Hawaii Says Aloha -- Don Blanding
Columns published in the Hawaiian Life magazine section of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April-June 1956
~ ~ ~
April 7, 1956
It won't be long until Lei Day is here again, the way time jet-propels these days. I won't be there in person this year, but with my vivid memories of Hawaii and my ability to visualize things to the point of having television and smellivision in my mind, I'll enjoy the day by "absent treatment."
Already the commercial flower-growers are preparing for the huge demand for lovely blossoms for that gracious day. The lei-makers are taking stock of sources of supply. The hula dancers are oiling up their joints and the pageantry people are bringing their plans closer to a finish.
How about us personally and individually? Are we going to be mere spectators at the festival or are we going to have a much grander time by being "PARTICIPATORS?" Aunty Elizabeth and the other lei sellers always seem to be so much happier than many of the people, Mainland malihinis in particular, who buy their leis.
Reg Correthers, whom many kamaainas will remember as a producer of beautiful pageants and shows back around 1912-1916, and myself stayed on in Rockford, Illinois, after being discharged as second lieutenants from Camp Grant after the First World War. He taught in a school, and I took the job of Director of the Art Guild there.
ONE OF the ladies heard us talking about Hawaii and leis. She said, "I'm having a garden party. I'd love to have fresh flower leis to give my guests."
Reg came up with the brilliant idea. "Have plenty of baskets of flowers. We will tell you the kind to get, and we'll teach all of you to make your own leis."
The lady was delighted. On the day of the party there were huge baskets of all kinds of flowers. Reg learned of an Hawaiian dancer with a show in Chicago. He hired her to come down for the day for triple-duty of singing, dancing and showing us about making leis.
It was a colossal success. Never did I see more absorbed and thrilled people than those guests stringing leis. Even some of the men got in on it. There were prizes. We three, Reg and myself and the dancer, were the judges. I'll admit that a lot of the leis were pretty lumpy and clumsy, but some were ingenious and lovely.
Then Reg said, "Now comes the nicest part. That is, giving your leis to someone . . . with a kiss." A lot of lipstick was transferred that afternoon. But more than that, many possibilities of "do it yourself" and new ways of "saying it with flowers" were opened up to people.
AND EVEN more than that. A lot of those well-to-do people were deflected from their usual "Florida for the winter" ideas to "See Hawaii" plans. Rockford became very Hawaii conscious.
Flower leis that go to the Mainland are certainly great little good will ambassadors as well as wonderful salesmen for the tourist industry. We who take the leis so for granted can hardly realize what wonderment and "oh-ing and ah-ing" they mean to someone in western Kansas or Oklahoma or Texas. A "real flower lei all the way from Hawaii" gets shown at the Women's Clubs and is paraded all over town and through the neighborhood.
There are such follow-up comments as these. "Imagine a place where EIGHT DOZEN CARNATIONS are put into one string for a gift." The garden-hearted women begin visualizing the incredible gardens of Hawaii and before long there is a Garden Club Trip to Hawaii from Okmulgee enjoying the Islands, and rejoicing the souls of the tourist-caterers.
THERE ARE so many lovely spontaneous kindlinesses in Hawaii which neither the giver and the receiver pay too much attention to because they've always been there as part of the Island life. But come to the Mainland and see how quickly we notice their LACK. After we live up here long enough, we begin wondering if we haven't just doodled up those memories from our imagination or wishful thinking. We think that maybe "distance has lent too much enchantment to the view."
We have to be careful when we return after a long absence. If we take Waikiki as a measuring rod for the Spirit of Hawaii, we'll be SURE that we have exaggerated things in our memory. Thank God, a few strong voices are lifted, warning of the ease with which such loveliness can disappear, almost unnoticed, if they are not consciously and constantly and carefully nurtured and encouraged. But these voices must feel like Cassandra who had the GIFT of true prophecy and the CURSE of not being believed.
I've seen the things that have happened to Laguna Beach, Carmel, Santa Fe, La Jolla, Taos and other beauty spots through blind commercial greediness. But in each of those places, there are still people who not only lift their voices but actually RAISE HECK in preserving and encouraging some of the native lovelinesses which have attracted people from all over the world.
Gosh knows I've lifted my voice until I'm hoarse, and especially in this last five years have gotten the royal brush-off from some of the very ones who are going to squall most shrilly when they find that they have "been stingy with themselves by giving little-ly."
Mahao, Hawaii, and Mahalo to all of your gracious friendly people (many whose names I do not know), for the joy and beauty and love-of-living which you have given me and have taught me. Mahalo nui oe.
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April 14, 1956
To tell Islanders that laughter is healing is like telling beach-boys that swimming is good exercise. But sometimes we forget to remember what we know. City life seems to lessen the inclination to deep, healthy opu-laughter which reconditions the whole body and the atmosphere for 20 feet in every direction.
Next to the native spirit of Aloha, the most valuable gift of Hawaii is its genius for laughter. I have seen a crowd of malihinis, fresh from the stomach-ulcer gardens of the Mainland's pressured living, sitting with their faces hanging down like wet washings on a rainy day.
And I have seen smile muscles and laugh muscles get into action in response to the gay laughter of a lively hula tune. They didn't know the words but they responded like youngsters.
This "smilingness" led to conversations, and soon those who had been strangers, and lonely strangers, were sharing experiences, ideas and information about "what to see and do." Laughter IS a sharing business.
I saw a man on a bus who was chuckling over something in a magazine. His chuckles strengthened to lusty guffaws. Everyone on the bus smiled in sympathy and then began laughing at him and then began laughing WITH him. He looked up; he saw the curiosity in all of our eyes and said, "This is too good to keep." He passed the magazine with the cartoon in it around.
