Joe DeMattos

Monday, March 06, 2006

Growing Up In Kaka'ako

From the author
The events and personal experiences chronicled here date back nearly 70 years and are but a thin slice of my 80-year lifetime. In case I forgot to mention an event or appeared to embellish another, please remember that memories fade and recollections get rusty as the decades fly by.

While growing up in Kaka'ako and up to the time I went to work at the Navy Yard in Pearl Harbor in 1943 I went by the name of Joseph Mattos. Although all of his legal papers carried the name of Antone DeMattos, my father was more commonly known as Tony Mattos. Three of my siblings went by Mattos and two carried the DeMattos surname. The same went with uncles and cousins.

Born Color-Blind

I don't know if it was the air or the water, but all of us kids grew up color-blind. We couldn't tell the difference between each other's skin color. We were neighbors, classmates or friends. We couldn't tell the differences between the sexes either. The girls dressed different, but they were still part of the group.

Most of the people in Kaka'ako were considered poor when it came to money, but were millionaires when it came to compassion. Love thy neighbor was practiced day after day. Love, joy and peace were not words but a lifestyle.

While Portuguese and Japanese were the dominate races, Kaka'ako was also populated by Hawaiians, Chinese, Filipinos, Russians, Black Americans, Haoles and mixtures of the above.

Seven decades ago Kaka'ako was primarily a residential rather than a business district as it is today. On the edge of downtown Honolulu, it was bounded by Punchbowl, King and Piikoi Streets and about a mile or so of shoreline. The acreage kept growing because any trash not burnt in the incinerator was used as landfill along the shoreline.

The fish cannery at Fisherman's Wharf and American Sanitary Laundry on Queen Street were the major employers of women. My maternal grandmother worked in the cannery. My mother and a bunch of aunts and cousins worked in the laundry.
Most residents referred to American Sanitary Laundry as Magoon Laundry because the Magoon brothers owned it. The Ward family and the Magoon brothers were major landowners in Kaka'ako.

Other businesses in the area were Oahu Ice and Primo Beer on Cooke St. between Kapiolani Blvd. and Kawaiahao Street, Royal Beer on Queen St. between Punchbowl and Queen Streets and the Lewers and Cooke lumber yard on Cooke St. between Queen and Kawaiahao Streets. Also in Kaka'ako were Honolulu Construction and Draying (HCD), a soy sauce factory on Cooke St. and a poi manufacturing plant on Queen St.

Kaka'ako was the last district to have "talkies." The Aloha Theater, called Calhau's Theater by the Portuguese, continued to show silent movies long after the talkies came to town.

The first thing that comes to mind when I get gas at Lex Brodie's on Queen St. are fading memories of the theater with corrugated iron on the outside and wooden benches on the inside that once entertained a whole community on that site.

First Day Of School

Mother dropped me off at the door to my classroom and headed for home, not realizing that I was fifty feet behind her. When she arrived home with me just in back of her, she hooted and hollered and said something in Portuguese that I don't think was very nice.

Grabbing me by the ear, she half dragged, half pulled me to school. She made sure that I was in the classroom before leaving for home. To her dismay, I was back in the house within minutes. Again, she hooted and hollered, but instead of grabbing me by the ear, she took hold of my arm, nearly dislocating my shoulder, and pushed me in front of her all the way to school.

This time, she took me to the principal's office. Miss Agnes was the principal of Pohukaina School and although she gave the impression of being a battle-axe, she was in reality an angel in disguise.

Being more experienced with kids than my mother, after all I was my mother's first born and Miss Agnes had dealt with thousands of youngsters, she got to the root of the problem in a hurry. I was determined not to wear short pants to school. Once that got ironed out, mother took me home where I changed to long pants and walked back to school on my own. And to this day, some 70 years later, I still do not wear short pants or shorts of any kind.

During those years we said the Pledge of Allegiance in school every morning. Maybe not in sync or in tune but when we sang the National Anthem or God Bless America it was with fiery gusto. If I remember correctly, we also recited a short non-denominational prayer at the start of the school day. Today God is a nasty word in the classroom.

We learned a few other things that are not taught today such as personal hygiene, good manners, respect for other people and their property and being responsible for our actions.

We all had to drink a small bottle of milk every morning during short recess. The bottle size was a gill (1/4 of a pint) and it cost five cents. For the first two or three years of my schooling my mother made a deal with my teachers so that I took a dozen eggs to school on Monday morning and my teacher would pay for my milk that week.


Not all memories of Kakaako are pleasant.

