Sparked by Words

Posts tagged ‘fathers’



Our family moved from yellow-skied New Jersey in the late 1950s to a Honolulu suburb. My dad planted a small plumeria tree with white and yellow blossoms. It shaded a bathtub-sized pond in the front yard of our Aina Haina house. Five goldfish lived there, darting near the lava rock edges. One was a bug-eyed black molly, the other four were orange or orange with patches of black and white. Paradise isn’t where you find it. It’s where you make it.

If I opened the front door, the fish ignored me, even if I perched on the miniature waterfall to watch them swim. If I opened the sliding door immediately adjacent to the front door, the fish gathered at the surface in the center of the pond. They wriggled their tails and bubbled their enthusiasm. They’d learned to respond to the screech of the slider, and waited for me to feed them. The fish never tired of this trick and I never forgot how to play.

Many years after we moved to California, my parents built their dream house on a hill in the heartland of Orange County. Dad planted a small plumeria stalk in the yard with a view to the Pacific. A view to Hawaii, if you could see that far. I think he could.

Unlawful at the time to bring them to the mainland, he’d smuggled a foot long stalk in his jacket and flew it to California, beloved contraband for his garden. Twenty-five years later, it had grown as big as a school bus, a glorious sovereign of the yard. She graced us with thousands of coral pink blossoms, fragrance to make us drunk, and beauty to shame the roses.

My sons played in the shade of the tree and collected fallen blossoms.  They grew and the tree grew and our family grew and changed, as families do.

The house is long sold, my father long passed. One of my sweetest mementoes is the lei he strung for me of those pink plumeria blossoms, the only lei my dad ever gave me. I wore it for a week until the petals drooped on their string. Now it’s a dried bundle in a ceramic pitcher. If I touch the browned and brittle leaves, they break off in chips. Neither tape nor glue can repair my clumsiness. I’ve learned to look but not touch.

The new owners of the Orange County house cut down the pink plumeria tree. Fools. It couldn’t have possibly interfered with their view of Hawaii. You must have imagination to see that far.

Writing is as much fabrication as memory. This story is true. As for my other stories, you’ll have to guess. I never tire of keeping secrets.


Photograph of plumeria flowers courtesy Pixabay




X is for X-tra Effort




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 mazd ocean waves , 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 its 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: