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.”

Jean

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!

Jean

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.

July 26, 2015

Post 71 — Highs and Lows

Larry on TV in a village classroom.

Larry on TV in a village classroom.

Larry sat on the front steps of the house, waiting for dinner. Man, he was tired. He thought about going back in for his cigarettes but then decided against it. The last bill from the general store showed he had been buying far more Winstons than he thought, and he should probably think about cutting back.

A young Samoan boy walked past the house, paused, then waved and shouted “Hi, Larry.” He walked up and said he was from the village of Ili’ili and was just visiting in town. Larry had never quite gotten used to being recognized on the island but he had to admit it was flattering.

The boy was thrilled to meet one of his teachers in person and began a long complimentary monologue on how much the TV program had done for him. “I have learned more in the past two years than I ever have in school!” he declared. His English was very good and he gave credit to the Oral English programs that ran daily. He also said he thought the Hygiene program had been great for keeping the villages clean, although many of the kids found it hard to convince their elders to follow the guidelines.

“We realized we probably wouldn’t be able to reach the parents,” Larry explained, “but we hoped that the kids would pass it on down to their kids.”

The boy nodded and shook his hand, and then headed off toward the malai in town for a football game. Larry went in the house to find his cigarettes.

April 17, 1966 

“George Pittman is back . . . George is the language specialist from Australia who designed the English curriculum. About a week ago, I conducted a testing program with him to see how the Oral English program is fairing. Pat L. and I tested a group of kids from a TV school and George tested kids from village schools which haven’t started TV yet. The kids from the TV school were so far ahead in English speaking and comprehension that even George was amazed. He told me he felt this program would work, but he didn’t realize how quickly and how well it would take effect.

We haven’t gotten much done at the studio this week, even though the whole staff worked while school was out for spring vacation. Vernon Bronson is back after a year’s absence and he’s raising hell because he feels the project has been deviating from his master plan. We’ve been snowed under with meetings, discussions, and re-organization. Actually, the elementary section has been operating smoothly, but the high school program has been receiving a great deal of criticism about not meeting the needs of Samoan kids. The long break after the hurricane enabled us to get several weeks ahead in our taping schedule and Bronson is angry about this because he feels we should be doing programs one day and sending them out the next day so we can keep modifying as we go along. Unfortunately when you’re sending out about 175 programs per week, that cushion gives you a nice feeling of security. “

Larry

Jean wandered through the wards full of hospital beds, looking for her husband. Larry had been admitted yesterday after feeling light-headed at the TV studio. Weeks of worrying about the program and sleeping badly had finally caught up with him. He had gone to the doctor for a quick visit and had been checked in immediately, after being given an ultimatum: he could walk in on Friday or be carried in next week. His last experience at the hospital had been over a year ago when he had hurt his back and Jean had called for an ambulance; two men had arrived with a pick-up truck to take him into town. So walking in was definitely preferred.

The doctor believed that he had completely exhausted himself and simply needed to stop everything and rest. Vitamins, sleeping pills and no cameras in his face were prescribed, and the cure seemed to be working. Apart from the times when the nurses turned on all the lights during the night to make the roaches scatter from the pillows, he had been sleeping soundly and had even had time to read a bit. Tests had been completed and the results showed that he was in fine health, just very, very tired.

Jean finally found her husband’s bed in the large room and saw that he was napping. His color was better, although he was still pretty pale by comparison, being the only palagi in the ward. She found a chair and pulled it up next to the bed, waiting for him to wake up. The room was cool and quiet, with ceiling fans set at a drowsy speed. Her eyes slowly closed and as she drifted off, she wondered what she would have to do to get admitted, too. This was so much nicer than home.

July 18, 2015

Post 70 — Smells Like Teen Spirit (Part 2)

Chrissie looks on as Kathy gets made up for the lead in "Harlequin", wondering why her sister gets everything and she has to be in the ensemble.

Chrissie looks on as Kathy gets made up for the lead in “Harlequin”, wondering why her sister gets everything and she has to be in the ensemble.