Mention the word dentist and my blood pressure jumps up a few notches. Let me stand in front of a dental office and it jumps up again. All I have to do is talk to the receptionist and it goes up even further. By the time I come face to face with the dentist my heart is pounding and my head feels like a volcano ready to erupt.

Twice I was sent home from St. Francis Hospital's Dental Clinic because my blood pressure was too high.

The only dentist that I remember in Kakaako had his office on Queen St. between Kamani St. and Ward Ave. Because his drill did not rotate very fast, filling cavities was a very painful experience. I swear that I can still smell the smoke that came out of my mouth as the drill burnt rather than ground the rot out of the cavity.

I have only one recollection of a needle being used to numb the tooth and I'm convinced that the needle was a foot long and as big around as the barrel of a shotgun.

The price, however, was consistent -- $1 per visit regardless of what was done. I would like to have said that the price was cheap, but in those days a dollar purchased a large package of groceries.

There was an alternative to going to this dentist. We had the option of going to Palama Settlement, which had medical and dental facilities as well as recreational and educational programs. The cost of an extraction ranged from 25 to 45 cents. The pain factor, however, was the same as in Kakaako.

Swapping Lunches

At the time, early 1930s, most of the families cooked and served their ethnic dishes and the majority of the kids brown bagged their lunches.

The Portuguese kids had their homemade bread, malasadas and sweetbread and the Japanese had their rice balls, sushi, seaweed and daikon. As a result, the first order of business on arriving at school was to swap lunches before starting to play.

A sandwich made of Portuguese sweet bread was worth two rice balls. And a rice ball with an ume on the inside was worth a small fortune. It sometimes took two or three swaps to get the lunch that you wanted. Anyway, pre-school play did not start until lunch was settled.


The majority of us boys carried pocketknives to school. Not to defend ourselves or to attack a fellow student, but to slice the dried abalone that we carried in our pockets.

A dried abalone cost only a nickel and would last for more than a week. We would use our knives to slice a thin piece off and chew on it for hours on end. Maybe, that's where the grown ups got the idea for chewing tobacco. With abalone, though, you weren't constantly spitting.

I don't think abalone would stand a chance today. Not because of its outrageous price, but because everybody would be screaming how unhealthy it was.

We would be playing marbles during recess and reach into our pockets with our filthy hands and slice off a piece. By the end of the day, the abalone would be covered with dirt and we would be chewing on as much dirt as abalone. However, none of us died from chewing on this dirty abalone.

Soapy Mouthwash

We kids were not into swearing, smoking and swigging alcohol. Our four-letter words were love thy neighbor, care for each other, look both sides of the street before crossing, help your friend, give to the community, and wash your hands after going to the bathroom.

If a kid did swear, the result would be a mouth washed with soap or a hard slap across the face. More important was the fact that we could speak intelligently without resorting to swear words to get our point across. Now that I think of it, I don't remember my parents and family ever swearing.

Another thing that we learned fast was to stand up and place your hand over your heart when the American flag went by in a parade. If you were sitting on the curb and did not stand when the red, white and blue came by you were yanked to attention by your hair or ear. The person showing you the error of your ways did not have to be a relative, just someone older than you.

A Belated Merry Christmas

To say that the people in Kakaako were poor would be an understatement for the majority of families. We were in a depression and Christmas presents were limited to one or two, mostly underwear, shirts or pants. My brother and sister and myself wore underwear that was made by my grandmother from flour bags.

For the group of boys that I hung around with, Christmas ran from December 26 until early January. On none school days, we would leave home early in the morning and walk to Manoa Valley where the rich kids lived. We would split into two groups, one group on each side of the street, and go through every trash can looking for discarded toys and broken bicycles, scooters, wagons and tricycles. Dolls, too, for our sisters.

We would fill our wagons with the discarded toys and pushing the broken bicycles ahead of us jubilantly head for home where we repaired and repainted the toys. We often had to cannibalize two or three bicycles to make one good bike.

Outside of a complete bike, wheels of all sizes and their axles were worth their weight in gold. We would nail the good wheels from a pair of broken skates to the bottom of a 2X4 and have a crude but reliable skateboard. By adding an upright piece of wood and a crosspiece at the top we had a scooter.

Wheels from baby or doll carriages were perfect for boxcars. The front wheels did not have to match the back wheels in size as long as they were in pairs. Apple boxes were better than orange crates for the boxcars. The cars we made were very crude compared to the boxcars of today, but they worked and brought great joy to us.

Entrepreneur At Six

The word entrepreneur wasn’t even invented yet, and if it were, I wouldn’t have known how to pronounce it, or worse yet, spell it. But I was one.