The whole busload was cheered as though someone had turned on central heating. It WAS "central heating" in a way, because the laughter and the sharing came from the man's heart.
THIS may sound "corny," but what's wrong with corn? It has nourished us for years. Sometimes on a gray smoggy morning in California when it looks like one of those days that it's hardly worth getting out of bed to live it up, I take a lusty, gusty Spike Jones record, and one of Anna Russell's gay burlesques of pompous arty music and listen to it until I've WARMED UP MY MOTORS. And I have several collections of cartoons from the New Yorker. These pictures poke sly fun at our pomposities and frustrations and situations which seem so important until we puncture them with laughter. It's good medicine. And it's recommended by some of the top psychologists.
I hope that the increasing 12-story, 14-story and 20-story hotels at Waikiki do not cut off the trade-winds of spontaneous joyousness which used to characterize that gay area.
THOSE WHO have directed men successfully in war times know that often the over-tenseness before the zero hour has been happily broken by a wisecrack which broke like a surf of laughter over the sharp coral reefs of fear.
I was in a conference once where two opposing groups were getting hotter and more bitter every minute. One man banged the table, demanding attention. He took a deep breath, gathering force for a typhoon of words which would sweep the opposition clear over the horizon. He opened his mouth to speak. A huge burp came up. Everyone howled.
At first he was outraged, and then he began to laugh, too. "I guess that's all it was . . . just a lot of hot air. I'm glad to get it out of my system." The conference came to a happy conclusion for all.
COURAGE OF LAUGHTER
Laugh if you can. The world needs laughter now; laughter that follows sorrow's cleaving plow, planting the seeds of hope.
Laugh in a crowd and watch the faces turn as flowers, bowed beneath the pall of night, turn to the sun. Laugh strong defiant laughter. Shadows run before its exorcising spell.
Laugh. Laugh with gusty strength that blows the petty chaff of little sorrows, little wraths, to dust. Weep silently, in secret, if you must. Do not wear the SELFISH CREPE that shouts your grief, reviving grief in hearts that seek relief from its chill numbing grip.
A soldier stands and bids the enemy unbind his hands, unblind his eyes to face the firing squad, and laughs! Even the foe cries out, "There IS a man." Indeed, there IS a man.
Few of us have such courage, but we can in our small way play small heroic parts and share our laughter with the world's sad hearts.
All sniping, skulking doubts retreat and hide like germs, from laughter's sulphanilamide. A chuckle is an anti-SCARECRAFT gun, and sometimes by a laugh a battle's won.
~ ~ ~
April 21, 1956
The story is told about the courtiers of a certain court who wanted to curry favor with their King. They planned a great celebration for his 30th birthday. A colossal birthday cake was to be the climax of the feasting and celebration.
The frosting of the cake was to be sgtudded with real jewels forming flowers, doves and designs. Twenty-nine beautiful maidens were to be painted with silver and the thirtieth, as the central figure, was to be gilded. They would stand on concealed pedestals in the cake and each hold a large lighted candle. It was all very ingenious, splendiferous and would, so the courtiers thought, bring them great favors from the grateful surprised king.
The feast went off well. The dancers, bands, gifts, fireworks and general fooferaw added surprise to surprise until the spectators, including the king, were awed by the sumptuousness of everything. But it was whispered that the surprise of surprises was due any moment.
TRUMPETERS sounded sonorous notes commanding attention. Great velvet curtains parted slowly revealing the incredible birthday cake. Cries of delight and wonderment came from the spectators' throats. Never had there been such a sight in the history of the kingdom. The 30 beautiful maidens, gleaming and glimmering with silver and gold paint began the movements of a dance -- even while a cat meaowed a frantic warning.
Something was wrong. First one and then several and finally groups of the gilded girls swayed dizzily, the lighted candles fell from their hands and the maidens toppled from their pedestals. Consternation spread through the crowd.
The court physicians rushed to the scene. Several of the maidens were dead. The rest were in various degrees of alarming unconsciousness.
The paint which covered their almost nude bodies had closed the pores of their skin bringing on suffocation from within, and a poison in the paint had added to the distress. The feast became a time of sorrowing and regret.
THE STORY remind sme of Hawaii today, and especially of Honolulu, where the frantic rush to make it the biggest, greatest, most gorgeous Playground of the Pacific, may suffocate and even kill some of those qualities which have made it unforgettable in the memories and hearts of visitors through the years.
The subtle poison of thoughtless, uncontrolled commercialism which is beginning to dominate the fragrances of plumeria, carnation and ginger blossoms.
The visitors speak of this, especially those who did not have direct contact with Island people who could have revealed to them the graciousness which still underlies the hard chromium surface of tourist exploitation.
Alas, I know the futility of my warnings.
I have seen it happen in most of the beauty spots of America and Central America. The warning also comes from the Riviera playgrounds. The deafest ears seem to belong to those who would benefit most by keeping these intangible lovable qualities of Hawaii in the foreground.
LEI DAY and Aloha Week are examples of what I am talking about. They are symbols of Hawaii's graciousness and friendliness; at least, they were intended for that.
But if these celebrations divide into two groups, spectators on one side and performers on the other, something will be lost. Participation and "togetherness" are necessary if they are to be kept from degenerating into just a couple more spectacles in a chain of commercialized holidays.
I wonder why I bother? maybe I'm the cat that looked at the king and at the king's birthday cake and saw what was happening. My reward for my warning meaows has frequently been a shoe thrown with vindictive accuracy in my direction. I have quite a collection of those shoes.
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April 28, 1956
The progress of planes into supersonic speed has been matched by the calendar. The leaves turn so rapidly these days that they are practically a blurr . . . or so it seems, especially up here on the West Coast.
It seems only three or four months ago that I was enjoying the spectacle of Lei Day in Honolulu, and yet a year has swished by so rapidly that I've lost all track of what-happened-when.
Events are rushing at me so fast that I feel like a lone pedestrian trying to cross Ala Wai Boulevard at rush hour, which in turn feels as Eliza must have felt crossing the river on the ice cakes with the hounds baying and nipping at her heels in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
My lecture schedule swings wider and faster; the latest being a jump to Anchorage, Alaska and back for ONE lecture for the Knife-and-Fork Club there. They certainly must be hankering to hear about Hawaii because, what with travel, accommodations, etc., it will cost them about $10 a minute to listen to my particular brand of Hawaiiana-Blandiana.
If they want it, I'll dish it out, and be glad of the chance to see our sister Territory, which, like us, seems to be a little Orphan Annie outside the family of States.
It's nice to be paid for what you want to do anyhow!
Which reminds me that I'll be sorry never to see Waikiki again. Oh, I'll be back to the place called Waikiki, but it won't be the Waikiki that I knew and loved from 1916 to 1950.
THAT Waikiki was going long before I left Hawaii for this tour of lectures.
THAT Waikiki started going when Waikiki changed from lazy, casual horizontal lines to the verticals of the contemporary scene. The new vertical dead-pan architecture of the present day does not "smile" the way the old buildings seemed to.
I know, of course, that the old architecture would be utterly inadequate for the modern demands of tourist needs, and we MUST be contemporary . . . I suppose.
I know that I'm admitting to being a "tutu" both in years and attitude, but that's not so bad. The "tutu heart" is going, not only from Hawaii but from the whole world.
I know, too, that if I were 20 or 30 instead of 61, I'd be just as impatient with the "old fashioned tutu attitude" as the youngsters of today are impatient and a bit contemptuous of it.
I remember being a disturbing element in the Honolulu scene in the 1920s.
I remember one time when I was putting on a Junior League show and wanted some daring dance and costume ideas introduced, and was sat on by the more conservative members, I made more noise and protest than the mynah birds at dawn outside the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
I asked Florence Butler, the sculptress, "What's the matter with these folks? They don't LIKE me." Florence laughed understandingly and said, "They don't DISLIKE you, Don, but your exuberance frightens conservative people."
IT'S a pleasant indulgence of the "tutu" mind to weep a few nostalgic tears into the poi bowl. And most of us were just as much of a pain in the neck and a worry and a problem to our parents' generation as the present exuberant generation is to our age.
If we could find a manuscript 3,000 years old, we'd probably find that the world was "going to the dogs" because of the rebellious youngsters of the time.
Speaking of dogs. In a recent column, I told of the passing of the Ed Sawtelles' superb German Shepherd dog, Baron, who would be sincerely mourned by the dogs and folks of the canine minded groups in Honolulu.
Word comes that Dixie, Baron's mother, went just a month later. The two dogs were just one dog with two bodies, or so it seemed.
No one could explain to Dixie what had happened to her playmate-son. She quietly withdrew deeper and deeper into herself and as quietly "went on."
Her human folks were with her, which seemed to be infinite consolation but not enough to hold her here without the companionship of Baron.
Anyone who tries to tell me that dogs don't have souls is just admitting that they've never had a dog companion.
I've seen the loving look in dogs' eyes, and I've often thought that they had more claim to souls than most of us mortals have.
Certainly, those dogs LIVE the virtues which we acclaim so loudly and which we so often and so pitiably fail to achieve.
I'm not arguing; I'm just stating what I sincerely believe, and I think most dog minded people will agree. I agree with the poet who described a devoted dog as "a heart-beat with a wagging tail and four feet."
-- Don Blanding
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May 5, 1956
The splendid reputation of Honolulu's Community Theatre has spread afar. Recently I've talked with several directors of Community Theatre Groups in California and elsewhere. Their dream is to be associated with the Honolulu theatre.
A recent experience of mine reminded me that when we watch the talented youngsters in the local theatre presentations we never know when we are watching the stars of movie and theatre of tomorrow in the "bud" as it were.
I saw a fine dramatic movie recently. A beautifully groomed, sophisticated woman of the world moved through the powerful drama with poise, power and perfected technique. She is within fingertips of 50 years now.
In her earlier days she was pretty, or even beautiful, in the accepted popular tradition. She survived the tricky fluctuations of fame through determination, study and undeviating devotion to her career.
Now her beauty is dramatic, showing the modeling of tragedy, failures overcome and developed character.
My mind leaped over the years to Lawton, Oklahoma, where I was a school boy. I was returning from high school.
On the sidewalk I saw a little girl, frightened, whimpering softly and staring with terrified eyes at a spreading flood of blood coming from a deep gash in her foot where she had stepped on a jagged piece of glass.
SHE WAS little Billie Cassin, the little girl across the street from our house. I gathered her up, delivered her to her mother and ran down the block to Dr. Gooch's house. Fortunately he was home.
After a while I saw him leave the Cassin house. He told me the little girl would be all right, but that if I hadn't gotten her home in time she would have bled to death. The incident quickly blurred out of memory for me.
I made another hop-skip-and-jump through time to a number of years back when I was doing some Hollywood interviews with stars for a fan magazine. I was to interview a very popular young star.
I was a bit fluttery because it was my first big interview. The lovely movie actress fluttered the butterflies in my stomach even more by saying, "Hello, Don Blanding. It's good to see you again. You remember, don't you, that you saved my life one time." I did NOT remember any such thing.