Chrissie flicked the cigarette butt out of the treehouse and pumped her fist in triumph as it sailed across the yard and landed in the drainage ditch, sinking with a little sizzle. She pulled out another unfiltered Winston from the package and lit it with a sigh. It was easy enough to charge cigarettes to the family account at the store, but it had to be the brand her dad smoked to avoid calling attention to the scam. She wished he smoked Kools – those sounded so much better.

She thought about actually inhaling with this one, but changed her mind. She was mostly interested in how dramatic it looked to gesture with a lit cigarette in her hand; she would worry about the actual smoking part later.

Her sisters mocked her treehouse but it was nice to have somewhere to go to be alone. Their new house was huge but it always seemed to be filled with Kathy and Carolyn’s friends, and it was tough trying to keep up with that crowd. Here she could be alone with her thoughts and the two small trolls she had brought up to keep her company. She had passed her troll house and the extensive collection of accessories down to Karen, stating that she was bored with the silly dolls and would rather play with Barbies now. But for some reason the busty dolls didn’t make her as happy as the trolls had. Barbie always seemed a little too judgemental.

“Chris is having her group over during the day. There are seven sixth grade girls that are bosom buddies, and I use that word carefully about that blossoming group. There are also five brave seventh grade boys that aren’t afraid of them. The difference in numbers doesn’t seem to bother anyone . . . the whole group is slightly nutty and have fun together. I think they will have a weenie roast and an egg hunt, plus other activities Chrissie is supposed to organize. “

Jean

Her heart stopped, along with the bottle, right in front of Kevin, the boy she had been crushing on all year.

The activity she had organized had been put on hold until her mother went over to a neighbor’s for coffee, but now the group was deeply invested in a game of Spin the Bottle, which was way more fun than the egg hunt had been.

Kevin grabbed her hand and she followed him into the closet. The cramped, dark space was even hotter than the room, with a funky teenage boy smell that was only slightly masked by the overpowering aroma of English Leather, the scent of choice for all males under the age of 15 on the island. Her hands were sweating and she wiped them surreptitiously on the back of her shorts.

Chrissie’s thoughts were all over the place as she prepared for her first kiss. How exactly was this supposed to work? What position was the nose supposed to be in so it wouldn’t be in the way? Should she lick her lips first? She had just decided that when the party was over she would start a diary so she could record this memory but she wouldn’t begin with Dear Kitty because Anne Frank had already used that and look what happened to her when Kevin grabbed her and kissed her full on the mouth. She stood frozen for a moment, and then relaxed a little as their mouths shifted, trying to find a better fit. She started to feel a little tingly and was thinking that this might be okay when, out of nowhere, his tongue slipped into her mouth. She pulled back in horror, and frantically wiped the shared spit off her lips. No one had told her about this part! This was almost too disgusting to contemplate and she pushed past him and out of the closet and went to sit next to her friend Liz in the circle.
“What happened? Did he try to grab something?” she whispered?
“He stuck his tongue out!” Chrissie hissed, trying to look calm but wanting to wash her mouth out with orange Fanta.
“He’s supposed to do that!” crowed Liz, much louder than was necessary. “I can’t believe you didn’t know that!”

Kevin sat down across from her looking embarrassed and the group seem to find the whole thing entertaining, with the boys smacking each other and the girls giggling nervously.

At that moment, Chrissie would have welcomed a tidal wave; a big wall of water that would wash through the room and carry away all of her friends and deposit them on the other side of the island where she would never have to see them again. French class was going to be hell on Monday.

July 13, 2015

Post 69 — Smells Like Teen Spirit (Part 1)

Kathy poses for the camera.

Kathy poses for the camera.