Several stores in Kaka’ako sold cone sushi at a nickel apiece, but one store on Cooke Street sold it at one for a nickel and three for a dime. Whenever I was hungry for cone sushi I would go looking for classmates or neighbors that had a nickel in their pockets.

When I had two people with a nickel apiece, I would convince them that sushi would be a treat at that time of day and that I would gladly purchase the sushi if they gave me their nickels.

Naturally, at three for a dime I always had a free sushi. I wasn’t selfish so when we were in a group of five or six and at least four kids had nickels. I would still offer to be the runner and purchase the sushi. As to be expected all of us enjoyed a tasty treat.

Graveside Picnics

The Chinese cemetery in Makiki was a favorite place for us kids. Remember, we were poor and oranges were a luxury. We would leisurely stroll to Makiki (it was closer than Manoa) and sit by a grave and enjoy the oranges left there by relatives of the deceased.

I think we ate the oranges at the gravesite instead of taking them home out of respect for the dead. As for the peels, we took them with us. After all, we weren't litterbugs.

Shades of Tom Sawyer

For reasons known only to him, my father always made ice cream on the front porch. While we had a huge back yard, the front yard was real small with the front porch less than ten feet from the gate.

As though a siren had blasted a signal throughout the area, kids started to crowd the porch and front yard about the same time my father brought out his ice cream maker. The one thing my father never had to do was to crank the ice cream maker. The kids would fight among themselves to be the next one to crank.

There is one afternoon in particular that stands out vividly in my mind. The ice cream was ready and my father filled a cone with two scoops and gave it to one of the neighborhood kids. My brother Alfred, whose nickname at the time was "Bully," grabbed the cone from the kid's hand, but before he could lick the ice cream, my father immediately took the cone from his hand and returned the cone to its rightful owner.

Almost simultaneously, my father took off his belt, laid my brother across his knees and gave him several whacks across his behind with the leather belt. Adding insult to injury, Bully was sent to his room without any ice cream.

All of us kids learned a moral lesson that hot afternoon. As for my father, the kids respected him even more after that single incident. That was the first and only time that my father ever spanked one of his kids.

Go Fly a Kite

We had seasons for everything and one of them was flying kites. While there were a few store bought kites in the sky, most were homemade. Most families used a bamboo rake to keep their yards clean.

Well, the bamboo from the rakes was excellent for kite making. Box kites, square kites, diamond kites, butterfly kites, all had something in common -- newspaper glued over a bamboo frame. Mashing rice into a paste made the glue.

Spinning tops was also a seasonal sport. While most kids had commercial tops, I had tops that were handmade by my father. He used a pocketknife to whittle a piece of wood into the shape of a top. I had tops made of various types of wood. The kui or point of the top was a common nail.

Another seasonal sport was marbles. We had to get on our hands and knees to play marbles or agates. As a result we all had dirt on our hands and torn pants at the knees. The games we played included fish, ring, box and five holes.

Milk covers were as popular then as Pogs were a few years ago except that we used real milk covers. Milk came in bottles with a cardboard cover. We saved the covers and used them to play with.

My brother and I had an unfair advantage because my father worked for Dairymen's in the feed department. His friends in the milk department would give him cartons of brand new, unused covers.

We would glue two of the unused covers together to make our kini (hitter). Because they were unused, they were stiffer and could turn over the other milk covers with ease. As a result, my brother and I won more than we lost. We both had large collections of milk covers, thanks to our Dad. Incidentally, Dairymen's is now known as Meadow Gold.

My memory is quite foggy on a game known as peewee. I do know that we cut a broom handle into various lengths, placed a short piece across another short piece and using the longest piece as a bat, tipped the short piece into the air and hit it with the bat such as in baseball.

We did play football and baseball during their respective seasons. The number of players on each team depended on the number of kids available and ranged anywhere from five to a dozen or so. I don't remember ever playing soccer.

On rare occasions we even played hopscotch, jump rope and jacks with the girls.

Money Does Grow On Trees...

Earlier we talked about purchasing abalone and sushi. Where did we get the money for these and other treats such as manapua and going to the movies?

Kiawe trees were and are still abundant on Oahu. In season, the ground was literally covered with the long yellow kiawe beans. We kids would go in groups and fill up burlap bags with the beans that were worth their weight in gold. The beans, high in protein, were sold to cattle and dairy farmers and people who owned horses.

... And in trash cans
Having an empty bottle was like having money in the bank. Depending on their size or type, the bottles were worth anywhere from one to five cents each. I don't think plastics were invented yet. Aluminum was also a thing of the future. Tin and glass were the more prominent methods of packaging.

Since almost all families were saving their own bottles, we kids had to go to public areas such as parks and beaches in search of the elusive soda pop bottle.

