Sparked by Words

X is for X-tra Effort

 

 

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X is for X-tra effort to make it perfect – what, you thought it would be Xtorbulating Xminogus in stories? Oh, please, Xtor-Xmin is so commonly discussed these days – you knew I’d have to find a unique topic.

We moved from blizzardly New Jersey to tropical Hawaii when I had just entered sixth grade. It was a bad year for a kid to move, but any year is a bad one for kids. I had to start all over trying to make friends, when I’d only learned the art of social graces the year before and still needed lotsa practice. But my dad was sick and tired of shoveling snow out of the driveway at ten p.m. to make a house call for someone with a cold who thought the weather too dastardly to have come to my dad’s office. What, the blizzard was kinder to my dad late at night than to them earlier in the afternoon?

So I stood at my bedroom window overlooking the driveway and cried while I watched my dad’s bent back, scraping and lifting, scraping and lifting, while the drifts of snow roared down like waves at the ocean, crashing over him in thick inches of icy blanket. I don’t even remember what time he got home that evening, but it must not have been long afterward that he said he’d had enough. He and my mom told me we were going to have a one-year adventure in Hawaii, and then we’d return to family and friends on the East Coast. I had all summer to spend with my New Jersey friends, and I blabbered endlessly about how much fun it would be. I never thought about how much I might miss everyone because I didn’t yet realize it would be the last time I’d see them.

We made an X-tra effort to have a great time those last six months. We hosted and were hosted. My friends even managed to coax me into a basement, though I was terrified of their darkness. There I was greeted by a gaggle of girls yelling, “Surprise,” and we celebrated our friendship a few weeks before leaving the East Coast. Did they miss me as much as I missed them? Probably not. My letters “home” were much longer and more frequent than any that were sent to me. Still, I figured I was the one having the adventure, it should be my responsibility to write all about the island paradise where we lived.

Of course, it wasn’t. Paradise that is. I couldn’t understand pidgin English and the Hawaiian kids couldn’t understand my New York-New Jersey accent along with a smattering of Yiddish. It was more than the thick accents on either end. It was also the local slang that defined our unique patois. Da kine meant something to them, mostly that they couldn’t understand me. My exclamation of oy vey iz mir meant I hardly knew where to start. They used their catch all phrase to let me know I wasn’t making any sense. My X-tra effort to understand not only their language but also their Hawaiian culture was often met with disdain, and I was left in tears. Woeful indeed was I.

A white plumeria tree grew over a tiny pond my dad built in our front yard in Oahu. A waterfall trickled down a tumble of lava rocks, adding the sound of splattering water. Five flitting sparks of black, orange, and yellow koi lived in the pond.  They learned to swim to the center of the pond to wait for dinner at the sound of the sliding door opening but ignored the front door opening, even though it was just inches away from the slider. I’d spent dozens of hours sitting patiently teaching the fish to come to the sound of the slider.

Many years after we moved back to the mainland, (California) my dad planted a single pink plumeria stalk. Twenty five years later it had become the queen of the yard, gracing us with a wide canopy of shade and thousands of blossoms wavering in the breeze like pink koi. The house is long sold, my father long passed, and one of my sweetest mementoes is the lei he made me of those plumeria blossoms, now a dried bundle in a ceramic pitcher. So much X-tra effort on my dad’s part.

A story should be something special, a surprise like the one my New Jersey friends gave me with a going away party, like the plumeria blossom lei my dad made for me, like teaching fish to come for food. I hadn’t been able to make human friends in Hawaii, as much my fault as anyone’s, but I’d made friends with five koi who lived in the shade of a plumeria. Writing is as much a memory of events as a fabrication of senses. X-tra effort brings it to life.

 

Plumeria image courtesy: commons.wikipedia.org

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Comments on: "X is for X-tra Effort" (35)

  1. I still remember like it was yesterday–the heartbreak on my son’s face when I told him we were moving from NJ to Upstate NY. He got over it (he’s an extremely social person and quickly made friends). My mother in a rare fit of anger told me I was a selfish bitch to take the kids away. Fun times 🙂 How much selfishness is okay when being a parent, I wonder.