“The girls are all fine, still fighting and being adolescent but I hope they will outgrow it. We have had an addition to the family TV watching; Ken D., Kathy’s boyfriend. He is fifteen and a nice boy. I guess once Kathy realized we would behave ourselves and not embarrass her, she started to invite him over here. Actually we are quite a nice couple. I wonder how long it will be before Kathy and Carolyn realize it. Carolyn wants so desperately to be “cool” but hasn’t quite managed it. She is coming along, but we are a big trial to her. “

Jean

The move into town seemed to cross the line of demarcation between the sweetness of childhood and the raging hormones of adolescence. Kathy and Carolyn had both become teenagers while the family lived in Tafuna, but they started acting like them once they were in the big city. Back in the states, rock n’ roll was everywhere and the music exploded across the ocean so quickly that even the smallest trickle down to Samoa gave a new soundtrack to the lives of the teenagers on the island. The Coconut Hit Parade was a local radio program that stayed fairly current with the rock n’roll sound back home, and the island kids combed the stores for that rare shipment of records that might show up and be shelved between the papayas and powdered milk.

Kathy had been sent into to town to pick up a few items for dinner, and as she slouched through the store, she happened to notice a milk crate filled with records in the corner of B. F. Kneubel’s, a store that sold just about anything that came in on a boat.  She casually flipped through the pile of albums, not because she was particularly interested in them but because the longer she stayed away, the higher the odds were that Carolyn would have to peel the potatoes.

Halway through the stack, she paused and gasped, and then looked around quickly to see if anyone was within grabbing distance. Sandwiched between Great Samoan Siva Songs and The Royal Tahitians Sing Minoi Minoi Minoi was a brand new copy of the Beach Boys Summer Days. Although the album was a year old in the states, finding it here felt like she had just been invited to a party at Capitol Records. She charged the prize to her family’s account and floated home, blissfully unconcerned that she would be babysitting for the next month to pay it off.

“Next weekend Kathy is having a party. These are very large noisy affairs, I am told. With a band and something like a hundred kids. The house will be able to take it; I hope I can!

Jean

“Friday night was the hottest night of the year. It was absolutely still and terribly humid. Unfortunately, that was the night Kathy had picked for her “little party”! She’s gone to quite a few teenage bashes since she joined the “in group” and has bugged us to let her give one. I’ve been using the convenient excuse, “well, if we had a bigger house . . .,” but now that we’ve got the much, much bigger house, we ran out of excuses. It wasn’t the idea of the party that bugged us so much as the extent of it. It seems like a teen brawl isn’t complete here without a rock and roll band and 100 or so screaming participants. So that’s what we ended up with. My God, the noise! These rock and roll groups all use amplifiers on their electric guitars and they have one setting —LOUD. The party group was made up of about 50-50 Samoan and palagi teen agers from the high schools. The noise was unbelievable even though the group was pretty well behaved. What got us was the sloppiness. We had several hundred cupcakes and about 30 gallons of Kool Aid, all of which was consumed, except the stuff that got on the floor or got ground into the mats. I don’t think any of these kids ever picked anything up in their lives. They spilled Kool Aid, dropped cupcakes, got gum on their shoes, and heel marks on the walls, since no teenager can stand on two feet. The only way they can stand is to perch on one leg like a flamingo and rub the other foot on the wall behind them. Kathy was thrilled with the turnout, and the crazy kids danced all night despite the heat. Jean and I played cards with another couple in the kitchen and we could feel the floor swaying with the fruggin’ and the jerking or whatever the hell they call what they do. Now that Kathy has fulfilled her social obligations, we can all rest easy for a awhile. “

Larry

June 30, 2015

Post 68 — Tastes Like Chicken

Karen at Tafuna, before Elizabeth came into her life.

Karen at Tafuna, before Elizabeth came into her life.

Karen was bored. Second grade wasn’t particulary challenging for her and she frequently found herself sighing with exasperation. Her teacher had wanted to skip her to third grade but her father had vetoed the idea; something about her “lacking in social skills,” whatever those were. Idiots.