A Cashless Society

There has been lots of talk about a cashless society. Well, that's nothing new. We had very little, if any, cash during the "roaring" twenties and depression thirties. We all survived, however, by sharing and using the barter system.

Whenever my mother baked bread, it was shared with the neighbors. The same went for sweetbread and malasadas.

My father was the working foreman for Dairymen's Feed Dept. on Sheridan Street. Although he didn't go beyond the sixth grade, he was quite intelligent in many ways. And one of these ways was to convert kerosene incubators into electrical ones.

He had many friends who brought their kerosene incubators to him for conversion. None of them ever paid him in cash for his work. I remember one afternoon when a huge, I mean huge, policeman came to our house carrying a large burlap bag. He gave the bag to my father and a few minutes later walked out with his converted incubator. As for the bag, it contained live spiny lobsters.

My father was also skilled in determining the sex of a chick on the day it was hatched. Cameron's Hatchery in the Wailupe area "hired" my father on many weekends to separate the chicks shortly after they hatched. He received the male chicks in lieu of pay. The hatchery needed the hens to lay eggs.

As a result we always had a hundred or so young roosters and about a dozen hens in our back yard. Once the young roosters reached the right weight he sold them as broilers or fryers. My job was to deliver the cleaned chickens to my father's customers. I loved that job because I was always given candy, fruit or other treats when I made the deliveries. Don't ask me how they paid my father. I never collected any money.

Coming Full Circle

Television, computers and the Internet have almost replaced the mail order catalog for the purchasing of a wide range of products. The latest fad is having someone else do your grocery shopping and delivering it to your door for a fee.

That is not new. As a matter of fact, the depression era residents not only had their groceries delivered but also did not have to pay for them until payday, which was usually at the end of the month.

Mr. Centeio, of Portuguese descent, had a store in Punchbowl, near Queen's Hospital. He had salesmen that went to neighborhoods with a high population of Portuguese such as Kakaako and catered to their household needs.

The salesman came to our house in the beginning of the week to take the orders and delivered the groceries at the end of the week. We stuck close to the house when it came time for him to collect what was owed him because he always brought a small bag of jellybeans or other candies for us.

Groceries were not the only thing delivered to us. There was the iceman who delivered blocks of ice every day of the week. Yes, ice. Most of the families in Kakaako had iceboxes rather than refrigerators. The ice went in a compartment at the top of the icebox. There was a pan under the icebox to catch the water as the ice melted. Forget to empty this pan and you would have water all over the kitchen floor.

Another important commodity delivered on a weekly basis was kerosene. Again, most people had kerosene stoves to cook on. We had a three-burner and a separate oven that was placed on top of the stove for baking. An upside down gallon of kerosene at the side of the stove fed the burners with fuel.

My uncle Johnny, only a few years older than me, was killed by a kerosene truck The older kids enjoyed the thrill of riding by hanging on to the back of the truck as it traveled from one house to the next. Somehow my uncle slipped and fell under one of the truck's rear tires.

Milk, too, was delivered to your door. The milk came in different size bottles and also in chocolate and strawberry flavors as well as the customary white. Since my Dad worked for Dairymen’s we had our milk delivered at a discount.

History Repeats Itself

Transportation is a major problem on Oahu. The number of cars on this small island is astronomical. And with repaving, repairing or adding underground water and sewer lines, travelling on Oahu's highways and byways can be hazardous to your health.

Elected officials, both city and state, keep talking about a fixed rail system. What do you think we had? Yes, a fixed rail system. The one that I am most familiar with ran from Kalihi to Kaimuki on King St. and Waialae Avenue. There were streetcars on Kalakaua Ave. and between town and such places as Manoa and Nuuanu among others.

The streetcars had open sides, an operator and a conductor. The passengers could get on at any part of the car and pay the conductor when he approached them. The streetcars were powered by electricity with an overhead cable. Before I was born horses drew the streetcars.

We kids were not angels and riding the streetcar for free was a favorite sport. We would hop on at the opposite end of the car from the conductor. If the conductor was in the front we would get on in the back. If he was in the back we would get on in the front. Whenever he got near us we would jump off the streetcar and hop on again in the area farthest from him. Naturally, we did not do this alone; it was always with a small group.

One sunny Saturday morning about four of us were caught like rats in a trap. We saw the conductor in the front so we jumped in the back. To our dismay there were two undercover conductors waiting for us in the back. We not only got our ears boxed but also had to cough up the five or ten cents for the ride. For the record, that was the last time that I tried to get a free ride.

