|The East End Rodeo|
|Written by Kirby Wright|
Moloka'i's first ever East End Rodeo was held on the Fourth of July at a working ranch in Kamalo. The ranch was "working" in the sense that cattle and pigs were raised on it and slaughtered. Kualapuu Suprette sent a meat truck twice a month from the west end of the island. My grandmother wanted to go to the rodeo not so much to watch the paniolas ride and rope, but because she'd seen an ad in the "Molokai Action News" saying there'd be a Greased Pig Contest for children. My big brother Ben and I were visiting from Honolulu. We called our grandmother "Gramma," a term of endearment that had survived from small kid time.
"Ya boys are fast," Gramma told Ben and me.
"We're fast," my big brother Ben said. He had the blond hair and green eyes of our Irish mother. I took after our hapa haole father.
"Fast 'nough ta catch a greasy pig?" she asked. She told us about the contest and how it would make her proud if one of us would catch that pig.
"If Ben doesn't catch it," I said, "I will."
"That's what I like ta hea', Peanut," Gramma told me.
"Easier than picking pineapples," Ben said.
"Like taking candy from a baby," I added. "Good boys."
We drove west for Kamalo the day of the rodeo. I was full of anticipation and dread, the same way I'd felt before games in Little League back home in Honolulu. Ben didn't talk much on the drive. Neither did I. It was like Gramma was driving us to the doctor or the dentist. She was wearing her usual ranch clothes: blue jeans, palaka blouse, and a lauhala hat with a wide brim. She had white skin but her eyes slanted. Her mother had danced the hula on the court of Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV. When we reached the outskirts of Kamalo, we drove beside the ocean. The beach was a mixture of sand and mud. The water was murky and locals waded out with suji nets. The island of Lanai was a brown hump on the horizon. We slowed when Ben spotted a cardboard sign taped to a bamboo stick. The sign advertised "East End Rodeo" in black crayon. There was a long driveway across from the beach. We took the driveway and drove between two rows of sturdy posts and glistening wire. The Seven Sisters, a mountain range to the north, rolled up to the sky. The mountains were joined by shallow gulches that looked like steps. Four of the Seven Sisters were part of the ranch. If you looked hard you could see cows grazing halfway up the nearest Sister. The peaks of all of the Sisters were shrouded in clouds.
"What a spread," said Gramma.
The posts in the fence lines were redwood, not cheap kiawe like ours. The wire was strung tight, not full of loops. Their horses were lean, not fat with barley bellies. We parked between some horse trailers and a barn. Paniolas on
"Bet I know what goes on in there," Ben said, pointing to the barn.
"What?" I asked.
He dragged a finger over his throat. "Ya kids cut it out," Gramma said.
We walked over to the main gate. Families were filing in. Everyone was excited because nothing like this had ever happened on our end of the island. Gramma paid our dollar admissions. I could tell by the way she opened her purse and slowly counted out the bills that she considered this a necessary investment, but an investment that would reap great rewards. There were stands on one side of the corral and we found seats in the middle.
"How ya boys feel?" Gramma asked.
"Like a million bucks," Ben said.
"How 'bout li'l Peanut?"
"I'm countin' on ya boys ta bring home the bacon."
Before the rodeo began, a man wearing an Aloha shirt carried something from the barn into the corral. It was black and white and it looked like a little dog.
"I want that piglet," Gramma said.
"You want that?" Ben asked.
"It's so tiny," I said.
"We'll have a big luau," she promised.
We watched the man bend down and open a can of oil. A paniola held the pig while the man poured. It squealed and struggled so the paniola pinned it against the ground. "Rope 'em, cowboy!" somebody said from the stands and everyone laughed. When the can was empty the paniola let the pig go. It ran to the far corner of the corral and tried shaking off the oil the way a dog shakes off water.
The man in the Aloha shirt wiped his hands on his pants. Then he grabbed a microphone and welcomed us to the First Annual East End Rodeo, an event he said they'd have on Independence Day from now on. He introduced himself as Sam Foster and talked about the ranch being a smaller yet more efficient version of the Parker Ranch on The Big Island. Then he invited the children to come down for the Greased Pig Contest.
"Doesn't cost a thing," he said.
"Shoot yo' pickles!" Gramma told us.
Ben led the way down to the corral. All the parents around us were trying to coax their children into entering. "No be shy," I heard a father tell his daughter. "Be brave," said her mother. Ben and I waited outside the corral with the other children. Then a paniola told us all to duck under the wire. We gathered in front of the gates for the bucking broncos. Ben and I were about the oldest, except for the two Ciaccis. The Ciaccis were a brother team like us. They were Portuguese and about our ages. We'd see them every Sunday at Father Damien's Church because they were altar boys. "Holy mahus," Ben had called them. Somehow, we never got to be friends. I think part of the problem was the Ciaccis knew we only visited Moloka'i in the summer, and they'd probably decided we were spoiled kids from Honolulu. When the Ciaccis saw us they started whispering plans.
"Huddle," Ben said. He turned his back to the Ciaccis and placed his hands on my shoulders. He said he'd trip both Ciaccis to give me a clear shot at the pig.
"Don't do it," I said.
"We'll start fighting. Then another weeny'll catch the pig."
Ben considered the point for a moment. "Okay," he said. "Then let's spread out. We have a better chance if we spread out."
"How do you catch it?" I asked.
"Pretend it's a football."
