Cup that coldly curves
To shape a gray jade cup, a thirsting hollow
That bids me fill with tears . . . and wryly swallow.
But I refuse. One small brave candle's light
Will valiantly defend me from the night.
There is the open hearth, good wood to burn;
The air is filled with music if I turn
The radio's quick dial . . . and lacking these
I have my thoughts to haunt me or to tease
My grieving heart back into ways of JOY.
I'll light the Heart's bright flame, burn the alloy
Of grayness from Life's gold and make it fine.
The shadows are the Night's . . . the LIGHT is mine!
THAT'S A lot easier to say than to do . . . but it can be done.
If Christmas promises to be a bit sad due to being away from home-folks or because of recent sorrow, or an old sorrow . . . there IS a switch inside which can make it a White Christmas, a Gold Christmas or a Gray Christmas. The choice is yours . . . the Light is yours.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
December 24, 1955
Tonight's the NIGHT and tomorrow's the Great Day for which we've been hurrying and scurrying and flurrying and maybe wurrying. It's all over but the opening of the packages, singing the carols, perhaps thinking some long thoughts, and generally celebrating the birth of a Man who, from the great givingness of His heart, gave His life to bring a Way of Life to the world.
I spent one Christmas Day in a little town in the high desert country of Eastern Oregon. The small hotel was crowded to overflowing. Every bed was filled, and there were mattresses and quilts spead on the floor, on the pool table in a corner, and on improvised beds of planks and chairs.
When I came down for breakfast in the morning, I saw a rather poorly dressed young couple with a baby, sleeping as best they could in chairs in the corner. A small pallet had been made for the baby in a chair which was turned to join the mother's chair. I found that they were driving to California in a racketty car. They had come in in the dark hours of the morning. These were the only accommodations available for them.
I OFFERED them my room and bed for as long as they could use it during the day to rest up for the rest of their journey. It was no great generosity on my part, certainly, I wished that I had known of it when they arrived.
The picture was reminiscent, except for the costumes, of a scene 2,000 years before when an Inn was full and there was no place for another small family seeking haven.
The application of the Christmas story moved forward through time with an application to our own present day which startled me. It set me off on a train of thought which has greatly influenced my life since then. I'll pass it along to you. It's not very original, but it is a thought-full idea.
Each day of ours is an Inn with 24 rooms.
The room-hours are so filled with the tangibles of our hurry-scurry-flurry dizzy-bizzy days that we have only the little corner of a few minutes, usually, each day for the thing which is the most important thing in our life, the time of meditation, prayer or the stilled quietness when we can listen to those inner urgings which could and should guide our lives to greater joyfulness.
IF WE ARE to believe the current magazines, papers and books there is a change of attitude coming over much of the world.
Whether it is fear of those things which are symbolized by the atom bomb, or the realization that there is no actual security in the tangibles of our world any longer, or the great ferment which comes in the hearts of men intermittently through history, there IS a change of attitude. More and more there is an inner seeking for a security of heart, a peace of mind which surely is not to be found exteriorly.
December 25th is the day set on the calendar to celebrate the birthday of the Man, but any day can celebrate the birth or the re-birth of the spiritual idea in our hearts.
A moment's pause at the time of rising or lying down can make us redistribute the occupancies of the 24 hour-rooms of the Inn of ourselves to see that an adequate room is reserved for that important Birth which is celebrated tomorrow.
Knowing, as I do, the trickiness of winter weather in Hawaii, I know that from the weather-wise viewpoint this Christmas day may be gay or gray. But I wish that your inner weather may be sunny and joyous for all of you. It will for me.
Mele Kalikimaka. My Christmas dinner is going to have one authentic Hawaiian touch. A friend thoughtfully sent me a package with poi, dried fish, poha jam, and candied papaya and pineapple. Mahalo nui loa!
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
December 31, 1955
Well, tomorrow starts a new year on the calendar. As far as I'm concerned, any dawn can start a New Year for me, so, if on the Second of January I bust, dent or rip my good resolutions of the First, I can make retreads of them on the Third and feel quite all right about it.
While I was driving from California to Arizona for a lecture date, I got an idea at the border between the two states which I'm passing along to you to use in your approach to this New Year.
The little blue roadster and I go speeding, following roadmaps luringly drawn, Northward and Southward, endlessly leading into the sunset or into the dawn. We come to the line where two states border; one behind us and one ahead. I fold the roadmap in neatest order, marked to show where my whims have lead.
I open the next one, eagerly peeking. Where do the roads of the new state go? What do they promise my restless seeking? I can never guess; I can never know until I travel their untangled winding. The roadmap shows me the roads and places, but it can not tell what I might be finding . . . the high adventures, the friendly faces.
It can mark the spots of beauty and wonder. It can not tell me my heart's delight; it can not tell of the laugh or blunder; the night of rapture or tears or fright. That's the way I feel about New Year's. The finished year is a map to fold, marked with days that were sad or mirth-days. What will the new year's roadmap hold?
In spite of various slips on banana peels and socks in the jaw from life and people, I still have a happy expectancy, what-happens-nextacy. I find that it pays off.
I belong to the foolishly happy breed of people who, if they find half of a worm in the bite of apple just swallowed, gulp firmly and think, "Well, after all, it was just the APPLE that the worm was eating. I'm eating apple, the worm ate apple . . . so what's the fuss about?" And all of the rest of the apple is good, so there's nothing to worry about that.
Yes, I know, the cynical intellectuals sneer until their lips look like pretzels and yell "Pollyanna" but the more I see of great aching brains and towering intellects (synthetics in most cases) the more respect I have for Pollyanna.
A Very Wise Man told us to be like children in our sense of wonder and expectancy and acceptance.
When I move into a new studio and start furnishing it, I'm usually looking for various things, fabrics and items in blue. Well, everything blue catches my eye for acceptance or rejection. I'm shopping for Blue.
When I'm shopping for JOY, I find that I notice so many things that promise to yield JOY by the Do-it-yourself-process. And vice versa if I'm looking for the contrary.
So, in folding away last year's roadmaps and opening the New Year's roadmaps, I'm going to shop for roads that lead through joyous expectancy. I'll bet there will be a lot of grand scenery along the way. Sure, a few blowouts and punctures . . . so what?
For instance, I expect to celebrate January First, 2000. What a celebration that will be if there's anyone left to celebrate it! I may not make it, but I'll have fun anticipating it.
Want to make a date to meet me then at Hollywood and Vine, Hollywood? It should be a memorable celebration to mark the turn of a thousand years. I'll wear a hibiscus in my long white beard. I'll be seein' you.
-- Don Blanding
Copyright © 2004-2007 Cadia Los - Revised December 24, 2007