What about the "Iron Horse?" There was a train that ran from Iwilei to Kahuku. The train was primarily used to haul sugar cane, but it also carried passengers and made stops at places like Waianae and Haleiwa. As a matter of fact, during World War II the train carried workers to and from the Navy Yard at Pearl Harbor.

Conserving Water

First let me tell you that we had a porcelain coated cast iron bathtub with four legs and we did not have a water heater.

It seems that it was my father’s chore to prepare our baths. He heated water in a large kettle on our kerosene stove. He then partially filled the tub with cold water and added the hot water. I learned at an early age that the water stayed warm longer if you heated cold water than if you cooled off hot water.

My sister, who was five years younger than me, got to bathe first. The theory was that because she was younger and a girl she wasn’t as dirty as her two brothers
Anyway, after she was through with her hot bath, my father added a small kettle of hot water to the now cooler water and my brother and I jumped in together.

We not only had to get ourselves clean, but after bathing we had to clean the inside of the tub as the water was draining.

I’m not sure whether using one tub of water to bathe three kids was to conserve water or to cut the water bill, but I’m sure it did a little of both.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Summer Festivals

There were two major festivals in Kakaako during the early summer months. Both were religious in nature. One was the Japanese Bon Dance and the other the Portuguese Catholic festival celebrating the Feast of the Holy Ghost.

My Japanese friends had told me that the Bon Dance was a ritual that honors the spirits of deceased family members as well as an outward showing of being a Buddhist.

Lighted paper lanterns created a special aura as women dressed in colorful kimonos and men wearing something like today's hapi coats danced to the rhythm of Japanese music. The drums were almost hypnotic.

I was very fortunate in having a Japanese friend whose parents not only loaned me the proper dress worn by the young boys but also taught me the steps so that I could join the swaying crowd. My regret is that I can't even remember my friend’s name or that of his parents. That is a shame of all shames.

A three-day carnival atmosphere climaxed a seven-week vigil of the Holy Ghost. Festivities started Friday night with a procession from the Kewalo Holy Ghost Shrine on Queen Street to St. Agnes Church, on the corner of Kawaiahao and Kamani Streets, where the parish priest and his altar boys joined the procession back to the Holy Ghost Shrine. The priest then blessed the meat, bread, sweet bread and wine that were to be delivered to members the next day.

Once the blessing was accomplished it was carnival time. There were games for the kids such as knocking down the wooden milk bottles on a table, a fish booth and bursting balloons with darts.
The big attraction of course was Bingo! Prizes were primarily boxes of food donated by local stores and watermelons donated by the farmers. I can't remember whether each game cost a nickel or a dime.

The major event of the festival was held Sunday morning when hundreds of Catholics formed a long procession to St. Agnes Church and a special Mass. Leading the procession was a military Color Guard and the Royal Hawaiian Band.

During Mass the priest crowned a young girl as queen of the Feast of the Holy Ghost and bestowed on her, for that one day only, the authority to bless the people in the community. As the procession returned to the Holy Ghost Shrine she continuously blessed the hundreds of people lining the streets.

Standing on the porch of the Shrine at the end of the procession she blessed all the people present for the celebration. Her silver royal wand had a dove on the end.

Before the festivities came to an end there was an auction of donated goods, produce and handmade items from sweetbread baked with silver dollars on top to crocheted lace. The evening climaxed with a raffle. I once won a very young pig; perhaps I should say piglet.

I don't remember how much it cost, but I do know that you had to pay to be a member of the Kewalo Holy Ghost Society. My father was a member and for some still unknown reason I, too, was a member.

Why was I a member in addition to my father? I don't know. This I do know. One evening while having supper in the kitchen my mother was pouring coffee for all of us when she told my father that she was going to drop me from the Holy Ghost Society membership. No sooner had the words come out of her mouth she poured hot coffee on me. My mother continued my membership.

It was a couple of years later while I was in the first or second grade and was playing under the house with several other kids when I fell and broke my left arm at the elbow. It seems that at the very moment that I slipped, my mother was in the parlor telling relatives that she was going to cancel my membership in the Holy Ghost Society. Is this coincidence? My mother continued paying for my membership until I got married in 1945.

Election Year Entertainment

Almost everyone in Kakaako looked forward to election time. Although we had radios and silent movies, other forms of entertainment were rare. The word would be passed that the politicians would be at Mother Waldron Park on a certain evening and huge crowds would gather well in advance of the scheduled time.

Like clockwork, at the designated time, a caravan of cars would arrive and a bunch of musicians, singers and hula dancers would jump on the stage and entertain us for about five minutes or more.

Then the politician seeking office would tell everyone how, if elected, he would give them the world on a silver platter. After his speech, the musicians and dancers would again return to centerstage and entertain us for a few more minutes before heading for their next stop.