Everyone else in the family had been thrilled with the move into town, but Karen wasn’t so sure. She had had complete autonomy in Tafuna and had spent hours wandering around and visiting with neighbors, especially the ones who had no adorable little girls of their own. She was petted and spoiled and given way more ice cream than her sisters. She really wanted to brag about this to someone but suspected her mother would put a stop to it if she found out, so she kept quiet. It would taste so much better if Chrissie had found out about it — that would teach her to call Karen “snot nose.”

But there would be no more ice cream because she had been restricted now that they were in town. The front door was four feet from the road and everyone on the island drove like they were from Western Samoa, so crossing the street was forbidden. She could play in the backyard and try to climb up to Chrissie’s treehouse, which was a rotting piece of plywood shoved in the crook of a tree, but that thing was terrifying. The yard had tufts of scraggly grass that sloped up into a steep hill that eventually turned into a mountain. Houses were tucked amid the increasing vegetation and a Catholic church shone white against the greenery. One of Karen’s favorite things about Sundays was the call to mass that was sounded by the men of the congregation by beating on old oxygen tanks, the sound ringing out across the mountain. She thought she might like to live near bells one day.

On one side of the house, there was something that was either a drainage ditch or a raging torrent, depending upon how much it had recently rained. Right now it was quite shallow, which was fortunate because the neighbor’s pet pig was snorkeling around in there looking for scraps. Karen wished she had a pet. She didn’t think a pig would be a very good idea because she would want it to sleep on her bed and this one weighed about 300 lbs., but it would be nice to have one of her own that she didn’t have to share. Being the youngest of four was a constant trial.

Last week a chicken “followed” Karen home from school, so after the old “Gee, Mom it won’t eat very much” routine, I relented. It is a tiny yellow chick who has been named Elizabeth. She was right, it doesn’t eat much, at a time; just constantly. 

Jean

Elizabeth was a pretty formal name for such a tiny chicken, but Karen felt she had regal bearing and could live up to it. The chick was devoted to Karen, following her around and playfully pecking at her toes. Karen had made a little bed for her out of a cardboard box that she placed in the corner of her room. She had wanted the chick to sleep with her but changed her mind pretty quickly when she woke up in a bed full of squishy brown stuff. The chicken showed no interest in being housebroken and was therefore allowed to go in and out as she pleased, much to the annoyance of the house girl who had to keep opening the screen door. She never voiced her opinion about having a chicken living in the house, but her body language was clearly saying “crazy white people”.

Elizabeth had few talents that would endear her to normal people, save for one: she was a hunter. The sound of her tiny talons clacking on the wooden floor would suddenly speed up, followed by a satisfying crunch as she captured a roach and bit it in half. This was quite an accomplishment considering the roaches were almost as big as she was. She ate constantly, devouring bugs and seeds and anything she found on the floor, including bits of chicken that Karen cluelessly dropped from the table for her as a treat. The irony was lost on both of them.

After a few weeks, the thrill of having a chicken follow her around had waned a bit, and Karen didn’t realize she hadn’t seen Elizabeth until almost a full day had passed. A search party was formed and sent out to scour every inch of the yard. The girls were looking in the back while Larry trained a flashlight under the house, which was built up on stilts in case the drainage ditch flooded. This was the dry season so there was mostly dirt and garbage under there; and unfortunately, the lifeless corpse of the beloved Elizabeth.

From the condition of the body, which appeared to have been separated from the head in a grisly matter, Larry surmised that a stray dog must have gotten to her. It could also have been the pig next door, but Elizabeth had been pretty fast so that seemed unlikely. Wrapping her up in a handkerchief, he quickly deposited her in a garbage can and then went to break the news to his youngest: her chicken had crossed the road and was now on the other side.

June 20, 2015

Chapter 9: Post 67— Aaaand We’re Back

Larry in front of the house in town.

Larry in front of the house in town.

June 5, 1966

The present plans are still that we will leave here June 20 for Honolulu. The plane departs here about 3:00 A.M. on its way from Sydney to Hawaii. I don’t think we’ll bother staying in Hawaii, but will go on through to L.A. or Frisco, depending on our connections. We’ll probably spend one night, Monday night, in California to rest up because that’s a ten-hour flight from Samoa, not counting the stop over in Honolulu. This means we’ll be getting into Detroit sometime Tuesday afternoon; but I won’t know just when until the final details are worked out. As soon as I know the arrival time, I’ll let you know, even if it necessitates calling from California.

