|In the Gardens of Sugar and Pineapples, Part Four: An Old Friend Passes and a New Friends Appear|
|Written by Ismael Tabalno|
It was a month before school started in September. I had one more year and I would be done with 8th grade in Koloa Elementary School. I was very ready for high school. "Eh, you guys think going be hard in high school?" "Yeah, my brother was telling me mo homework." Trudeau smiled. "Ah sh*t, as all I need." I grudgingly commented, "Mo of the proper English stuff again." "If Mrs. Anderson no flunks you first and you no graduate," Trudeau laughed. "Yeah, she going pass me, I make too much problem in her classes, I no think she like keep me around for another year." I said confidently. "As true, nobody can do anything with you in her English class" said Freddie, my other friend and classmate. Trudeau and Freddie were my closest friends and all three of us lived in Spanish Camp.
Trudeau's family lived across the dirt road from my house and Freddie folks lived on the right, next to Trudeau. We grew up together in Spanish Camp and also attended Koloa School. Trudeau was smarter in academics then Freddie and I. Both his parents drove cars and aside from their native tongue of Filipino, both were fluent in English. Freddie's mom and dad drove cars too and spoke English well. His father was a mechanic and was always seen under the hood of a car or under the car fixing something. Freddie was the mechanical and artistic guy who was aspiring to be like his mechanic dad. As for me, I was considered the humbug one, in other words a trouble maker. Always getting in mischievous happenings or causing trouble, they say. I thought it was ridiculous that both of their parents thought hanging around me would get their sons into trouble. I was the one that suggested the most fun and adventurous things to do around the camp. However, if anything went wrong or haywire with three of us, the entire blame would be pointed towards me.
After a while though I stopped hanging out with Trudeau and Freddie. I felt just as content hanging around with just my three year old dog, Willy. Willy was a homeless mutt when dad brought him home. He was an average build with an all brown coat and a few black spots. At that time of my life though, he was a large dog. Willy became my added security and we were inseparable friends; almost like the movie Lassie. Everywhere I went, he followed. If I walked to school he would walk with me and hang around the bushes away from the school campus until school was over, then he walked me home. Willy and I went swimming at the Wydagee River or Waita reservoir. He was an excellent swimmer. I would hold on to his tail and he would pull me as we swam. Willy was my first dog best friend. Willy waited at home when I started attending high school because I caught a bus to my high school in Lihue. Our time together became less and less. However, when I came home he became hyper active and so excited, always barking and jumping around me wanting to play chase. My mom was amused by his silly antics upon my arrival. We played tag, wrestled and fetch the ball or any other objects I tossed.
After my first year in high school, Willy mysteriously passed away at 5 years old. He didn't show any signs of injury or suffering. I was devastated. Sadly, I was the one that found him under our house curled up with his nose tucked under his stomach. We aren't sure how he died but I hope he died in his sleep peacefully. I told my mom about Willy and she felt so sad. She knew how much I loved him. She asked if I needed any help burying him and I said no, that I would prefer doing the ordeal by myself. I cried and carried him half wrapped in a old towel rag and brought him closer to the creek behind the camp. I picked a nice spot where there would be sun most of the day but there would still be shade from the bamboo trees. It took me nearly an exhausting hour to dig a hole deep and wide enough to bury him. Every few minutes I would stop digging and look at him thinking he was just asleep. I kept waiting for him to wake up but he never did. Even now my heart breaks. Oh, how I wished he was just sleeping. I carefully shifted him closer to the hole and gently placed him down into his grave. His hair was soft and I curled his tail on top his hind leg. "Willy, you are my best dog and friend. I will miss you so much. Why didn't you say goodbye?" I didn't know how to pray for him. Tears started to blur my vision. I didn't want to cover him. My mom told me earlier that he was in Heaven playing with other dogs. I tried to imagine him in a heaven field happy and running with his dog friends. After each shovel of dirt, spots of Willy's brown hair disappeared until only loose dark soil marked the spot where Willy laid. I stood there and tears flowed freely down my cheeks. For a long time I never felt lonely; I could always count on Willy being there with me. But now, I was alone. I squatted down, buried my face in my hands and cried quietly. A strange thing happened that evening when I went to bed early. I didn't sleep on a bed in my room; instead I slept on a mattress on the bedroom floor. I couldn't help but think of how Willy used to sleep under a bookcase next to my mattress whenever I snuck him in the house.