I mumbled some awkward words which might have been interpreted as an apology for saving her life or for not remembering that I had.
Anyhow, she said, "I'm Billie Cassin who lived across the street from you in Lawton, Oklahoma."
SWIFTLY a kaleidoscope of memories rushed to my mind. I remembered the big-eyed little girl, step-daughter of the local theatre manager.
For days after any theatre production, this tike would be dressed in her mother's clothes, playing "actress" to a group of neighborhood kids. With some old lace curtains and ribbons and odds and ends she was little Eva, Nellie the Beautiful Sewing Machine Girl and other heroines presented by the Dubinsky Brothers Traveling Shows, which, incidentally, had Lon Chaney for one of the character actors.
Her presentations made up in fire, fervor and fever for any lacks in technique. We were amused by the youngster, but I'll guarantee that no one, except possibly her own dreaming self, ever thought that some day her name and face would be familiar around the world as Joan Crawford!
I remember, too, the young Chinese girl who gave the superb performance of the Mother in the Yellow Jacket production years ago in Honolulu. I put on the first theatrical make-up she ever had. Her name is at the back of my mind but I can't catch it. Later she did fine work in the movies with Garbo and others, and was in Good Earth. She lectured up and down America, giving the Mainland a new and fine picture of Chinese womanhood.
I'd be grateful to anyone who would give me her name. Send it to 1154 North Ogden Drive, Hollywood 46, California. Anyone who remembers the show will remember the Duse-like performance with its muted moving tragedy which she presented.
And so, as we watch the Juliets, Camilles, Romeos and Armands of local theatre now, we may be seeing top stars of tomorrow.
Let us cheer them and encourage them . . . these "seedling Barrymores and Cornells." We may be proud to say, "We knew them when. . . ."
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
May 12, 1956
I've been worrying and wondering more than a little bit recently about my resistance to the swift changes of today in pattern, tempo and design of living and my resentment of the "new look" not only in Honolulu but elsewhere.
I knew they were symptoms of creeping crystallization and hardening of the arteries of adaptation and enjoyment.
This unconscious "jelling of the enthusiasms" got a jolt in a recent group discussion of the younger generation, which seems to be the top topic of worries, uneasiness and consternation among the elders.
James Worthing White, psychologist, presented a geologic upheaval in our attitudes. He said something like this:
The younger generation has more reason to worry about US than we have to worry about them. We (the 40 and 50 year oldsters) are survivors of a time and tempo which has gone forever.
The youngsters are going to survive better than we are doing. They are flexible, and will adjust to the speeded changes with ease, although arnica, splints and bandages will be needed frequently. (When haven't they been needed?)
Our brains and bones are brittle; theirs are pliable. They need to be. Their minds and ideas are being formed under stress and excitement, which is normal to them. They would be bored to death with the Good Old Days which we mourn over. They call our reminiscing waste time, and they are probably right.
They know that we can't go forward while looking backward. There are too many banana peels on the contemporary sidewalks of living. We are like cars with 1910 chassis and with 1956 motors, hopped up. These youngsters who take supersonic speed for granted will not be shaken and shattered as we are.
* * * *
MY PARENTS were pioneer people and they took gutsy chances, and loved them, in the days of new towns, new territory opening up, new visions alluring them. But with the years they settled. With all good intentions they tried to hold me to their elder ideas of security.
But the wild geese were honking overhead in those days for me. I followed, against all good sound advice, welcoming the unknown and the untested values which beckoned. I had heard their tales of pioneer days when they were young, eager and mavericks who would not take the brand of the "accepted values."
I wondered how they could advise me to take the bird in hand while those vagabonds of the skies, the wild geese, called to every latent atom of adventure in me.
And here I am, accepting caution, expediency, the established patterns. I never thought it would happen. But it IS happening, and I'm truly alarmed. I get goose flesh when I think of the chances I took in the 20s and 30s of my life. I wasn't scared THEN. It's a delayed goose flesh I'm experiencing now, and I DON'T LIKE IT.
INSTEAD of preaching old worn out, outmoded and fossilized values to the young. I'm going to listen. If I can't keep up with the pace of this generation, I can at least cheer from the sidelines and not obstruct . . . not that we could stop them. There's a yeast working powerfully in them and it's giving them growing pains or swelling pains from the power within them which urges "forward, forward and forward."
We're told not to put new wine in old bottles. Well, this old jug is going to try some of the new ferment. If it busts me wide open, that would be better than slow erosion and disintegration.
If you hear a loud noise, it's not an atom bomb detonating . . . it's just ME popping my cork with what's left of that old splendid yeast of happy-expectancy-what-happens-nextacy. At least it will be an interesting experiment.
Want to join the cork-poppers? It's kinda fun in a painful sort of way.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
May 19, 1956
Lei Day this year brought me two especially appreciated reminders of Hawaii and of the day dedicated to Aloha, leis of Aloha and the general aroma of friendliness which, on this day, is extra-evident.
All day, up to middle afternoon, I had been visualizing the preparations and activities. I could almost smell the perfumes of thousands of garlands.
I could see the sorting or mounting of the infinitely intricate flower patterns of the leis, and see the gathering of the hula dancers, the kahili bearers and chanters, uli-uli and hula-pahu drums, and all of the glad pageantry of the Friendly Day.
Yes, I was mighty homesick for Hawaii.
The Mail Man arrived with a large square box, air-mail and special delivery from Hawaii. I had a hunch what it might be, and my heart was warmed with anticipation. I delayed the opening because anticipation and curiosity are large elements in enjoying a gift.
