Archive for August, 2015

August 28, 2015

Post 75 — The Girls With Kaleidoscope Eyes

The route from Nadi to Suva.

The route from Nadi to Suva.

The four sweaty girls were crammed in the back of the cab, their legs stuck to the plastic seat. Every once in a while someone shifted and peeled their thighs off the seat, which produced a wet, farting noise. Even after five hours, the girls still giggled every time this happened, causing Jean to sigh and roll her eyes. The cab driver sat in stony silence.

The five of them had landed in Nadi, Fiji and had hired a cab to drive them to the main city of Suva. This had seemed like a good idea until about halfway through the trip when they realized it was 180 miles. This distance was almost incomprehensible to them after spending the last three years on an island that was 18 miles long. After a rocky ride on a dusty, gravel road that went up and down and around a mountain, no one cared about the different scenery anymore. They just wanted to get out of the car and possibly throw up.

“Stop! Look at that cow!” shouted Chrissie, causing the driver to slam on the brakes. The girls took the opportunity to jump out of the cab, glad for any excuse to stretch. A crudely built wooden fence ran along the side of the road, and right in the middle of it was a pathetic cow with its head trapped between the railings.

“Oh, that poor thing,” moaned Carolyn. “Is there any way we can get her out?”

“No, no, no” shouted the cab driver. “You must not remove her. That cow is being punished.”

Jean looked at him in disbelief. “What on earth could a cow do that it would need to be punished?”

“It was swinging on the gate,” he explained, “and it has to learn not to do that. Please get back in the car.”

The older girls exchanged puzzled glances, each of them silently questioning this form of discipline but also kind of wishing they could see a cow swing on a gate, and moved toward the cab. Karen crept forward and extended her hand toward the humiliated bovine, hoping that an empathetic pat would make it feel a little less alone. The cow snorted, stomped its hoof in the dust, and then snapped at her hand like it was a horsefly. She rushed back to the cab and threw herself into the back seat. That cow deserved to be punished.

The island of Fiji is beautiful. It is about 376 sq. miles and full of rolling plains and mountains. They have miles of sugar cane fields, rice fields, huge spreading fat banyan trees with thick twisty trunks, palm trees (naturally), mahogany trees, clumps of bamboo and miles of gorgeous beaches. The airport is at Nadi, which is where we started from, and Suva is the main city. It has sidewalks and curbs and streets: hundreds of little Indian stores and several large department stores. It is a beautiful city. Big trees, hills surrounding the harbor, all green and nicely planted with lovely homes on them. Many big trees throughout the city itself with several large parks — and millions of poinsettia bushes just dripping with huge red blossoms.


The capital city of Suva turned out to be a shopper’s paradise: items were duty-free and quite a bit different from what was available on their island. Jean loved the fact that the girls were old enough to be left alone and had managed to get in a few hours of solo buying that had felt wonderful. She swooned over the gorgeous colors and fabrics in the saris she had found and bought several of them. She would never actually attempt to wear one, but she thought they would make pretty fancy tablecloths.

As she returned to the dignified British resort they were staying at, she was suddenly assaulted by a sound that seemed to shake the whole hotel: “IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY…”

Kathy and Carolyn had done their own swooning earlier in the day, and had found a copy of the just released Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They had pooled their money and bought a portable phonograph so they could immediately listen to the coveted vinyl. As Jean prepared to take Chrissie and Karen down to the pool, the older girls informed her that they preferred to stay inside and listen to the album. They felt that way the next day as well, declining to participate in a tour of the city. And the day after that, instead of going to a movie theatre.

Three days later, they finally emerged from the hotel room, blinking at the bright sunshine. Their skin was blotchy and pale and their stomachs queasy from a diet of room service spaghetti on toast. They watched in astonishment as Karen chatted with a British dowager who had agreeably let the adorable American child try on her tiara, and saw Chrissie engaged in a fierce card game with the proprietor Mr. Koker (“Call me Mr. Koker-nuts!”). Jean was in the lounge having gin and tonics with some sailors and waved gaily at them. Clearly they had missed a few things.

When pressed by their father upon their return to tell him what they liked most about Fiji, they stared blankly at him. “Um . . . well, picture us both in a boat on a river,” began Kathy. “With tangerine trees and marmalade skies!” shouted Carolyn. And they both ran out of the room, laughing hysterically.

Jean looked at Larry and shrugged. She had learned not to question someone else’s interpretation of what constituted a good vacation. She couldn’t wait to try on her new sari.

August 28, 2015

Post 74 — Hondalulu

Motorcycles roaring down the aisle during "The Samoan Fales" were always a big hit.

Motorcycles roaring down the aisle during “The Samoan Fales” were always a big hit.