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    • OMG, I’m falling out of my chair, laughing about your mom. Mine told me that I should stop nursing my son so she could feed him a bottle of formula! How outrageous is that generation?!

      I’m glad your son made the best of moving to another state. Few kids like that kind of change. I readily admit much of my social problems were inadequacy on my part. I still don’t know how to make friends and feel like I should walk around with a flashing badge pinned to my shirt: “Need a Friend? Call Me – I’m Desperate.” Of course, they’ll start calling me Desperate and that will be my new name – LOL.

      Thanks for your funny comment, Adrienne. Always enjoy hearing from you.

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      • Thanks for the return laugh! I want a shirt like yours. I’ve given up being desperate about it though. 🙂 I do like you! Maybe we should be friends. (see how awkward I am?)
        My mother always warned me not to trust women friends. I’m painting her to be a monster but she is the sweetest person (almost too virtuous). But there is that dark side too. She was very anti-breastfeeding as well. I was the stereotypical perfectionist mother so I gave it a try but admit that I caved in to the family shaming of it. I partly thought it was too intimate–haha!

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      • Maybe our mothers should be friends!

        Ach, no one wants my shirt, but you and I are already friends. She says with an awkward glance at the dust on her shoes.

        I loved breastfeeding – it made me sit down for 20 minutes a few times every day and just enjoy the wonder of my sons. It is intimate but not sexual. The perfect mother-child bond, even if only for a day or two.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I did it for a few months with each child making sure to do the exact same amount for the next child just in case later they could come back and accuse me of being unfair. 🙂

        Back then I felt I always had to stay busy so that quiet time was a very difficult thing for me initially–thank God I eventually learned how to enjoy my kids (though I still feel there’s not enough hours in the day!).

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      • Everyone has to make their own decision which is why I was so angry with my mom, and why I don’t pass judgement on women who choose not to breastfeed. Some women can’t do it at all. There are so many ways of building bonds with our kids and that’s key. I admire those who find creative and exciting ways of being part of their kids’ lives. Aren’t you the one who has gamboling goats? What more could a child ask for than to chase after the other kids in the family? I nearly went out to buy a goat for our grandkids after seeing your photos of them.

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      • They’re trouble, I tell you! But I do love them. (Last night I had a weird dream of moving into town though–a run-down Victorian with lots of secret spaces).

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      • Oh my gosh, Adrienne, you chase them in your dreams?! Must keep you X-tra fit! I’m rolling on the floor in laughter – gotta get me a goat.

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      • More like exhausted 🙂

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      • I’m holding my sides, I’m laughing so hard.
        Laughing with you of course, not at you.
        But laughing hugely – I can just see the little kids running everywhere, you chasing after them, trying to keep your hat on your head, and when it finally slides off, one of the little kids happily chomps it to shreds.

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      • I have had a few hats–and manuscript pages torn from me! My husband says I’m far more forgiving of animal behaviors than husband behaviors. I say he’s more forgiving of sports stars. 🙂

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      • That forgiveness thing is really important. We’ve got it going around here all the time, on all sides.
        Be well, Adrienne.

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  2. More history I didn’t know about you. My son had a chance to transfer to Hawaii (with the Army) and passed. I think it’s a paradise only for visitors. I rarely hear people who loved living there.

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    • Would your son have been stationed on Oahu? It’s very crowded and touristy. The big problem with Hawaii is you can’t drive to visit family on the Mainland. However, I think it’s very different from when I lived there.

      I know quite a few people who live there today and love it, some on Oahu and some on Maui. Our neighbors’ daughter went to U of H, earned undergrad and masters, met her fiance there. They were married on Maui last weekend, and both already teach: him at U of Hawaii, her at Punahou, where I attended 6th and 7th grades, and my life was unbearably lonely. Punahou has since become a truly outstanding school, and this young couple loves living in Hawaii. We plan to take our sons and families to Maui in 4 years for one big family vacation. It will be the first time I’ll return since I was 13, the first time for Bob since the terrible accident that required his jaw to be wired shut for 6 months – another strange story.