I have about eight weeks annual leave accumulated, but I’m not planning on taking it all. Within the last couple of weeks, a situation came up whereby the U.S. Office of Education gave us a grant of 28,000 dollars to enable a group of Samoan leaders to go to the states and learn more about the country. They’re going to spend seven weeks at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, near San Francisco. During this period, they will take field trips to various industries, National Parks, etc. and study the mountains, deserts, rivers, etc. and other physical features of California.

The Samoans who are going are all members of the Education Dept., mostly Supervisors and Principals who have never been off the island. The purpose of the trip is to give them a broader view of the rest of the world so they can do a better job of passing that on to the Samoan students. Roy C., the poker playing friend of mine who is in charge of teacher training is going to be in charge of the group of about 20 Samoans during this period. He could use some help and asked it I would assist him. So I’m going to meet the group at Stanford about July 18, and spend the last three weeks with them … So if this works out the way we anticipate, I’Il be home for about four weeks, but the rest of the family will be there most of the summer.

Larry

Two and a half months later:*

August 20, 1966

Well, Tuesday is the big day. The broads arrive back in Samoa at 2:10 pm, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s about time.

Boy, has this been a quiet house for the past few weeks. A little solitude may be all right at times, but this is ridiculous. The cat and I have reached the point where we snarl at each other when we go by, just so we’ll have a little noise in the house. I didn’t mind so much the first week because all I did was try to catch up on my sleep after getting back from that exhausting California trip on August 9. I’ve been well taken care of since I arrived back. I’ve only cooked two meals — dinner invitations took care of the rest.

Larry

Sept. 9, 1966

School starts Sept. 19, and things are ready to start moving. We’re starting three weeks earlier than last year and have almost our complete program going. We have 19 elementary consolidated schools and 2 high schools, whoops, that’s 3 high schools since the new one in the Manua Islands is ready to go also. We expect to have about 90% of the kids on the islands watching our programs this year. Two elementary schools are not ready yet, but we expect them to join us soon, making our program complete. There are still a couple of isolated villages on the north side of the island which will not be served by TV so they will still operate in grass huts with village teachers. This year my programs will be seen in every school, both elementary and high school because I’m teaching in Levels 4 & 5. Level 5 includes the 8th grade in elementary and 9th in secondary. The schedule is still, heavy, 13 programs per week, but we’re getting a much better start than we have in the past.

Last Wednesday night we had a PWFL dinner party for 18 people at our pad. It was a People Who Fed Larry when he was batching it for two weeks deal. We had a big Samoan spaghetti dinner. Our housegirl made Samoan plates from braided coconut palm leaves and we lined them with aluminum foil so the noodles wouldn’t fall through the holes. We drank Italian wine from kava cups (made from coconuts cut in half) and ate sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by tropical flowers. After dinner we all adjourned to the piano room and sang old songs (no one knows any new ones). All told it was a very pleasant evening and everyone really enjoyed it. They all want to do it again next week.

Tomorrow night we are invited to a Roman orgy out in Tafuna were we all have to dress as Greeks and Romans. It’s good to be home!

Larry

*See Word of the Day for explanation of this time period.

