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As wuz da wors' time an' da bes' time (apologies to Charles Dickens fo' borrow his line). It was the ending of the year 1941 just before Pearl Harbor and papa went on a fishing trip with our calabash uncle, Paul Hi'ilei; Uncle Paul returned in tears and said that he no can find Matias, our faddah. Papa's friends went searching for him but returned with bad news; they found his fishing gear but no Matias. Worse of all, mama was pregnant with her 7th keiki and in those old plantation days there was no insurance policy for us.

Having no other alternatives, we moved in with our grandparents and even though money was scarce, we were together as a family. We called grandpa, Big Popo and grandma, Small Popo, while the oldest uncle, Rufe had left to go to work for the newly created Conservation Corps. That left two uncles and an aunt, in a two-bedroom plantation house; it was crowded but full of aloha.

In the early days, all sugar plantations had the workers living in "camps" to be closer to the fields. The harvested sugar cane was sent to the sugar mill via water flumes and great changes came with Industrial machinery. Thus came the breakup of camps as the workers and families of the Hutchinson Sugar Co. were now moved to the Village of Na'alehu

Hilea, mauka of Punalu'u black sand beach, is the birth place of my uncles, my brother and me. In the late '30's Hilea and two other camps were closed and some of us were relocated to Honuapo, where the sugar mill was located. Honuapo's landing (wharf) was where grandpa loaded bags of sugar onto steamships.

On the Big Island, the District of Ka'u is better known for the Ka'u Desert and the mauka regions are lush with vegetation. The only time that the streams ran was when there was heavy rains from mauka. It's no wonder that the District of Hilo and the Hamakua coast were so lush and green with all the rain in the lowlands. I envied those areas with the Rainbow Falls of the Wailuku River, The Papaikou stream, Akaka Falls and their constant flowing water all-year long.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, mama married a man that she barely knew. This caused a rift in the family, so one day we were told we were making a trip to Hilo but we wound up in the town of Papaikou. When days turned into weeks, to our consternation, we realized we had been uprooted and away from friends and family.

Behind our hosts' house was a flowing "gouch" (gulch) alive with frogs, tadpoles, opai and mosquito fish. I thought I had died and gone to heaven! Because of papa's alleged drowning, the gouch was off-limits. That didn't stop me from wading in there along with my younger brother, Lippy, who was made to swear we never were in the gouch. One day we were in an area that we had never been in and there were these beautiful kalakoa long-tailed fish. Lippy and I were able to catch about a dozen and put them in a can we had found and hurried home anxiously to give mama a big surprise of our gift from the gouch. But the big surprise was short-lived; mama was furious that we had disobeyed her about being in the gouch. I got one of the worst lickin's of my life but Lippy wasn't whipped since he was younger and I, being older, should have known better. Besides, Lippy was a cute kid and even to this day people love him.

Shortly after, the Onomea Sugar Co. gave us a house close to the river which had a deep section called Long Pond by the locals. By this time mama realized that Lippy and I were at the gouch every day, so she finally gave up and besides the deepest water came only up to our knees.

To get to Long Pond, one had to go past our house and how envious Lippy and I would be watching the parade heading towards Long Pond. So one day we saw a bunch of guys we knew heading to Long Pond, when a light in our heads gave us an idea, we would tell mama we were going to the gouch.

I was in heaven, diving, jumping in, cannonball - the works! I being 10 and Lippy 8, I knew how to swim, he didn't, so I decided to teach him. Big mistake! Next thing I remember drifting in deep water and I was in a death-grip. Next thing I remember was the most beautiful, serene feeling ever. Then blank. I awoke flat on my back on a flat rock with everyone looking down at me - I had drowned, not breathing, then I awoke, to their relief. I recall, thinking if that's what it's like to die, then - what's to be scared of? The guys told me that my classmate, Yoshinobu Oyakawa had dived in and saved us.

Fast forward, Korea, 1952,I'm in my tent reading the Stars and Stripes, the Olympics was the big news and a guy from Hawai'i, named Yoshinobu Oyakawa, won the gold medal in the backstroke swimming event.

Eh, Yoshi, wherever you are, Tanks eh bruddah, I owe you one! I no scaid make even when the train missed our truck in Korea, the train that missed my sports car in a downpour in Burbank and the Grumman Tiger that kept falling a hundred feet at a time, while we were flying over Lake Tahoe or even tumbling at breakneck speed down the Cornice on Mammoth Mountain. Aaaah, you get da idea, I no scaid if I make.

About Author

I was born in the village of Hilea (where Mary Pukui was from) mauka from Punalu'u black sand beach. I Lived mostly in Na'alehu, spent most of the war years in Papaikou and back to Ka'u. I wen join the army after pau high school. Lived in Northridge CA, owned an Ad Agency, PR and Marketing but today, I kanikapila when I can. Mostly I practice and teach Tai Chi and Chi Gong (you can see me on youtube: Tai Chi Maku).The oldtimers still call me Boy but I'm Uncle Maku to most locals and Maku to others. A hui hou!

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