IT WAS a gorgeous plumeria lei, the deep golden-satin petalled kind, with the petals curved back. It was heavy, sumptuous and fragrant beyond the perfumes of Araby.
In my mind's eye I saw the beautiful plumeria trees in great private gardens, and the spreading branches, blossom laden, by little houses along Punchbowl or along the road in the Round-the-Island trips. I thought of the splendid collection at the Willows, from all parts of the Pacific and from Mexico and Central America. I thought of how much these generous blossoms are part of the Aloha-spirit of Hawaii.
As I put the lei around my neck, each flower seemed to be a remembered voice of Island friends, whispering Aloha, Don. Aloha.
It wasn't just dew that glistened on the petals as I touched the flowers with remembering fingers. I remembered the first leis that I experienced (for they ARE an experience) in 1916 when I landed, a wide-eyed wondering and delight-filled malihini boy. The years between passed in swift newsreel of memory. I saw the faces of so many friends who have gone on, and the faces of those who still glorify the place with their dear presence.
Who do you think sent that lovely lei? Aunty Elizabeth from her little lei stand on Kalakaua in front of the Royal Hawaiian. I could hear her long-drawn Alo-o-o-ha, which I have in turn taught to the audiences of malihinis on the Mainland.
IT WAS a sweet hour of rendezvous with unforgettable years in our Paradise of the Pacific. Bless those years, and mahalo to all who have made them precious in my heart.
Mahalo, Aunty Elizabeth, dear Tutu. Mahalo for the gift, but even more for remembering that the Father of Lei Day might be a little wistful on this day.
Another lei, and a very unusual one, came. It might be called an "everlasting lei" from my friend, Frank Lindsay. It was a wonderful inspiring message worked out in carven raised letters on a decorated plaque which can go right in front of my typewriter desk where I spend so many hours.
It was the 23rd Psalm, the Shepherd's Psalm, which has been my talisman in many crises and in hours of lost-ness when the heart is weary, discouraged and lonely.
I shall hang the plumeria lei over the plaque and let the petals turn from golden-yellow to the rich glowing brown as they dry. They, too, will be there in my sight and in my heart for a long time.
But the petals of both, the flower-petals and the word-blossoms, will be endlessly fresh in my memory.
Only 11 more months until next Lei Day. Wonder where I'll be and what I'll be doing. I hope it will be celebrated in Hawaii, but we never know, do we?
And I suppose that's best. Until then, Aloha and happy days to all of you.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
May 26, 1956
Recently I was enjoying a bull-session with a man who has been a close friend since grade school days. We've been broke together and flush together. We've shared thin hamburgers, fat chickens and, at times, some spreads of caviar. We know each other about as well as two humans can, the fat and the lean and the in-between.
I was telling him what a tasty flavorful word our Hawaiian "Mahalo" is. It means "thank you," and the syllables are pleasant on the tongue.
He asked, "Did you ever make a Mahalo list, a list of people to whom you owe gratefulness for helping you on your way through life?"
I liked the idea. Names began to crowd into line, more and more of them until I wanted to say, "The line forms to the left. No crowding, no pushing, please."
"It would be a mighty long list," I said.
He replied, "You have plenty of paper and plenty of time. Try it."
I started the list with my Mother and Father.
Then "Aunt Cally," the blessed woman who was sort of a community Mammy for our neighborhood, and whose great intuitive wisdom placed wonderful guiding ideas into our small receptive minds.
Then Mrs. Taylor, my geography teacher, who encouraged my itching foot which later led me over half the world.
Then Hugh Carrol, the inspired principal of my last years in High School who made "learning" an exciting sport.
Then Louis Wilson, my splendid art teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago, a perfectionist who would accept only the best from us. Then Aunty Pinau Kalauokalani and Aunty Lahi-lahi Webb who guided me into intimate knowledge of Hawaii.
The line was crowding faster than I could put it down, even with electric typewriter and touch system typing.
There were the splendid, generous people of Honolulu who gave me my memorable year in England and Paris in 1924. Howard Lewis of Dodd Mead Company who helped me with my career from 1928 through 1950. Riley Allen, Joe Farrington and his father and many others of the Star-Bulletin staff who gave friendly encouragement over the years. Charles R. Frazier and George Mellen, who started me writing in the Frazier Advertising Company.
"Hey, there's not going to be any end to this list. Those names are just high-points. There are literally hundreds of people, some whose names I can't remember. My mind is so full of 'Mahalo people' that there's not even standing room for them."
My friend said, "But those are only people who helped you with friendliness. What about the so-called enemies who helped you?" He named several people who seemed to have made a pet project of belittling, sneering and obstructing my life.
"Those so-and-so's," I said.
"Listen, Don," he said, "I sometimes think that those so-and-so's help us as much if not more than our friends. They make us stop and take inventory of ourselves to see if maybe they're not partly right. They usually are.
"They strip us of our complacency. They are the 'obstacle course' which hardens us for the battles ahead, if we have any fighting spirit at all in us, they bring it out."
Suddenly I remembered something that Joel Goldsmith told me, "When a stumbling block has ceased its usefulness, it will remove itself."
"Yes," said my friend, "A banana peel on the sidewalk teaches us to watch our step, after we've done a boom-boom several times. A sneering, doubting enemy (so-called) can often put steel in our backbones, to 'show them whether we're phonies or not.'"
Moments of memory came crowding forward. Yes, many a time I might have lived it lazy in my career if it hadn't been for the remembered remark of a man who said, often and loudly, that I was a flash-in-the-pan, a second-rater who would burn out in a few years.