June 12, 2015

Post 66 — In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

Larson's Bay (photo by David/Kathy Kane)

Larson’s Bay (photo by David/Kathy Kane)

Pushing through the jungle was like an experiment in sensory confusion thought Chrissie, as she followed her sisters down the uneven trail. There was an immediate temperature drop so she felt cooler, but the humidity was worse because the breeze was blocked by the dense foliage so she felt hotter. The light was dappled and in some cases obscured, so as her vision lessened, her sense of touch was heightened. Vague shadows brushed her face. Her imagination ran wild; every shriek from the canopy could be a monkey, every hanging vine might be a poisonous snake! It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

The path they were on was more of a half-road through part of a banana plantation than a full-scale expedition to find Dr. Livingston, but the Broquet girls read a lot and had a bit of a dramatic side. Also, no monkeys or poisonous snakes on the island. The half-mile hike through the jungle was one of their favorite outings; eventually the path would turn into a steep hill and they would struggle to the top, grasping roots to pull themselves up as their feet in slippery thongs scrambled for better footing. Going down was even worse but well worth it, for the roar in the distance meant they were about experience the magnificent vista that was Larson’s Bay, the premiere swimming spot of the whole island.

Getting there was a challenge, but that was what made it so great. Once you cleared the hill and burst out of the jungle, there was a sparkling ocean waiting for you to plunge into and wash off any vegetation that was stuck to your sweaty body. The sand was fine and white and the waves were big and blue, and the whole beach looked like it could be on the cover of a tourist brochure.

Jean has been arranging a safari to Larson’s Bay for July 4th. This is a beautiful little cove with a lovely beach accessible only by a hike through the jungle.  She’s got about seven families lined up for the trek and the way these things snowball half the island might show up. The last time we were there a bunch of Samoan kids were giving me the business about swimming there because some of them used it for a john. Oh well, at least the Hygiene program has them thinking about where they go.

Larry

We had a 4th of July picnic expedition . . . to Larson’s Bay. The secluded island paradise reachable through half mile of crawling through the jungle . . . it sounds so Polynesian, doesn’t it? Anyhow, about 19 of us formed a safari and took a lunch into the wilds. When we got there, our secluded rendezvous was crawling with TV personnel. 

So with the people already there and our gang, we had about 36 people, all playing in the waves and getting sunburned. This was the first time we ever had the Samoans outnumbered! It was a beautiful day and the breakers were coming in like crazy. It was too rough to swim and a little too dangerous to go out too far so we were all riding in the breakers in the shallow part. Yes, Grandma, there is an undertow, and we were all extremely careful because we don’t care for the idea of drowning anymore than you do. 

Jean

On one side of the beach there was a lava rock that jutted out over the water. Chrissie stood on the sand and watched Carolyn get ready to jump off of it. If you timed it perfectly, you could leap out over the ocean into a breaking wave that would carry you all the way up onto the beach, rolling and gagging on salt water and shrieking with delight at the adrenalin rush. If you didn’t time it perfectly . . . well, sometimes collecting shells on the beach was fun, too.

Her father was lounging on the sand with some of the other TV teachers when a group of Samoan boys ran past her, giggling and pointing. They starting shouting “Lar-ee! Lar-ee!” and then gathered around her father, all of them gesturing and talking at the same time in Samoan. It suddenly dawned on Chrissie that her father was a celebrity, his Hygiene & Sanitation program on how to go to the bathroom shown all over the island. It was the most embarrassing thing that she could possibly imagine, and this was from a girl who had already lost her bathing suit top at a water ballet.

Here is a wonderful video I found on the web. I don’t know the Kuhne family but I want to thank them for taping their trek through the jungle to Larson’s Bay in 2010. This brought back so many memories! (no copyright infringement intended)

June 8, 2015

Post 65 — We Are Eager to Learn

The front row is kneeling on coral! That is why I'm in the back. I'm the one with the really crooked bangs.

The front row is kneeling on coral! That is why I’m in the back. I’m the one with the really crooked bangs.

The stainless steel segmented lunch tray looked like it might have been left over from the filming of Riot in Cell Block 11. Dented and the color of melted guns, its heavy weight was only a fraction of how the stuff piled on it was going to sit in your stomach. In one corner, there was a pyramid of canned grayish-green beans. There was no need to check the expiration date on the can because the amount of salt mixed in with the beans came out to a ratio of 70/30. These beans couldn’t have gone bad even if they had wanted to. Section two contained an assortment of stewed plums swimming in so much syrup that holding them down and drowning them seemed like the better option than eating them. And finally, the largest middle segment held a big scoop of canned corned beef mixed with coconut milk and rice that was the government-surplus version of the Samoan classic dish, pisupo.

