“O’opu, Tako, and Baseball: Growing Up in Hawai’i in the 1940s” by Tori McCann

Posted: June 2, 2014 in Vol. 5: Spring Essays 2014

As I sat on the couch holding the phone up to my ear for my interview with my grandfather, I thought of the man that people view him as. At first glance my grandfather can look intimidating, standing six feet tall and with an athletic build. Even I, his granddaughter, get intimidated by him. When he walks, there is an air of authority from years of both military and police work. He is also the type of person who never really retires from working. With all the work he has done, he often looks back on his life longing for simpler times as a child. He talked about his childhood growing up in Hawai’i in the 1940s when he felt that he had more freedom and less worries than the children of today.

His voice was cheery. “If I wanted to go fishing, I did. If I wanted to climb a tree, I did, and if I wanted to go surfing, I did.” I imagined my grandpa smiling, his brown eyes dancing. He paused for a moment as if trying to remember days almost forgotten, and for the rest of the interview, he spoke of his childhood and family history.

polesMy grandpa was born and raised in Palolo Valley, which is about four miles from downtown and less than a mile from Diamond Head. My grandfather was the third child of six to Clara Violet Jones Hughes and William Ezra Hughes. Their property had several acres that extended down to the river. My grandpa would take his cane pole and go fishing in the river for o’opu and swim in streams. “You can no longer do that. The streams no longer have o’opu, and the streams are no longer safe to swim in because of the leptospirosis,” he sighed. There was sadness in his voice over what has happened to the environment over time due to the behavior of people. Around his childhood house and property were several different fruit trees including mangos, avocados, and mountain apples. They raised chickens, pigeons, and ducks for their eggs to be eaten. It was my grandfather’s job to feed them and gather the eggs every morning. He sat back in his chair smiling. “It was a good time for a young person to grow up in the 1940s to 1950s; there were fewer worries. Life was more carefree back then.” My grandpa spoke with a sense of pride and happiness to have been a child in the 1940s-50s, feeling that many of the youth today will never see Hawai’i as he saw it growing up.

In addition to having a house in Palolo Valley, my great-grandparents owned a country home in La’ie on the beach. My great-grandparents bought the property back in the early 1940s with no house on it. Eventually, a house was brought over from another property. At the time, people thought my great-grandparents were crazy for buying the property because it was so far away with nothing out there. After Great-Grandpa died in 1999, the property was sold and no longer remains in the family.

While at the country house, as they called it, my grandpa and his brothers would go looking for squid and octopus and catch fish to be brought back to the house and cooked for dinner. The kids would wake up and eat breakfast, then spend the whole day in the sun playing in the waves until sunset. My grandpa recalled,  “I remember your great-grandpa would go early in the morning before sun rose with his sack slung over his shoulder and his spear pole in the other hand looking for tako on the reef.” I could almost smell the sea salt coming off the ocean and hear the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore in the morning. In my mind I could picture the sunrise on the beach with my great-grandpa looking for octopus.   My grandpa began telling me how my great-grandma would clean the octopus after great-grandpa brought the catch in. “ Your great-grandma would take the tako and clean it in the outside sink. I remember that the sink would turn black from the ink coming out of the tako. It would still be moving, trying to get away even after it was killed. The guts of the tako were tossed onto the beach. Your great-grandma would then tell me and your Uncle Stephen to go and pick some limu that would be eaten with the tako for dinner.” My grandpa and his younger brother Stephen spent a lot of time together as children and as a result formed a close relationship.

As children, my grandpa and Uncle Stephen built a clubhouse in one of the old mango trees and would play Cowboys and Indians. They would also spend hours fishing in the river, climbing trees, and exploring. There was a theater only a mile or two away that they would walk to and catch a movie every now and then. After catching a movie, they would go to the saimin shop nearby. Waikiki was also within walking distance, and on the weekends, Uncle Stephen, my grandpa, and their friends would go down to the beach and surf. Although my grandpa and my Uncle Stephen spent a lot of time together as children, they rarely see each other now. When my Uncle Stephen grew up, he moved from Hawai’i to Boston, Massachusetts, where he lives today. However, the good times shared together live on in memories.

One of my grandpa’s favorite childhood memories is of playing baseball, and he spoke of it with great fondness. Apparently, he was quite good at it. Despite this, his own father did not go to a single one of my grandpa’s games while he was growing up, and that continues to hang over him. He spoke of this with as few words as possible. There was a hint of longing in his voice before he quickly changed the topic. I was not able find out any more after that because he told me he thought I had enough for my paper. The problem of a father perhaps not spending time with his son is told and retold in countless movies. To hear first-hand the emotions that it brings to my grandpa decades later greatly saddened me.

After my interview with my grandpa, I got the feeling that there was something he wasn’t telling me. A piece of the puzzle was missing, but I was not sure what it was. I told my mom how grandpa reacted when talking about his father not going to his games. It seemed reasonable enough, although out of the ordinary for my grandpa. My mom looked at me and sat me down on the couch and told me there was something I needed to know in regards to my great-grandpa. Oh no, I thought, something terrible. What I heard next shocked me about my great-grandpa’s life as child that ended up affecting my grandpa. My great-grandpa might have been jealous of my grandpa for having the childhood he had never had. My great-grandpa’s childhood was cut short when he was in the 8th grade because he was forced to drop out of school and go to work. His father, my great-great-grandpa, committed suicide in St. Patrick’s church. His suicide brought a lot of shame to the family. Looking back on this, I can see how unfortunate events from previous generations can exact a negative toll on the future generations.

The suicide in the family did not just affect my great–grandpa’s relationship with his son but also added another reason for my grandpa’s maternal grandparents to dislike his father even more. When his grandparents would come over, they would constantly bicker about his dad to his mom. They wished she had married a ‘good Portuguese boy’ instead of a ‘local boy.’ His grandparents never got over the fact that their daughter married a non-Portuguese and because of this, they tried to have as little contact with their daughter as possible. I asked my grandpa later on the phone how his grandparents’ view of his father affected him. I wasn’t quite sure if he would want to talk about but decided I would try. He was reluctant to talk about it at first, but he eventually opened up. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and full of pain.

Definitely – my grandparents’ disdain of my father affected me and the way I viewed myself. It wasn’t long before I was ashamed of my other heritages. But you know what? There will always be people who will try to make you feel less than. It is just how you deal with it.

When my grandpa said there would always be someone who would try to make you feel inferior, it made me feel empowered. Negative words hurt the most when they come from family members who we think love us the most, but like all people, our family members are only human and make mistakes. With each new generation, they can learn something from the pervious one. My conversation with my grandpa about his life as child brought something into perspective and made me see Hawai’i as he saw it growing up. Learning about my family history made me see things differently and appreciate my family more. Going into the interview with grandpa, I didn’t expect to get as much out of it as I did or find anything worthwhile. Although the stories tell of my grandpa’s daily life as child, they brought to surface many problems but gave him a different outlook on things.

As years go by, development arises, ancestors pass away and family history can become lost, but through the stories of grandparents and parents our past can come alive. I couldn’t help but hear the song “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” being played as my grandfather spoke about his childhood. His first sentence stuck out to me in the interview: “I remember days when we were younger; we used to catch ‘o’opu in the mountain stream.” I’ll never get to swim in a stream without leptospirosis. I’ll never get to watch my great-grandpa catch tako and my great-grandma clean it. I’ll never truly know what it was like growing up in the 1940s in Hawai’i; however, the stories of my grandfather can help give me a better idea of life then compared to now. Looking back on what my grandpa said made me realize that although times change, many things remain the same..


Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II


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