Another Warning (excerpt)

    General Douglas MacArthur passed through Honolulu on a regular basis, on his way to

Korea.  He barely smiled, square-jawed and impenetrable behind dark aviator glasses. 

There was some hero talk but island people were still fatigued from World War II,

especially the heavy presence of uniformed men in town and the whispered scandals

involving soldiers and local girls.  Everyone wanted things to return to the way they

were before the mobilization of the Pacific theater, before everything new.  The

Honolulu Star Bulletin carried headlines about “the 38th parallel.”  Pearl Harbor was

both a memorial and an active naval shipyard.  Like the arms race, the pace of change

was speeding up, not slowing down.  Each time the general passed through on military

transport, there was a front page photo of him, laden with flower leis, lifting his arm in

greeting, a leader’s stern survey of crowds and ceremony.

    In spite of the heat and humidity, nothing slowed down.  School teachers nurtured their

young sprouts as they had tended their victory gardens.  Teachers believed that a

combination of sun, water, and spelling would build sturdy bodies and minds.  (The

younger teachers dreamed of a love life after school; even a slight breeze at recess could

set off alarming sensations beneath their light cotton dresses.)  The twins obediently

colored maps of the world—while every other place in the world was a color on a map,

the children’s reality was the island, the house in which they lived.  Good weather

seemed to cooperate with lesson plans that emphasized good habits and positive values. 

The girls learned about basic food groups and dental hygiene.  

    Even moments of anxiety seemed routinely scheduled.  Once a month, civil defense

sirens blared for a full minute at noon.  Radios announced an alert at the same time,

emitting an odd hum.  At a loud signal that sounded like a berserk foghorn, the school

children were taught to duck and cover, diving under their wooden desks and covering

their small heads with their arms, as if fending off the attack of a nuisance dog.  It was a

festive exercise, disrupting spelling bees and multiplication tables.  

    Improvement was taking place everywhere:  for the first time in memory, the city and

county embarked on road projects.  The men in the family discussed driving routes

based on road maintenance detours.  When the Caterpillars and pile drivers were raising

a racket on Keaniani Street, Father went out to talk to the crew.  Then he visited the

neighbors.  By the next day, he had collected enough cash to pay the road crew to roll

down Keaniani Lane.  At the end of a work day, around mid-afternoon, the crew

rumbled along the lane, laying out a thick gravel bed and pressing it into place.  Then

they laid hot asphalt, followed by the rumbling steam roller.  Everyone watched the

dusty dirt lane transform into a neatly groomed cul-de-sac.  One of the big machine

drivers, an old-timer wearing a woman’s straw hat and Hollywood sunglasses, even

finessed a T-shaped turnaround at the end of the lane.  The neighbor men threw in more

cash and brought beer out for the crew.  The women carried pans of fried rice and sweet

and sour ribs.  More trays and pans of goodies were passed around.  The neighbor men

and road crew mingled, laughing in the dusky light.  The boys took chunks of blacktop

and put them in their pockets.  By dark, the lane was quiet, steam rising with the warm,

sick smell of asphalt.




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