Jean left the TV studio where she was now employed in the art department and headed toward the car. After three years on the island and copious amounts of salt spray and humidity, the gleaming white Datsun they had purchased their first month there was now barely intact. Large areas of rust spotted the exterior, and in some cases the actual metal had flaked away, leaving holes in the body. The most affected place was the front right quarter panel. On most days you could see right through to the wheel, but not today. Jean was delighted to see that someone had gathered a bouquet of wild ginger and hydrangea and carefully arranged them in the hole, as if the rusting hulk of a vehicle was a delicate vase. She smiled all the way home. She loved this place.

Our car has been rusting very badly but its motor is still good and we are not about to buy new one just to keep up with Larry’s new supervisory position. We have the most recognizable car on the island — fifty percent of the fenders are gone. One of the Samoan boys in my office puts bunches of flowers in the hole — it’s quite jazzy! The car is now being fixed and I have been taking the motorcycle to work. 

Hang on to your disapproval, we bought our own Honda! It is reputed to be the fastest bike on the island, however, this old lady isn’t about to drag race with anybody so I’ll never know for sure. We used the one we borrowed from George a lot and expect to use this one a great deal. Fortunately, the driving age here is eighteen or we would have an eager sixteen-year old breathing down our necks. 

I took Kathy for a ride on the new bike. She was a little apprehensive at first but my confidence won her over. The fact that I was relying on the glasses that make me seasick was the cause of her concern. My old ones cracked right up the nose piece, and these are better than going around blind. I am getting used to them and they don’t bother me too much. I am very conscious of the dark frames but they will do until the new ones arrive. 


Jean’s confidence in her driving skills had increased greatly since the first weeks on the island, when there had been an unfortunate incident that involved a suicidal pig and the front end of the new Datsun. She had sat in the car staring at the stunned pig in the road, unsure whether she should get out and try to administer first aid or drive away like a bat out of hell. She had gone with the latter and felt guilty about it for months. Now she had no qualms about riding the motorcycle through the villages armed with a big stick to bat away the packs of stray dogs who loved to chase Hondas. Life on the island had changed her perspective about many things.

We both realize we were a disappointment last year when we visited Detroit, but I guess the adjustment to coming home was just as great there as it was when we got here. We have both changed so much and we weren’t prepared to come back and have everything be exactly as we left it. I guess it was the fact that we had so little in common with the relatives and we all seemed a little strange. I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful, or maybe I just didn’t explain it well. You all had common experiences and ailments and shared happenings while we just had Samoa, which after the first five minutes of discussion seemed to pale as a fascinating subject. 

Since we won’t be visiting this summer, we all have plans. The girls and I are going to spend a week in Fiji – sort of a consolation prize for not going home. Larry is going to California for several weeks to Stanford with another batch of Samoans. He will be charge of the group this year. And just to show you that we really are all well and happy, we have a surprise – Larry will be able to spend a week in Detroit after CA as a representative of the family! 


August 10, 2015

Post 73 – So Long, Farewell

The view from the cable car platform. Carolyn was not invited to the party.

The view from the cable car platform. Carolyn was not invited to the party.

Staying for the fourth year was the right decision for Larry and Jean, but it was bittersweet. Many of their good friends had completed their contracts and would soon be leaving. The friendships that had formed on the island went deeper than any they had ever made before. Shared experiences in such a unique setting as well as the thrill of being pioneers in a bold new experiment had made for a bond that felt like it would last a lifetime. It wasn’t exactly Band of Brothers, but the past few years of getting the ETV program off the ground had been a little like jungle warfare. The only shooting going on was with a camera, but the conditions had been primitive at best. Not to mention the foot fungus.

There was a core group of six couples that had become close, and two of them were scheduled to leave within a few weeks. One of the ladies also had a birthday coming up and it was decided that a Going Away/Birthday party for the group of twelve would be a nice way to say goodbye. (For those of you who were there, the couples were Gene & Farida, Jay & Patty, Sally & Don, Bob & Tuffy, Larry & Jean and Bill & Jean D., who was also the birthday girl)

A circular concrete observation slab had been poured halfway up the mountain at the boarding point for the cable car. The tramway had been built to allow access to the TV antennae on top of Mt. Alava and the cable stretched nearly a mile across Pago Pago harbor. The journey was shaky and windy with magnificent views that made the rider realize just how small the island was when seen from that height. And also to hope that the end of the cable was tied in a really good knot.

On that night, the observation area held a round picnic table that had been set with white linens, good china, sterling flatware and silver candlesticks. The path up from the parking area was lined with plants and flowers, and the scent of pua blossoms followed them to the top and mixed with the bouquets that adorned the table. The couples started to arrive at sunset, as the blazing rays glinted off the tiny boats in the harbour and the light across the bay was filtered with a rosy glow.