He walked off and took a spot next to the fence. His head towered above the others, except for the older Ciacci boy. I could see Gramma in the stands talking to Mr. Ah Ping, the man who owned the only store on the east end. She pointed us out and Ah Ping stroked his jaw. She saw me looking and waved. I gave her a halfhearted wave back. One of the paniolas carried the pig over to the children. He crouched down in the middle of the mob with the pig. The little feet kicked but the paniola had both hands around its throat. Sam Foster patted a Hawaiian girl on the head and welcomed the children to the East End Rodeo. Parents came down for a closer look and shouted encouraging words. The more they shouted the more my stomach churned. None of the children smiled-instead, they scrunched their faces while parents fought for views along the fence. Ben hunched down and took a sprinter's stance. The older Ciacci copied. A few parents stood on the bottom strand of wire.
"We're just about ready," Sam Foster said over the microphone.
The paniola who'd helped oil the pig entered the corral with a revolver. He pointed it up at the sky and fired.
"Go!" Sam Foster said.
The pig charged toward the far side of the corral and the children started running. Ben sprinted along the fence line and took the lead, with the older Ciacci right behind him. The younger Ciacci ran in the middle of the pack next to me. I tried sprinting but my legs resisted. It felt like I was running in place. Ben caught up to the pig, jumped, and landed with his arms around the legs. The pig squealed and kicked away. The crowd roared. Then the older Ciacci had his chance but a Japanese boy ran into him and they both fell. The pig veered suddenly and ran along the fence line. The children cornered it but the pig turned around and got out of the corner. It ran back and the slower children tried grabbing it as it passed. Someone got the pig by the ear and it squealed as if it was being murdered. Finally the pig collapsed belly-up in the center of the corral and shot out a stream of pee. I ran over but the younger Ciacci was already picking it up. The pig kept peeing. Ciacci's shirt was drenched and his arms glistened.
"We have a winner!" Sam Foster said over the microphone and the pig was awarded to the Ciacci boy.
The paniola who'd fired the gun brought out a rag and wiped oil off the pig. The Ciacci boy peeled off his wet shirt. Everyone cheered when Sam Foster raised Ciacci's hand like he'd won a fight. The riding and roping that followed was fun, but I could tell Gramma was in a foul mood the way that she chain-smoked and criticized all the riders.
"Call themselves paniolas?" Gramma asked.
She never laughed once at the clowns. She refused to buy candy apples when the vendor walked through the stand.
"Not payin' fo' any o' that crap," she said.
Ah Ping was eating a bag of peanuts one row back.
"Ciacci boy not fast," Ah Ping decided, "but plenny akami." He tapped a finger against his temple.
"Fasta than these damn kids," Gramma said.
On the ride home Gramma doubled the speed limit. She was all over the road. She was acting as though she'd made a bet on a sure thing and the sure thing lost.
"Ya kids are slow as molasses," Gramma said when we got home. She shook her head and frowned. "Those Ciaccis put ya ta shame."
"Ben did good," I said.
"Call that good?"
"He had the pig, for a second."
"At least Mista Ben tried," she told me. "Ya did nothin' but watch."
"Who wants that poor little pig anyway," I said.
"I do, that's who."
"It was just for fun," said Ben.
"You act like it's the end of the world," Ben said.
"Ya kids get your own dinna tonight."
"Huh?" I asked.
"Ya heard me, Peanut," Gramma said. "Eat coconuts."
The day after the rodeo, Gramma told her ranchhand Valdez to start replacing fence posts. "Everythin's busticated," she decided. She ordered wire pullers from a hardware store so Valdez could pull the loops out of the fence line. She told us to stop feeding the horses barley. Then she received an invitation from the Ciaccis. I saw her read and re-read that invitation for days. Finally, she asked Ben and me if one of us would escort her to the luau.
"No way," Ben said.
"Not in a zillion years," I said.
"And why not?" she asked. "Half the damn island'll be thea."
"Because," Ben said.
"Because yo' poor losers," she said.
Gramma spent days deciding what to wear. She took her suitcases out of the closet and tried on her "Honolulu clothes." She made a special trip to Moloka'i Drugs to buy a facial cream. She even had the mahu from the beauty shop in town drop by to style her wig.
"Sure ya don't wanna go?" Gramma asked us when the big day came.
"Should be a big crowd." She wore red lipstick, Oil of Olay on her cheeks, and a salt-and-pepper wig. She looked like someone else.
"How does yo' Gramma look?" she asked.
"Like one of the Beatles," I said.
Ben laughed. "Feed your face," he told her.
"Ya puhi'us can fend fo' yo' bloody selves," Gramma said.
She climbed into the Scout and slammed the door. Then she pulled out of the garage and sped away. We ran down the driveway and watched her turn left on the public road. I was relieved when I heard her engine fade away.
"Thank God she's gone," Ben said.
"Now what do we do?"
"I found this secret spot for papio," he said. "Guaranteed."
We walked past the point with our poles. I couldn't understand how Gramma would want to go to the luau after seeing the main course being chased down in the corral. I was glad our place wasn't a "working ranch."
I started reeling in the line when my lure hit the water between two coral heads. I hoped Ben was right and that we wouldn't have to eat coconuts again for dinner. I could see my lure cutting through the water and I wondered how the luau meat would taste to the Ciacci boy, the one who'd caught and held the pig.
Kirby "Peanut" Wright originally lived in Honolulu and graduated from Punahou ('73). He now lives in Palo Alto, California. His first novel, a rite of passage adventure set on the island of Moloka'i, is making the rounds in New York. Kirby maintains a website which contains poetry and short stories he has written.