Joe DeMattos

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.