Our friends believe in us anyhow . . . bless them. But we have to "prove ourselves" to our enemies . . . bless them, too.
Suddenly the verification of the great ancient statement came, "Love thine enemies." Well, if I can't exactly LOVE them very warmly, I can at least honestly and warmly say "Mahalo" and that might be the beginning of love.
I supposed we ought to say "Mahalo" to everyone and everything in the world since all of these things go to make up our Universe, which, so far as personal experience goes, is the best place to live that I've found so far.
So, Aloha and mahalo to all and sundry . . . regardless!
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
June 2, 1956
William A. Shimer of World Brotherhood said a thought-filled paragraph at the Brotherhood dinner recently.
He said, "We are justified in holding up Hawaii as an example of mature racial relations. But Hawaii's ALOHA spirit has a better reputation than character."
We know that is so. We ourselves often give only lip service to that splendid idea of "Aloha . . . love to you." We are too frequently hearers, not doers of the word. And we are the losers when we fail to follow the word with action.
WE are so often like those lonely people who perhaps have had their love or friendship thrown back in their faces ONCE. They say inwardly, "I'm not going to be hurt THAT way again. I'll love you if you'll love me, but you love me FIRST and MOST."
That's bargaining in love, and there is no love in horse-trading. We have only ourselves to blame if we get a spavined old plug in exchange for the sorry nag that we offer.
BUT EVERY so often we have the heartening experience of "Aloha" made tangible. That happened to me recently.
A letter came, saying something like this, from Martha T. English of the Hilo Meat Cooperative: "A lei of aloha, friendship and appreciation is on its way, airmail, to you. We hope that you enjoy it."
I've received a lot of leis of one kind or another during the years. I wondered if it might be ginger (awa puhi) or perhaps mokihana (until I remembered that mokihana comes from Kauai). Anyhow, I had a lot of fun anticipating the aloha gift.
Half the fun of getting a present is in sniffing, shaking, conjecturing and trying to guess the contents before opening the package.
A large heavy package arrived. I couldn't imagine what kind of flower could make a lei that heavy. I opened it. It was a string of superb Portuguese sausages! The card said, "You said in your column that you were hungry for Portuguese sausages. Enjoy them." Did I enjoy them? Foolish question!
Wonderful hot chewy pungent Portuguese sausages, but with an extra flavor which made them ultra-delectable . . . the flavor of friendly Aloha which had spontaneously answered an expressed wish. Mahalo, dear friends. Every morsel was chewed to the last ono bit.
Some people think I'm an impractical sentimentalist. Some are bored by my insistent urge to preserve the true Aloha spirit in Hawaii. Anyone who maintains a figure like mine has to be practical.
The true active spirit of Aloha is Hawaii's greatest indigenous product both for export, via the tourists, and for HOME CONSUMPTION, especially the latter. It is the ONLY binder that will hold the varied peoples of Hawaii together in unity against the deliberate disruptive anc corrosive forces at work to achieve dis-unity.
Look at the situations in other parts of the world where the opposite forces are triumphant. Look, consider, think and ACT.
I am in a position to observe life where that gracious spirit is conspicuous by its absence.
I'm not saying the Aloha spirit is not the most-remembered and most-enjoyed experience of most visitors. They are overwhelmed by it. But, as Will Shimer said, "There's still room for improvement and perfection of that Aloha spirit, by active participation."
IT IS TRUE that all of us in passing do brush off something on each other. Some of those who complain most bitterly of discrimination should examine the discriminations right in their own racial groups.
Often people are exploited most ruthlessly and cruelly by people of their own race. Rejection of others is frequently practiced by the very ones who are shrillest in the protest against discrimination shown to them.
At a club luncheon recently up here the President stood and with throbbing emotion in her voice led the salute to the flag, ending with "with Liberty and Justice for ALL." Ten minutes later she confided, "We have a very pleasant town to live in. of course, legally, we can't keep out so-and-so's and such-and-such's but we have an unwritten agreement among property owners that we won't sell to them."
I looked at her in amazement.
She was not disturbed. She had two compartments in her mind, one for her emotions and one for her prejudices, and she did not let the right-hand compartment of her heart know what the left-hand compartment held.
Don't we all.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
June 9, 1956
Yes, Hawaii DOES say Aloha in the most unexpected places and times. I was speaking in Palm Springs, California, recently.
When I came onto the platform I was greeted by a charming young woman, Lucille de Mar, from Honolulu but vacationing in Palm Springs. She had four lovely leis, plumeria and orchids, which she hung on my neck, in the name of Mrs. C. J. Matson (formerly Mrs. Johnny Noble) with a friendly message. The pianist played Aloha Oe very softly.
I had a hard time getting my voice under control for my talk. All the time I was talking, I was seeing the streets of Honolulu, just beginning to shake out the ruffles and dainty colors of the season of the flowering trees. Fortunately, through long years of lecture work, my face knows how to go on making noises which I hope make sense, while I'm thinking of something else.
And I WAS thinking of that strange intangible thing which makes Hawaii unforgettable to those who have given themselves to Hawaii while accepting its graciousness and beauty. The lovely friendly leis were more eloquent than words in saying Aloha.
I WAS thinking of an evening at the Moana. A very intellectual young musician was in the group. The musicians were playing and singing Aloha Oe. The young intellectual curled his lips to release a withering comment. "Omigosh, do they HAVE to play that corny thing again?"
What has that youngster lost in exchange for a superficial lacquer of sophistication? Was it worth it? I wonder.
And I wonder also if it is not merely a protective coloring to fit into the contemporary attitude which is expressed in the messier art, music, poetry and literature of today?