      Have you visited Hawaii? It is truly beautiful, especially if you can get away from the touristy areas and visit some of the mountains and beaches that are less popular. The oceans and inland waterfalls are gorgeous, the Arizona Memorial is deeply moving. You might consider a second honeymoon – just saying. 😀

      Thank you for reading this, Jacqui.

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  3. As a kid I always lived in New York. I thought it was an advantage never moving cause you kept the same friends. But now, I think you had the better option. Experiencing different states gave you an automatic advantage as a writer. Didn’t it? You have a wider perspective on quality of life from living in different ares.

    Is this not true?.

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    • I thought about your comment all afternoon before I responded, Andrew. This was a very long answer originally so I cut out about 90%. If you want to read the whole thing, let me know if I may contact you at your email.

      One thing all the continual uprooting taught me was how to be sensitive to other people: to those whose religion, skin color, language, social standing, physical presence, or ethnic background was different from my own. I felt so much pain and isolation that I always sensed it in other people, and still do. My stories reflect this, though I don’t write autobiography or memoir.

      Would I wish this kind of background on anyone else? Never. As a parent, we have moved once since our kids were born, and I made sure to give our two sons as much support as I could during that one move. My sons have learned much the same sense of compassion toward others without the moving trauma I suffered.

      A provocative question, Andrew.

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  4. Not sure your state-side friends didn’t write as much as you did because they didn’t miss you – it’s more likely that they weren’t budding writers!
    Great remembrances Shari, – Xtremely well written, Xtraordinarly interesting and Xcellent memoir story. Enjoyed it a lot!

    Only been to Kuai (once) and it was beeeeeeee-u-t-ful

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    • I like the way you always find the bright side, Judy. The islands are X-stonishingly gorgeous and the history of the islands and the people is enchanting on so many levels.
      I’m glad you liked the story. Looking back, I loved the islands and its rich mythology but was so very lonely.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, that’s what I’m shooting for with my story. I want the reader to remember passages after he/she has closed the book for the last time. I want the reader to recommend it to a friend.

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    • By the examples you’ve posted on your blog, Glynis, you are getting there. Many of your passages and especially your character sketches are deeply moving. I always look forward to your next entry because the previous ones are touching.

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  6. That is a lovely memoir, and an apt analogy. I enjoyed this. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

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  7. What a great story – how same situations can feel completely different, depending on age. Most grown-ups would drool at the idea of living in Hawaii, whereas yes, it’s totally another thing for a 12-year-old.

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    • It’s been decades, Da Al. I actually also lived in Hawaii for one year when I was four, my dad interning at Tripler Army Hospital on Oahu. I really did live in paradise then, but I had no responsibilities and a view limited by the small area where I was allowed to play. I’m different now as well. I think everything is significantly different today. I’ve gained some maturity and can see things through a more compassionate lens. I would love to return and see the islands again. Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. For someone who doesn’t write memoir you have done a wonderful job of doing just that. I know just how you felt. We moved when I was entering high school, from the country to the city, and the effect that this had on me at that age affected me for many years afterwards to the point that I hated my parents. Strong words but I was a kid. Good friends are not come by easily and are hard to give up, let alone trading an environment of trees and river, green and fresh air for a treeless suburb in a world of concrete. I have found the effect on my psyche of not having friends when we were isolated on our island in Vanuatu and later on the farm to be detrimental and is a sub-theme of my memoirs. Your story carried me with you, seeing your father out in the blizzard, hankering for warmth, your farewell with your friends and the challenges of language and culture. Those koi karp were lifesavers for you and I now understand your love of any frangipanni photo I may post. I love your description of them as pink koi. Glad you are my friend (despite the oceans distance between us) and thanks for sharing.

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    • When I first started writing stories, serious writing begun decades ago, I had no intention of ever writing about myself. I wrote fiction, everything fabricated. My personal history was so painful, I could barely admit some of the incidents, much less ever write about them. It’s taken years of being distant enough from who I was and who my parents were that I’ve finally developed an understanding if not complete acceptance about what happened. The only way I can heal is to forgive, and knowing some very unique things about my mom and my dad, I understand how troubled they were, how they each tried to live by a moral code no one around them understood. I’ve also begun to realize that I contributed to the distress and dysfunction in our family. Eventually this led to writing about some of the events in my journal, and it’s from the journal that I’ve finally been able to write a kind of patchy memoir.