No sooner was one group off the stage another was on stage with singing, dancing and politicians making more promises. This went on for several hours.

As each candidate arrived, we kids would rush to him and offer to pass out his cards. During those years, the politicians had business cards printed with their pictures on the cards. I don't remember any women running for office at that time.

Anyway, when the candidates gave us their cards to pass out, we put half of the stack in our pocket and distributed the rest. We used the cards to play a game. Since the cards were printed on one side only, two of us would flip a card and one would call odd or even before the cards reached the ground.

If both cards had the same side facing up, the person calling even would win. If not, the other won. We also played with three people and the odd card declared the winner.

Sadness and Joy Intermingle

Maybe not to the same extent as adults but us kids were truly saddened by the death of someone close, including friends as well as relatives. The sadness, however, was tempered with a sense of joy for it was at funerals that we were reunited with long lost relatives and friends.

I don't know if it was strictly a Portuguese custom or a trend of that era, but wakes were held at home and not at the mortuary as it is today. Let me be more specific by describing my Uncle Johnny's wake.

My father removed my grandmother's front door and placed it on two wooden horses in the middle of the parlor. A white sheet was draped over the door and the open casket was placed on top of it. Additional parlor chairs were borrowed from the neighbors.

After viewing the deceased and offering their condolences to the immediate family the women joined the rest in the parlor and crocheted as they gossiped about the living as well as the deceased.

The men went to either the front or back porch and renewed acquaintances as they shared a bottle of wine. As for us kids, we gathered in the yard where we could play to our hearts content.

It seems that every woman who arrived brought something to eat and we could pick whatever food we wanted whenever we wanted. For many of us it was an all night banquet.

Since the wake lasted all night and many families did not leave until the wee hours we had lots of time to visit and share experiences with long lost relatives and friends living in other communities.

It does not seem believable but death brought both sadness and joy to us.

Dis, Dat and Da Kine

The cops in Kakaako were the biggest guys you ever saw in your life. They didn't ride around in cars; they walked the beat and knew all of us by name. I don't know if there was a curfew or not but we sure were in our respective homes when 8 o'clock rolled around.

There was no reason to go hungry; fruit trees were all over. You couldn't walk much more than a block before coming across a fruit tree. Some of the fruits that were available include coconuts, figs, dates, mangoes, guavas and star fruit. My favorite was the "Frisco" dates. There was a huge tree on the property across from St. Agnes Church.

Speaking of something to eat, during the summer we always ate our lunch at whatever house we were playing at. If we were playing in my yard my mother would invite my friends to join us for lunch. If we were playing down the street than that neighbor would invite us in for lunch.

Earlier we talked about a cashless society, what about a keyless society? We lived on Queen Street and at several different residences on Cooke Street and I don't remember my parents ever locking the doors of our house regardless of what street we lived on.

I doubt if any of the homes we rented had keys. The only door that I know for a fact that we could lock was the bathroom door and it wasn't because of thieves.

Remembering telephone numbers was not a problem in those days. All Oahu phones had only four digits. Hilo was better yet, only three digits. We sure did not need a personal phone diary.
Every summer vacation many of the boys had bolo (bald) heads.

There were two reasons for the bolo heads; the first was the weather, summers are always hot. The second reason was to make sure that we did not have any ukus (lice).

I remember my mother and grandmother combing my sister's long hair with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that she didn't have ukus. The most popular cure for ukus was to wash the hair with kerosene. I know vinegar was also used but I don't remember if the vinegar was used as a replacement for the kerosene or as a shampoo to get rid of the kerosene smell. Neither smelled very good.

Since a lot of the kids my age were first or second generation Americans our English wasn’t perfect but we did not speak the pidgin that is supposedly popular today. Da kine wasn’t invented yet.

Most of our language problems involved pronunciation. We were also trying to learn words from the native language of our classmates and neighbors. As a result we spoke a hodgepodge of various languages.

Hawaii residents rarely, if ever, give directions in terms of north and south or east and west. It’s almost always mauka or makai and Diamond Head or Ewa or any two communities.

As kids we used racial ancestry as part of our directions. See the Portugee lady next to the Pake Store on Queen St. for the best cigar mangoes. Need crate lumber? Talk to the haole guy on Kawaiahao St. and he will give you some. The Japanee guy on Cooke St. will share his figs with you.

According To Mama

There are many stories that take place while we are too young to remember. Our mothers tell them to us after we’ve grown old enough to remember the story and also perhaps get some laughter as well as morality out of the experience.

Here are two short stories about my early childhood...