For those of you that don't believe in ghosts you won't find this believable but I am going to mention what happened anyway. I was in deep sleep and I thought I was dreaming when I heard Willy's breathing. When I opened my eyes I saw my dog, Willy, under the bookcase looking at me exactly where he used to lie. The bedroom wasn't completely dark because some light leaked in from the living room around and under the door. I smiled at him. I could hear his panting with his mouth slightly open and eyes half closed as if he was relaxed and ready to fall asleep. With a grin on my face I continued staring at him for about a minute. I whispered, "Hi Willy, are you okay?" I reached out a hand, gently touching and rubbing the top of his nose like I always did. He slowly closed his eyes breathing slower now as I continued patting the top of his head. I whispered to him and asked him again if he was okay and told him that I really missed him. My tear welts blurred my vision. I did not hear any audible voice, but I sensed Willy saying, "I'm sorry for leaving you so suddenly and came to say goodbye." "What happened to you Willy? Why did you leave me?" My mom must have heard me and cracked opened the bedroom door to see if someone was in the room with me. "Mael, you talking in your sleep?" she whispered. I turned my head, "No Ma, it's Willy, I am talking to Willy." And turned my head towards Willy again...but he was already gone. My mom knelt down next to me. "Go to sleep Mael, it was just a dream", as she moved my soft black hair off my forehead. "Mama, Willy was here, mama." "Okay son, go to sleep now, everything will be fine." (She spoke to me only in our native tongue, Filipino) I understood and slowly drifted off in deep sleep again but with a smile and a new peace in my heart.
In 1964, I finally graduated from Koloa Elementary School and moved up to Kauai High School in Lihue. It was a colorful time for me. It's true what they say; high school is the start of everything wild and spine-tingling! And I must say that more adventure awaited me. "Trudeau, wait up!" Freddie and I ran up to him at the bus stop. All three of us rode the Chang Fook bus from Koloa each morning and back again in the afternoon after school. "Who is the Haole guy I saw you talking to at auto shop today?" asked Trudeau. "The Haole guy?" I tried to act uninterested, "Oh that was Mando, his father is a minister. They just moved from Argentina. He has a class with Freddie and me in auto mechanics. Nice guy, but a lot of guys no like him already. I don't know why." "Because he is Haole, that's why," said Freddie "especially the portgee guys don't like him." "So what?" I said. "He neva do nothing to them. Some people don't care for Haoles anyway." I had wanted to avoid this conversation about my new friend. Mando is short for Armando, the name of a high school classmate who helped me make things happen. He was the son of Lutheran minister in Kauai's oldest Lutheran church. I think that it was destined for Mando's father to be assigned there for five years after being rotated to various ministries.
Our meeting was part of our awesome destiny. Mando didn't look like everybody else. Well, he was a 'Haole' as what Hawaiians or local people would call the white people. Being a Caucasian, he had pale skin, an over-sized pointed nose, and the height of a little giant at 6 feet 2. Mando had a brother who was 2 years younger than he was and weighed lighter as well. He also had those signature blue eyes and brown blonde hair. He definitely stood out among the crowds of high school students where there were few Haole classmates. Mando's life too was changed as he started interacting with me and the locals. "Mando, what you talking about, no make sense," chuckled Randy. "Speak in Pidgin so we can understand," ragged Wilson. "Eh, you guys leave him alone, he can talk n e way he like," I tried covering for him. Mando just hung his head trying to act neutral. He was soft-spoken and spoke proper English but as time went on however, he couldn't help but get influenced talking in Pidgin English. Of course his dad wasn't too thrilled about it so he continually reminded him on the proper use of English grammar, words or sentences. I thought that this could be one reason why they did not seem to like the idea of their son hanging out with me.