Hawaii said Aloha very successfully in the incredible display of Island flowers and plants at the International Flower Show held up here recently. I know that it turned the travel thoughts of many visitors in the direction of Hawaii. I heard many women and some men say many times the equivalent of this, "I HAVE to see these gardens. The must be absolutely unbelievable."
Yes, it's hard to believe that our memories are not tricking us by allowing distance to lend enchantment to the view when we remember the lavish givingness of Hawaiian gardens.
In Monterey, I had another touch of Hawaii. Friends there have a living room with very large windows admitting sunlight. In a strategic spot they placed a few of the little pinked leaves of the air-plant which someone had sent from Hawaii. The combination of sunlight, temperature, fertilizer and someone's green thumb has produced a plant 14 feet high with whole flocks of the little green lantern blossoms.
I don't remember seeing any one to equal it in the Islands. They have distributed leaves all through the area so there's plenty of Hawaii saying Aloha around there.
THE INCREASING use of Hawaiian names for hotels, motels, eating places and what-not up here and the lavish use of the Island motif in decoration all over the place must indicate a deep hungry need for that indefinable "something" which means Hawaii to the world at large.
On the platform, when I ask, "Well, what poems do you want?" there will be a chorus of calls, "Give us Hawaii." So they get Hawaii, and plenty of it.
Many prospective visitors ask, by letter or directly, "Where will we find the real Hawaii?"
It's hard to tell them, because the "real Hawaii" is in the hearts of the people, and in a capacity of receptiveness in the hearts and minds of the visitors.
They might see all the scenery there is to be seen, but unless they opened their hearts to that ALOHA, they would only have a travelogue, and would have missed the most wonderful part of the whole trip there. Their faces light up with a different look as I bring to their memories the varied beauties of the Islands.
Also, by that same look of expectancy and receptivity I can almost spot the ones who WILL find the REAL HAWAII because their hearts will say "Aloha" when Hawaii Says Aloha.
So, "until we meet again . . . Aloha to you all."
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
June 16, 1956
Aloha, folks. On June 1, I completed a three-week tour through Northern California and Oregon and Washington on the coastal side. It was glorious. Summer came in late spring there so everything was rampant with blossoming.
This part of the Northwest always reminds me of a virile, shaggy big brother of our more feminine Hawaii. There is the same passionate fertility of the soil, the same exuberant giving out of beauty, and the intense aliveness of the land. The greens are more somber, but they have been poured lavishly over the land as in our Hawaii.
With the exceptions of the yellow of the Scotch broom, which is about the yellowest and "mostest" color I ever saw, the colors are not as vivid as in Hawaii. Few of the vermillions such as we have in our poinciana and hibiscus, but there are whole hillsides covered apparently with strawberry, raspberry and pineapple sherbet where the rhododendron and azalea have become avalanches of color rushing down the slopes.
THE mountains are not as tremendous as Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea but at this time they were super-colossal ice-cream sundaes with wallops and slathers of marshmallow paste poured over them. Snow right down to the roads almost.
Mount Shasta, Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier are a royal brotherhood and sisterhood of regal peaks strung along the road north. I was in luck because each one was stripped of the clouds as I approached and I was able to absorb the wonder and beauty of them leisurely.
I do recommend to people of Hawaii who are making their first Mainland trip that they include the glorious Shaggy Land of the Northwest. Late autumn, winter and spring can be a bit on the soggy and damp side, but the summer and early autumn can compete with beauty anywhere.
LIFE IN the Northwest has some of Hawaii's open-handedness and open-heartedness which the Islander will miss as he goes into the Middle West and East. I have not too much relish for the trip to New York and Washington, D.C., which I must make later this month. Too many "shut-ins" running around loose; that is, people shut in behind their conservatism, self-conciousness and isolation from each other.
A tidal wave of people of the East and Middle West continues to flow into this western country. Building is almost as frantic as at Waikiki. Houses have filled most of the valleys and are now splashing clear to the tops of hills and lower mountains. Houses are no longer built singly out here; they are by the dozens and hundreds. The result is a definite uglification of the country, but if it provides better homes for people, that's all to the good.
Unhappily, many of these mass developments are shoddily erected, and they make for a monotonous uniformity which is depressing, especially to the people who are absorbed in them. The housewives are beginning to rebel against the machine-made monotony, and when enough women raise their voices together, they make a shrill thunder that must be heard.
I HAVEN'T been in the Middle West and East for 14 years. I'll have to do some adjusting to get used to the tempo and restrictions of life there. Our Western and Hawaiian exuberance and friendliness are regarded suspiciously. Perhaps they think we are trying to sell them Diamond Head or the Golden Gate Bridge.
After a trip to the East I always wait eagerly for a sight of the Rocky Mountains. From there on I can "stretch my eyes and lungs and heart" without fear of knocking over the smug little gods of the Eastland.
Aloha to you all. I get mighty homesick for Hawaii, but I have work to do, and that helps.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
June 23, 1956
The garden in front of my studio is doing its best to keep me from being too homesick for Hawaii. The cup-of-gold has covered the whole trellis. It is between blossomings right now, but intermittently its great beautiful petal-cups are filled with that unforgettable fragrance, and the blossoms drop to the ground in golden confusion and profusion. I love them.
Hibiscus, in half dozen colors, nod cheerily every day. A number of air-plants with their pinked leaves are preparing to swing their little green lanterns in the breeze.
There's a large flourishing lantana bush doing its colorful best to help out. I know the lantana is a pest, a pariah and an undesirable citizen of the garden world in Hawaii, but the cheery little blossoms say happy Alohas.