Teaching ducklings how to swim
One warm summer day Mama noticed that I was making frequent trips to the bathroom while supposedly playing in the yard. Curiosity got the best of Mama and on one of my trips outdoors she stopped me and asked if I had a stomach problem since I was going to the bathroom so much more than usual.

My reply was short and to the point, "I’m teaching the baby ducks how to swim." Surprised, Mama could only say, "Show me." I immediately ran out to the yard and came back with a young duckling. "Come," I said to Mama as I walked into the bathroom. According to Mama, I placed the duckling in the bowl and flushed the toilet. "See," I said, "the ducky is swimming."

Mama convinced me not to teach any more ducklings how to swim until Daddy got home. No, my Daddy did not spank me and I did not go to bed without supper. Nor was I punished in any way.

Aromatic facial
My godmother had a son my age. And according to my mama, age was all we had in common. Jimmy was always dressed immaculate with pants and shirt starched and ironed. He always wore shoes. Whereas all my pants were worn at the knees and I enjoyed the feel of dirt under my feet.

Jimmy wouldn’t even play marbles with us because it would dirty his hands and pants. My mama told me that my godmother was constantly extolling the virtues of her son and kept telling me how her Jimmy could do no wrong and was smarter than smart.

It seems one day I had heard enough of her mindless chatter and enticed Jimmy to join me in the backyard. No sooner that he stepped into the yard I became an ogre of sorts. I knocked him to the ground and while my brother Bully held him down I grabbed globs of fresh chicken manure and rubbed it all over his face and hair.

I made sure that he wasn’t immaculate anymore by rubbing the smelly stuff all over his shirt, pants and shoes.

My mama told me how she made my backside red with my father’s belt and I still smiled.

My godmother and her son didn’t come over for a long time and when they did Jimmy stayed in the house hanging on to her skirt.

I don’t remember any of this, but my mama told me it was the very truth.

Joe and his maternal cousin Madeline Cain
at the wedding of Madeline's sister Katie in 1933.
Joe with sister Bernie and brother Alfred.

(They are barefoot because Alfred, already nicknamed Bully,
refused to wear shoes and the photographer suggested
the other two take off their shoes.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Wedding Anniversary Never To Be Forgotten

Was my wedding the last one of World War II or the first one after WWII? The date was September 1, 1945, the time was 4 p.m. and the location was St. Augustine Church in Waikiki.

The importance of my wedding paled in comparison to an international historical event that was taking place at the same time thousands of miles away.

Before leaving the house for the church, the guys in my wedding party joined my father and me in a toast. A toast, not to my impending wedding, but to the end of World War II. Our ears were glued to the radio as we drove to Waikiki.

We listened intently as the announcer described the arrival of General Douglas MacArthur and Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz aboard the battleship USS Missouri for the signing of the formal surrender by Japan.

After the church ceremony, the wedding party had to travel through Waikiki to downtown Honolulu for formal wedding photos. It was sheer bedlam as the entire island celebrated the formal ending of the war that started at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Driving through Waikiki and Honolulu was scary. People in and out of uniform filled the streets from one side to the other. It was a continuous wave of people. More than one guy poked his head in the car to kiss the bride. Then, too, there was the noise created by sirens, church bells, whistles and noisemakers. Confetti and streamers were all over the place.

The good part about being married on V-J Day was that I never had to worry about remembering my wedding anniversary.

It has been my pet project to complain to local and national publications every year about the date associated with the signing of the declaration of surrender. It was September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay, but September 1 in the Territory of Hawaii and the United States.

Several years ago I talked to a reporter from The Honolulu Advertiser concerning the actual date and he told me that he was following what historians wrote and that he could care less of what I thought.

The headline for the Final Edition of The Honolulu Advertiser on September 1, 1945 read, “SIGN SURRENDER TODAY.”

Here is what the Governor of Hawaii had to say in his Proclamation:

Whereas, the signing of the terms of surrender of the empire of Japan on September 1, 1945, Hawaiian time, will constitute the final step in the achievement of victory all over the enemies of our country and is the occasion for great rejoicing, and

Whereas, such capitulation is of special significance to the inhabitants of the Territory of Hawaii who received the first blow of the treacherous attack of the Japanese, and whose labors and sacrifices have contributed in no small measure to the achievement of victory;

Now, therefore, I, Ingram M. Stainback, governor of Hawaii, in order that this victory may be suitably observed, do hereby proclaim, pursuant to the authority vested in me by Section 21 of the Revised Laws of Hawaii, 1945, that Saturday, the first day of September, 1945 shall be and is hereby designated as a territorial holiday.