Chrissie stared at her lunch and questioned her life. How could anyone think this was what a growing child should, or would, eat? The everyday problems of fifth grade —cliques, math, boys— all faded away when she faced the daily dilemma of how to stomach what the school laughingly referred to as a “well-balanced” meal. She assumed the protein part of the food pyramid was represented by the insect that crawled out of her rice that she half-heartedly flicked away. After two years on the island, she didn’t even bother to get worked up about bugs anymore. She glanced around the cavernous cafeteria and saw that the teachers from the TV studio were eating there, too. If she could find her father, she might be able to talk him out of fifty cents. Continue reading

May 31, 2015

Post 64 — Tapa the Morning to You (Part 2)

Carolyn's birthday tapa

Carolyn’s birthday tapa, which hangs in her dining room some fifty years later.

Some of the souvenirs never got sent home because Jean couldn’t bear to part with them, and this was particularly true of the tapas. She loved the earth tone palettes and the primitive designs. Although she was raised in a quiet suburb of Detroit, she had the bargaining skills of a Turkish vendor setting up shop at the Grand Covered Bazaar in Istanbul, but once she found out how labor-intensive the tapa cloth process was, she felt guilty haggling about price. It didn’t stop her, but she sure felt guilty.

Jean had always had an artistic side but had never had an opportunity to explore it growing up. The uninhibitedness of the island seemed to shake something free in her, and she started printmaking and painting. Or maybe it was the humidity. Either way, her admiration of the tapa design work and skill drove her to not only collect tapas but also to explore her own creative side. Continue reading

May 22, 2015

Post 63 — Tapa the Morning to You (Part 1)

May 15, 2015

Post 62 — Downtown (Where All the Lights Are Bright)

The view from the front of the house. The dog was optional.

The view from the front of the house. The dog was optional.

Before the decision to NOT to move home had been made, the family had decided to move home. But this move was only 7 miles, from Tafuna into Fagatogo, not 7000 miles back to Detroit. It took almost as long. Continue reading

May 8, 2015

Post 61 — There’s No Place Like Home

Karen knows being the baby is best.

Karen knows being the baby is best.

As the months on the island passed and the Broquets came to view Samoa as home, the letters to the family back in Detroit changed. Originally three to four pages long, now they were barely two full pages (unless there was a hurricane, in which case – six pages, single spaced!). Somewhere after the first year, Larry and Jean made a remarkable discovery: carbon paper could cut their letter writing time in half. They were upfront about it to their parents, making sure that each set got one original page and one carbon, as if that somehow justified that they weren’t spending hours on each letter. Larry embraced the concept wholeheartedly, although fully one-third of his letters ended with “Oh hell! I just discovered I had the carbon in backwards again!” Since all the big expository subjects had already been described in the missives of the last eighteen months, the letters now described parties, the children, the weather, and what they had for dinner. And hints. Lots and lots of hints. Continue reading

May 1, 2015

Post 60 – The Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel

An overhead shot of the Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel, in front of the mountain known as Rainmaker.

An overhead shot of the Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel, in front of the mountain known as Rainmaker.

The pre-pubescent bathing beauties stood poised around the edge of the pool, equally spaced and smiling fiercely, hands above their heads as they prepared to dive into a production number that would showcase their new swimming skills. They wore matching two-piece white bathing suits patterned with large red hibiscus flowers that had started life as lava lavas.

Chrissie was second to last in the line as she waited for the music cue. She spotted her parents sitting in the crowd and had to stop herself from waving. This was not only her very first water ballet but also her first two-piece suit, and the impulse to tug up the top was almost as strong as wanting to wave. The knot from the halter was digging into her neck but she didn’t dare put her arms down for fear of ruining the tableaux. Continue reading

April 24, 2015

Post 59 – The Hurricane: Aftermath (Part 4)

 Larry