They remind me of the limerick "There was a young man so benighted that he didn't know when he was slighted. He went to a party and ate just as hearty as though he'd been REALLY invited."
The little blossoms are like miniature reproductions of what my mother's generation called "Sot bouquets" which are carried primly by maidens of the 1870's.
GERANIUMS are to California what hibiscus are to Hawaii. They're ubiquitous, and everywhere in evidence. They're what I call "neighborly flowers."
They may be planted in a highly formal garden but they manage to lean over the fence or poke through the spaces and speak cheerfully to the passers-by without regard for social or racial distinctions.
Easterners who have tenderly nursed geraniums in pots are unable to believe it when they see geranium plants 12 and 14 feet high, and in as many colors and variations as our hibiscus bushes in the Islands.
Speaking of friendliness; on tour I am able to observe the hunger and need for friendliness which is one of the crying malnutritions of our age.
Older people who were reared in the neighborliness of small towns and in a slower-paced age are isolated in apartments and hotels.
Many of the lecture attenders come merely to be among people and to get a synthetic and transient sense of "belonging."
This is especially true in California where the great apartment houses are crowded with widows and widowers whose families are scattered all over the globe.
They've been uprooted from their home soil and find themselves to be sort of human air-plants.
I THINK that is why so many visitors respond so joyously to Hawaii. They breathe friendliness in the very air, and they love it and flourish in it.
It is the thing that they talk about most when they return to the Mainland.
A number of years ago when I lived at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, I noticed that the elevator girls and the waitresses for the morning shift were usually women in their middle years. I spoke to the manager about it.
"Yes," he said. "I choose those more experienced women for those hours because they are friendlier. Their friendly greetings to guests in those early hours often set the pattern of happiness for guests during their entire day."
I know that my days were often lifted to a more cheerful note by the happy friendliness of the little waitresses in the various eateries along Kalakaua at Waikiki.
I hope that the influx of Mainland influences never harden these cheerful practitioners of happiness into the hard-boiled duchesses of the dishes that we meet up here so much.
A flower lei, even a skimpy one, as greeting at the airports or boat arrivals are better "ambassadors of good will for Hawaii" than a lot of the spurious glad-handing that is put out by professional greeters.
Among all nostalgic memories of Hawaii, the strongest one is the yen for the all-pervading friendliness of Hawaii. Long may it wave. Aloha.
-- Don Blanding
~ ~ ~
June 30, 1956
I get a big kick out of watching women put on their make-up. They reveal so much about themselves as they do it.
Two women across the aisle in a restaurant the other day were repairing the damages to their faces that Crab Louie and a couple of weird salads, several cups of coffee and a double-deck air-foam mattress of a chiffon pie had done to their general facial fronts.
One woman seemed to like her face. She treated it like a dear friend. The powder-puff was moved with a slow gentle movement with kitten-paw lightness hither and yon where it was needed. She applied the lipstick with an almost sensuous caress. Her eyebrow strokes were delicate, accurate and as effective as John Kelily's etching needle on a prize plate for an exhibit in New York.
The effect was delightful . . . truly a work of art. After she finished, she looked better and looked as though she felt better. I had to restrain the impulse to applaud enthusiastically . . . which I think she would have appreciated.
THE OTHER woman took out her make-up kit and slammed the powder puff into the powder raising a perfumed smog. She screwed her face up into an angry pucker and banged it and whacked it and whammed it with the puff, raising another dust-storm that caused her to sneeze . . . which didn't help any.
She smeared the lipstick on as though she was rubbing mange cure on a neighbor's dog. She used her eyebrow pencil as though she was marking laundry. She fought her face and her face fought back.
When she unpuckered her face, the wrinkles, without powder in them, stood out like traffic maps. She looked like a veteran on the losing side of a long war.
As she took a last look at her face in the mirror, I could almost hear her wondering if she could trade it in for something at a rummage sale.
As I watched them, I thought that this was the difference between the way Hawaiians and most Island people apprach life and the way that Mainland people live it.
Islanders make friends with life and life is friendly in return. Mainland people seem to make a fight, a combat, a competition between life and themselves, with no holds barred. Of course, when we fight life, life fights back . . . and life wins, always.
I have to keep a constant guard against the insidious pressure of Mainland living. It creeps up on me. If I stroll in Island fashion, there are people either stepping on my heels or growling "Gerrada tha way, you." Everyone seems to be muttering "Hurry . . . hurry . . . hurry."
They live on a Scurry-go-round which seems to get them nowhere except hurrieder and scurrieder and flurrieder.
A FEW days after writing this, I'm leaving for three weeks in New York and Washington, D.C. I wish there were some vaccine or anti-biotic which would immunize me against this infectious dis-ease, which is even more virulent in New York and that political hurly-burly, Washington.
I do pretty well on lecture tour by forgetting the lectures I've done as soon as I get back to the hotel, and thinking only of the next one that I have to do and ignoring the 30 or 40 that await ahead.
I say, "The line forms to the left, please. One at a time, you will all be attended."
So far I've managed to keep the blood-pressure down and am only decently tired, rather than weary, at the end of the week. It will be a real test of Island immunity to hurry-flurry-scurry when I return from my Eastern jaunt.
It helps, too, while I'm on buses or waiting in stations to imagine that I'm stretched out on the sands at Waikiki watching the coeds and coed hunters playing their Run-sheep-run games.
I get a synthetic or sun-thetic languor which is very restful.
But the effect is temporary; pretty soon someone is yelling, "Last call for the plane," or "Hurry up, you, don't keep things waiting."
The answer is, of course, "Get back to Hawaii as quickly as possible!"
-- Don Blanding