Whenever you see an article pertaining to the signing of the surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri remember that the ceremony occurred on September 1, 1945 Hawaiian War Time or September 2, 1945 Japan Time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dedicated workers put ships back to sea after Dec. 7

Wednesday, July 20, 2005
By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Joseph DeMattos Sr. was 15 years old when he climbed a papaya tree in his family's Kaimuki yard to see smoke rising from Pearl Harbor.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and the U.S. Pacific fleet was under surprise attack at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Navy. Of the 96 warships in the harbor that day, 18 of the major ships were sunk or damaged.

DeMattos couldn't see the attack clearly, but if he had, he would have seen shipyard workers such as George Walters pitching in to help the Marines and sailors save lives and ships. As Japanese planes attacked, Walters ran his traveling crane back and forth on its track, shielding the USS Pennsylvania, Cassin and Downes from low-flying attack planes.

Many of the shipyard workers, including Walters, were cited for their actions during and after that day.

It was a defining moment in U.S. history, and it was a defining moment for the shipyard workers, who soon after adopted the motto "We Keep Them Fit to Fight" when it came to keeping the Pacific fleet in working order.

Two years later, DeMattos wanted to join the Army to do his part for the war effort, but he was too young. Instead, he joined the shipyard workforce, which by then had more than tripled because of the war efforts. At its peak, about 25,000 workers were employed at the shipyard, which opened in 1908.

DeMattos became a mechanic, working for 73 cents an hour. His uncle John Kaaihue was a welder.

"Remember, we were at war," said DeMattos, 80, who recounts how he worked with crews that were dedicated and determined to the do the job right the first time. "The ship went out and you want it coming back. If you made a mistake or goofed up, the ship wouldn't be coming back."

Within three months of the attack, shipyard workers put back into service three battleships, three cruisers, two destroyers and two other vessels. The battleship USS Arizona could not be refloated and its hull remains in the harbor as a memorial to the tragic events.

DeMattos spent 54 years and nine months working in the harbor, retiring in 1998.
Peter Fontanilla, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents most of the shipyard workers, is himself a second-generation shipyard worker - the son of a machinist. He said some workers go back three or even four generations.

"My father used to tell me about the work they used to do," he said. "They felt proud working on ships."

Fontanilla said Pearl Harbor will forever be a historic location, but it is the efforts of the workers that keep it viable.

"There is a lot of history in the yard. The name itself is historic," he said. "The workers have a lot of pride and try to do a good job as fast as they can. We're managing for years and years, and we will continue on for years and years."

DeMattos, a Wai'anae resident, said that because of its strategic location in the Pacific and the potential for more conflict in Asia, it is important to keep the Pearl Harbor shipyard running.
"Right now we are talking about Iraq and everything is on the Atlantic Ocean side," he said. "But remember WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, so you've got three wars associated with the Pacific. I don't think Asia is going to be at peace forever.

"We were caught with our pants down on Dec. 7, and I don't think we should be again, ever. We should learn from our mistakes. We have a valuable shipyard and it is doing its job."


  • 1789 British Capt. Nathaniel Portlock wrote the first published description of Pearl Harbor, so named because of the pearl oysters found in its waters.
  • 1887 A pact between King Kalakaua and the United States gives rights to establish a coaling and repair station in the harbor.
  • 1891 President Benjamin Harrison urges Congress to develop and improve Pearl Harbor as a naval station as the country's strategic interests expanded into the Pacific.
  • 1908 A congressional appropriations act of May 13 authorizes nearly $3 million to establish the Pearl Harbor Yard.
  • 1912 Dredging the entrance channel is completed.
  • 1913 The first dry dock collapses, but no one is injured. In August, the naval station moves from Honolulu to its new quarters in Pearl Harbor.
  • 1919 Construction of the first dry dock is completed.
  • 1939 An executive order establishes the harbor as a naval defensive area; only vessels approved by the base commander can enter.
  • 1941 Aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy bomb the harbor on Dec. 7. The attack brings the U.S. into World War II.
  • 1941-43 As the U.S. goes to war in the Pacific, shipyard production is tripled and more than 7,000 major repairs are done during the war. Dry docks Nos. 2, 3 and 4 are completed.
  • 1942 The war-damaged carrier USS Yorktown limps into the harbor and is returned to service in just three days to influence the Battle of Midway.
  • 1943 Shipyard workforce peaks at 24,910.
  • 1964 Pearl Harbor is named a national landmark and subsequently placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 2003 Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility are merged with several smaller units and commands to become Hawai'i's regional maintenance center.
  • 2005 The harbor survives a vote by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission that would have added the Hawai'i shipyard to the Pentagon's list of recommended military base closures.