      I felt the connection to you in the first post I read on your blog, though I no longer remember which one it was. It was obvious you’d been through several harrowing experiences, and though very different from mine, you were deeply and traumatically changed. We’ve both survived such cataclysmic transformations that it’s nearly a change in our DNA. Thank you for being so supportive. I really feel that one day we’ll meet on the same continent, true friends.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Reaching that point of forgiveness is a real turning point. I remember clearly the day I forgave. It was like a spiritual moment with a lightening strike and bright white light following releasing any black that was inside. Writing is a great release for those emotions that we hide deep inside. I am only just starting to tackle some of mine.
        I too felt the connection early in the piece and you are quite right – life hasn’t been all smooth sailing. I like the thought of a change in DNA as a result of the change. The support is mutual Sharon and I too appreciate yours more than you will know. I hope you are right as I would love to meet and have a chin wag – true friends.

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      • You said it very well, Irene – a spiritual moment. I’ll leave it at that – until we have that “chin wag” one day.

        Hope you’re enjoying your winter – it is winter in Australia, right?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll look forward to that. Winter so far has been beautiful although the last week a little cold for me (I like it warm). Hope your summer isn’t too hot and no fires.

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      • Our summer is already way too hot way too early, and we’ve already had fires, a small one only a mile from where my mom lives, and the admin there reacted quickly and appropriately to guarantee the safety of their frail and ill residents, as well as some very large ones that have burned thousands of acres and hundreds of homes. Too scary.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fires are horrendous. Glad the nursing home takes appropriate action in a timely manner. Hope you stay safe. I know how scary fires can be. I’m hoping that rain comes your way quickly.

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  9. Such a beautifully written piece. I can so relate to your feelings, as my family moved from South Africa in 1967 when I was a little girl, to Israel, where my father took a sabbatical. Leaving my home, my friends was terribly hard! I was heartbroken and threatened to report my parents to the police for child abuse. The culture shock of being thrown into public school a day after arriving, not understanding a word of Hebrew, was overwhelming. And then the six day war broke out.

    However, after six months I was integrated and loving it…a different outcome for sure…and it was again difficult and heartbreaking to return to South Africa, where my friends still were…no change…whereas my world and life had expanded by leaps and bounds.

    Thank you for this…

    Peta

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    • You moved to a country both ancient and contemporary where the language was written in a different alphabet and the community was infused by a blending of diverse cultures. Shortly after your arrival, the entire country was plunged into a terrible war. I can’t even imagine your fright and confusion as it’s unlikely you understood the politics at that time.

      I was a teenager when the Six Day War broke out, already living back on the mainland. I recall sitting every night in front of the TV, watching the news and hoping for a quick resolution. Naively, I thought the end of that one war would be the end of all wars in the region. How sad that it hasn’t proven true. Anyone who lives in the midst of a war is changed forever.

      It’s very nice to meet you, Peta. Thank you for your comment and for opening up about your experiences. Are you still in South Africa? Another country that’s survived enormous change in the past 70 years – more, actually. I look forward to hearing from you again.

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  10. Yup its funny. I still write in books starting from the “wrong” side…it was definitely challenging with such a different language, culture etc. I was lucky though because the local kids were intrigued by me as though I was done kind of exotic creature…so no shortage of those wanting to befriend me.

    I left South Africa at age 19 to go to America with my boyfriend ( who later became my husband and father of my kids.) I left the U.S. once all my kids were done with high school. Lived and worked in Nicaragua, Central America for six years and since then have been living sequentially in different places, mostly Asia.

    You can read more on my blog if you are interested…

    http://www.greenglobaltrek.com

    Peta

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    • Writing from the “wrong” side – that’s pretty funny, but it could grant you a measure of privacy.

      You’ve been living a very interesting life, Peta. I will definitely check out your blog – thank you for the address.

      Like

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