Champagne glasses were filled and held in waiting as the birthday girl climbed up to the area and was astonished to find a formal dinner party breaking out on top of the mountain. Toasts were offered and Happy Birthday! was sung as the group of twelve sat down to a meal of beef stroganoff, asparagus with toasted almonds, seasoned rice and chocolate cake. Background music was provided by a small tape deck, and as dinner progressed, the sun sank below the horizon and a velvet darkness fell over the mountain. Pinpoints of light came on around the harbor and dotted the sides of the hills, but they were insignificant compared to the explosion of stars that filled the sky. Tiny lanterns had been strung around the perimeter to make sure no one fell off the platform, and no one even gave a thought to the fact that all the stuff that had been carried up there was going to have to be carried down.

“The men all wore long pants, shirts and ties and the women long dresses in beautiful prints. There were at least two million stars out and the air was warm with a slight breeze blowing. After a delicious meal, four bottles of wine and all that atmosphere, we were all in a very quiet and slightly unreal mood. So we danced for a little while and then sat around the table looking at the stars and talking about the past three years and all the things that had happened. It was Jeannie’s birthday party but it was actually the Tofa party for the group. There will be others, I suppose, but this was the one that meant the most.”


August 1, 2015

Post 72 — It’s Quarter to Three . . .

palm_originalwebTink. Tink. Tink. Tink.

Jean sat at the typewriter and tried to concentrate. The house felt airless and she wished she could abandon this letter and take Karen over to the pool at the hotel. Karen could use the swimming practice and Jean could sit in the bar, or even get in the water. Anything to delay the inevitable storm this was going to churn up.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Tink.

There was a tapping sound coming from somewhere and it was driving her crazy. It sounded like metal against metal, but in a tinny sort of way. She looked out the front door but didn’t see anyone out there. She listened hard but could not figure out which direction the sound was coming from. It seemed like she had been hearing that noise for weeks now but she couldn’t figure out what it was. She thought about going outside to hunt down the source but realized she was stalling and went back to the typewriter. It was actually Larry’s turn to write but he was busy at rehearsal for the latest incarnation of The Samoan Fales.

April 21, 1967

This is Jean this week, trying to get the letter out before three o’clock.

I guess what I have to say next won’t come as a complete surprise. We won’t be coming home this summer. Larry didn’t get the job he applied for in the states because it was in a supervisory capacity. We have learned that no matter how much ability you have, the teaching profession just doesn’t recognize a plain old teacher as much unless he has “supervisor” after his name. So Larry is going to try to get it here. We don’t know yet exactly what he will be doing but it won’t be teaching on T.V. He is tired of that and the last month or so has been a grind. There is a lot of pressure and tension involved and he has been on T.V., including Detroit, for four and a half years now.

The girls are all agreeable to staying. Kathy has some doubts about her high school work here and so have we, but the advantages out weigh the disadvantagess. Larry will be getting a raise of some sorts and so will I, so between the two of us, we can make a considerable start on a substantial fund for the girls. We figured up the salary he would be getting if we went back plus all the possible expenses and we were right back where we started, breaking even. The girl’s needs are so much greater now and I am afraid we wouldn’t have anything left over for a college fund, and we both feel very strongly about the kids going to college. I know the the thought of another year seems a little dismal to everyone at home but I don’t think it will be much of a hardship for us. We love the house and have many good friends and you can’t beat the social life.

It has bothered us very much knowing that if something happens, we wouldn’t be there to help or just not seeing the family for long and missing everyone. But it boils down to how we can best take care of our family and this seems to be it. I must be honest and say we love it here and the life and the people, coworkers and Samoans. I will also say that if a chance comes for a job somewhere else, we will probably jump at it.

The girls all have itchy feet now and would like to travel when they get on their own. Larry and I will probably be sitting somewhere in our old age waiting for letters from God knows where, too. Still, both sets of parents raised us to be independent so I’m sorry if we are are over doing it!


The year had flown by so quickly that it seemed impossible that it was time for them make the decision about staying again, but the TV program was losing teachers in droves as their contracts expired and the administrators were getting desperate to hang on to experienced personnel. The decision to stay had not really been that difficult for Jean and Larry, but they knew the relatives back home might not feel the same way.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Tink.

Relieved that she had finished the worst of the news, Jean jumped up from the typewriter and threw open the back door. Carolyn was sitting on the step with a spoon in one hand and a quarter in the other, tapping the edges of the silver coin to flatten it out enough to make a ring out of it. She had been working on this particular piece of change for weeks now. She jerked up in surprise at the sight of her mother and dropped the quarter, which bounced on the driveway and then disappeared into the drainage ditch.

“MOM!” she shrieked. “I hate you!” She ran sobbing into the house, slamming the screen door behind her. Jean sighed and went back to the typewriter. Maybe she could stay on the island and all the teen-agers could go back to Detroit.