Easter reminds me of my maternal grandmother, Julia (pronounced Jewel-ya).
An accomplished seamstress she made everything from quilts to lace wedding gowns on a tiny Singer hand-cranked sewing machine. I still have the machine. Unbelievable. She embroidered bedspreads with matching pillow cases, crocheted baby layettes, and baked luscious cakes which she sold for profit and notoriety. Gran’ma made the best tomato cake ever. Her biggest seller. I know it sounds strange, but in Gran’ma’s hands tomato cake could have masqueraded as rich, moist devil’s food. Friends and neighbors knew her work and told their friends who told their friends. Gran’ma was as busy as she allowed herself to be.
She was a modest woman who grew up during a different time. If she made a little profit from the labor she loved that was enough for her. Her satisfaction came from giving people what they wanted. She was meticulous, fair and thrifty. Nothing went to waste.
Except . . .
As a child I thought she’d bequeath to me one unique skill – to speak Hawaiian, her native language, which she spoke often, especially when “talking story” with her cronies.
I’d watch and listen as those lyrical words flowed effortlessly from her gentle lips – mouth ever smiling, eyes conveying joy. She made me curious about those sing songy phrases, sweet drops of elixir that warmed my heart and brought a twin smile to my face, even though I didn’t understand a word.
What a dream. She lived in Hawaii. We moved to the Mainland when I was four-years-old. Early on we didn’t have a telephone, and when we did the transpacific telecommunication rates cost the earth. The connection was atrocious, mostly a bunch of clicks and static buzzing. When or how could we “talk story”?
Sadly Gran’ma passed long before Skype, iChat or Facetime. Thankfully we had the US Post. She kept the dialog between us going through letters, many of which I still have, and read from time to time. Through those writings she did give me a gift of language – the love of words, the joy of shared thought, the comfort of hearing and being heard.
Happily the Hawaiian language is experiencing a resurgence as young Hawaiiana, proud of their heritage, are reaching back to study this beautiful dialect. A sort of resurrection.
Now days “talk stories” come to me through Hawaiian music. I hear it when I put on an old recording. Or when I’m lucky enough to find it on YouTube. My favorites are ballads. They convey love. Sweetness. Comfort. Kindness. Congeniality. Pleasure. Longing. Enjoyment. Passion. Fulfilled dreams. Security. Simple things of life. Sentiments learned at Gran’ma’s knee.
A few years ago I ran across the following video. Through words and music “Aunty” May Kama’i, one of Hawaii’s premier story tellers, takes me home again. To the lap of my Gran’ma. To her sweet bosom that never failed to envelop me in a cloak of easement.
Happy Easter and aloha . . .
LEINANI (Beautiful Lei) – words & music by Charles Namahoe
Auhea wale oe . . . . . Where are you
Ku’u lei nani . . . . . My beautiful lei
Ho’i mai no kaua. . . . Come, let us two
La e pili . . . . . . . Be together
Kou aloha kau ae . . . Your love is mine
Hi’i po nei . . . . . . To cherish
Hakuikui eha . . . . . A recurrent thought
I kou mana’o . . . . . An ache in my mind
Ano a’i ka pilina . . . Unexpected
Poina ole . . . . . . . The unforgettable meeting
E lei ae oe . . . . . . Wear my love
Me kuu lei. . . . . . . As a lei
Haina ia mai. . . . . . The story
Ana kapuana . . . . . . Is told
Hoi mai no kaua . . . . Come, let us two
La e pili . . . . . . . Be together