His parents were quite civil to me and had even invited me to dinner a couple of times. They did their best to make me feel comfortable but still, I felt otherwise. They often asked if my parents knew where I was and if they worry that I'm not at home most of the time. To me, it was like a subtle way of saying, you should go home now and never come back. As kindly as I could, I would affirm that my parents knew my whereabouts and didn't really mind if I stayed out late. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for Mando's parents, I wasn't the type who would back down. In fact, the rebellious, non-conforming, outgoing and outspoken side of me would often come out victorious. I sustained a maverick reputation and with Mando things became more adventurous and challenging. Mando and I became partners in a variety of mischievous and interesting adventures.
Our friendship was built on our surprising similarities and passions. I love knowing about people, culture and other places; he had traveled a lot and had so much information to share. "S-mile," he called me by my Pidgin name, "you remember my dad's Triumph 650cc motorcycle I showed you in our garage?" "Yeah, so what?" I curiously asked. "Well my dad just gave the bike to me." Mando's eyes lit up as if he just won a prize of the century. In those days owning a bike like a 650cc triumph was the cool thing to do, it was an icon of the 1960's. This wasn't a Honda 90 or nifty thrifty Honda 50 Moped either. It was a full fledge macho, girl magnet machine. In that 1960's era when owning a motorcycle meant exuding an aura of independence and self-control "My dad said as soon as I get my motorcycle license I can ride it anytime I want. So Monday, I am getting my permit from the police station in Lihue. I already know how to ride the bike but my dad said I can practice a little more, and then in a week I will get my license." "Cool!" I said and we gave each other high five slaps. We already could imagine ourselves cruising the beach, to school, the town, as cool as cucumbers.
Once he got his license we rode with the wind and I reveled at the feeling of freedom and the rush of intoxicating thrill. ."Hey, Mando, how can we pick up chicks if we ride together all the time?" I yelled at him from the back seat of his bike cruising along 50 mph on the highway next to the ocean shore. "Yeah, no sh*t, maybe you should buy your own bike S-mile." He was serious. I realized that I really wanted one for myself too. So what is a guy like S-smile to do? I earned and saved money! And on that fated day in Honolulu, I bought my very own 650cc Triumph motorcycle and had it shipped to our island. Indeed, it was the highlight of my life that year. At a challenged height of five feet I didn't care my feet didn't reach the ground when I sat on the bike. Fear wasn't in my vocabulary. I stopped by curbs or was able to kick the stand down quickly. I kicked started the engine and brrrroooom! My Triumph zoomed onto the road in a heart beat. The fascinating thing is the kickstand doubled as a gig to offset the fact I couldn't reach the ground with both feet. I perfected the technique of keeping the kickstand down long enough to grind on the road and cause a spectacular shower of sparks fishtailing behind the bike. This trick was even more thrilling when I did it at night, instant fireworks display. Occasionally too, I switched the ignition on and off to trigger backfires that added excitement to the attraction. Of course we made sure the coast was clear of any police squad cars otherwise we could be cited for 'exhibition of speed', a traffic citation and definitely a ticket.
I rode my bike through high school and looked forward to the weekends when Mando and I cruised around the island. Actually, both of us maintained part-time jobs. In my case, I had two – one at Hertz-Rent-a-Car and another at Kauai Surf Hotel as a busboy. "Mando, I met this new guy this morning, his name is Randy. He just moved here from Honolulu and is living with his uncle. He is in my agriculture class. He is meeting me in a few minutes. Can you wait and meet him?" The ending of school bell rang 10 minutes earlier and had the parking lot full of students waiting or boarding buses. Our bikes were parked in a small reserved space next to the bus stops. "No, definitely not, but it's cool. S-mile, I have to get home early this afternoon, but you both come over to the house. I have to help my dad at the church for about an hour, so come over." "Okay, sure, oh by the way, tomorrow is Friday, you want to go camping this weekend?" I kicked my bike to start; the bike roared and instantly drew a lot of attention at the school parking lot. "What you say?" Mando shouted while mounting his bike. "Mando, I'll talk to you later." I let my bike idle. He stood up on his kick start lever with his right foot and dropped his whole weight sharply downward and the bike jumped to life. Within a few seconds he was roaring away down the hill as students watched him until he disappeared a quarter of a mile around the bend.
I spotted Randy as he waved at me and I waved him over. "Howzit going, Randy? Mando already went home , jump on back and go over to his place." "Okay cool". Randy climbed onto the back seat. I depressed the clutch lever with my left hand and downshifted with my left foot to first gear. The bike was still on the kick stand. "You ready?" Randy reached both is arms around my waist. "What the f**k? Hey, you freaking homo lean on the sissy bars and hold on to the sides of the seat. Don't hold onto my body, only chicks do that.", I shouted smiling. "What da f**K?" Randy is laughing...almost an uncontrollable laugh I turned around laughing too and looked at him, "You never rode on a bike before?" "Hell no, never did!" "Oh sh*t, just hold on," and I let off on the clutch slowly and we propelled forward onto the road and disappeared rounding the corner down the hill from the high school. It didn't take long for all three of us to become good friends.
Mando had a serious look moreover it made him an easy target for Randy's silly and crazy antics. Randy on the other hand was an easy, happy-go-lucky kind of guy who agreed on almost anything we suggested whether it was normal or completely off the wall ideas we had in mind. I, on the other hand, was frequently amused watching Mando and Randy fart around with each other. So when we were not working on the weekends, we were camping and fishing. We would do it at night with friends (of course tourist chicks too). The 1960's was blessed and we would regularly catch ample amounts of fish and lobsters to barbecue to our hearts desire. We were quite lucky to have experienced a time of abundance which is quite the opposite of these days. There were time and again when we got so lucky to have caught so much that we would have extra to bring home, to sell, or to give to neighbors and friends. I was only happy to share because our refrigerator at that time was a small 2 feet by 2 feet and couldn't handle much. Another friend, Wilson, joined us at the campout and night spear fishing that Mando, Randy, and I had planned two days ago. Wilson was a couple year's younger than us and a sophomore in high school. He was Trudeau's younger brother. He enjoyed hanging out with us mostly because the company of Randy and Mando. Randy came running out of the water to the beach fire laughing his head off, "Hey Wilson, S-mile, look at..."Randy was laughing so hard and bending over from his almost crying laughter. "Look, look at Mando!" He and Mando were in the water swimming around checking out the place before we all went in later. Mando was coming out of the water walking backwards on the sand with his fins, mask and snorkels still on. Mando spat out his snorkel mouth piece. He turned around and looked at us wondering why Randy was laughing his ass off. "Look at the thing! The, da thing!" Randy could hardly get his words out while laughing hysterically.
All at once we observed what Randy's laughter was all about. Wilson and I first looked at each other, and then we burst out in laughter too. Mando stood there with his swim fins still on and his face mask press firmly on his face. His unusual large nose was smashed against the inside of his mask half full of snot. Mando's distorted large nose looked like a small fish stuck inside his face mask! By then, Randy, Wilson and I were rolling on the sand laughing hysterically holding our stomachs. "There's a fish in your mask, Mando!" Randy yelled out laughing even louder and still rolling on the sand holding his stomach. "Mando, there is a fish in your Mask!" "F**k you guys' man," Mando dove back into the water, rinsing his mask out and blowing his nose full of snot. At first Mando was embarrassed and frustrated about Randy's commenting about his nose, which he now nicknamed, 'The Thing'. Nevertheless, ever since that moment, Randy would often harass Mando about his, 'The Thing' and that became an inside joke that stuck with all four of us.
Whenever one of us mentions the two words 'The Thing' we would all crack up laughing. The laughter increased especially when we had a few drinks and smokes of weed. Over a few days though, Mando became immune to Randy's repeated dings about 'The Thing' that Mando finally laughed about it too. We all had a great time together.
Pineapple Sam originated as a fictional character from the mind of Ismael Tabalno from Hawaii. He is a Kauai local individual of Asian descent who decided to write as a hobby when he retired. Pineapple Sam loved to "talk story" as they say in the islands, now many of his friends and family can still listen or read about his adventures.
Hey Sam, The Thing!!!! LOL That was the good old days