My Gift that my Dad Gave Me

My dad witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

He was only ten months old, a little babe, clutched in my grandpa’s arms. But my grandma used to tell the fateful story of that day when my grandpa innocently walked out of their small, simple home in Wahiawa, Hawaii, in the Schofield Barracks to go outside and show his baby son “the airplanes in the sky.” 

Grandma astutely realized this was no “air show,” and shouted at her husband to get the heck inside. She quickly crawled under a table and continued to beckon my grandpa to get in the house by screaming at the tops of her lungs.

My Grandma Whitehead was born and raised in Paia, Maui. She was the second oldest of seven children, and was the daughter of a Portuguese sailor who retired from sailing to work in the sugar cane fields. She was born in 1912 in Paia, Maui. After graduating from high school, she moved to Oahu and started working in a pineapple factory.

The pineapple factory wasn’t exactly her dream job. In fact, it sucked– long hours, low pay, and not the best working conditions. Since my grandma was clever, though, and not afraid to break some rules, she found a loop hole in the system to get more frequent “breaks.” The pineapple factory required that she wear gloves. However, if a hole formed in an employee’s gloves, the employee was required to obtain a new pair of hole-free gloves. Fortunately, the gloves were stored in a separate warehouse that was quite a walking distance from the factory. While Grandma worked, she would begin to slowly poke holes in her gloves, thereby giving herself the opportunity to go for a long walk to get new gloves, and simultaneously giving herself a break from the monotony of the pineapple factory. Pretty baller, right? 

That was her way of saying, “Take that, you freaking pineapple plutocracy!”

In her late twenties, Grandma met a man and was swept off her feet. He was smooth and charming and they got engaged.

Turns out he was an a$$hat. An alcoholic a$$hat at that. 

Grandma was smart enough to kick his butt to the curb and move on. When she was in rebound mode, she met my Grandpa Whitehead on a blind date. She lucked out on this one, and ended up marrying one of the most kind and gentle souls on earth.  But this blog isn’t about him, so back to Grandma.

Grandma and Grandpa got married and had two children–my dad, Robert Earl, and his younger brother, Rudolph Russell Roy. They affectionately called them Bobby and Roy. 

They lived on an island–a freaking paradise for crying out loud. But my Grandpa, who was originally from Indiana, landed a job working at Stellite–a factory in Kokomo, Indiana. For a man who only had an eighth grade education and was an orphan–this was a great opportunity to move up the pay scale. 

My dad claims his entire family was ecstatic to move to Indiana. It was my grandma’s first time coming to the U.S., or the mainland, as she called it. Hawaii was not yet a state.  My dad said he remembers with excitement, his mother showing him a book with pictures of the Midwest flatlands. To them, it was so different and surreal, and they couldn’t wait to start a new life in such a foreign, flat, miraculous place. 

My dad was eleven years old at the time that they boarded a boat with all of their things and embarked on a new life in the U.S. in a what turns out was a very unexotic place–Kokomo, Indiana.

And that is where the story of my family’s Hawaiian life ends. 

Except for not really. Because now that my dad is aging, he’s becoming quite sentimental. He thinks about his childhood and the everyday beauty that he experienced both with his grandparents in Maui and family and friends in Oahu. Perhaps it was one of the few times in his life where he really felt like he was in a community. Neighbors, extended family, and friends worked together to raise him. They were part of something small that really ended up being something big–because your childhood takes up this humongous part of your soul and just eats up your heart. It paves your way with sounds, smells, and scents that you connect with your entire life and long to experience even when you’re as old as the hills and you have dementia. You may not remember what day it is, but gosh darn it, every time you smell the scent of rose water, it takes you right back to your grandma’s perfume. 

That’s the kind of jacked up tricks your childhood memories play on your brain.  

My dad is now seventy-four years old. He told me a few weeks ago that he wanted–or actually that he needed–to go see Hawaii again one last time. And guess what? This time he’s taking me and Aliana with him. 

And I’m in shock because good crap like this never happens to me. You know how you go to events and people give you tickets with numbers on them, and then they call out numbers on tickets and people win sh** if the  number on their ticket gets called?

Well I’m that kid whose TICKET NEVER GOT CALLED. I’ve never won any thing in my whole damn life, but now I feel like I just won the lottery. I’ve been given this experience by my dad that I can’t even put into words. I haven’t even gotten on the plane yet, but I’m already crying. 

I’m going to get to experience his childhood memories with him.  Three generations will be together, in a place that I could not normally afford to take my child, but my dad is giving us the GIFT of reliving this part of his life with HIM AT OUR SIDE. 

I asked my dad to write down some childhood  memories for me:

“I enjoyed my time in school when I could go to school without shoes and ride down the slanted hill on my bike. I enjoyed playing in the forest area near my house that we were able to walk downhill in some type of woods and swing from tree to tree. I enjoyed visiting my grandmother and grandfather in Maui. My grandfather played cards with me.  I enjoyed going to the movies with my grandfather.  My cousins and I on both Islands had a great deal of fun together. Going to the beaches and seeing how far I could go  riding the waves.  I also enjoyed playing bingo and feeling older being in Schofield Barracks with my parents. Probably my most memorable time was when I left the islands on the boat with everyone coming down to the boat, giving us leis, and watching us leave the island in a beautiful sunset with Hawaiian  music being played.”

On March 24th, I’m taking my dad home. 

A picture of my baller Grandma (Alice Amorin) and Grandpa (Russell) Whitehead, on their wedding day 🙌

Grandpa Sommers

My Grandpa Sommers fell out of a tree and died right before his 98th birthday. Yep, you read that correctly. HE FELL OUT OF A TREE AND DIED AT THE AGE OF 97. (With a chainsaw in hand, might I add.)

This happened in October 2010.

Now I could probably spend a good ten blog entries writing about my Grandpa Sommers, since he was an intriguing soul. He prepared people’s taxes in his home well into his 90s, and was a retired minister and farmer. He got up early and went to bed late. He sang beautifully. He was affectionate–not afraid to hold my hand or give tight hugs. He was soft spoken and only used rotary telephones. He answered the phone, “Sommers’ residence,” instead of saying a boring hello. He loved building things, gardening, and planning and completing projects around the home and outdoors.

He was thoughtful and frugal. He always shopped at Aldi’s and ate from the garden. He told me once that when he took his hand-saw in to get it sharpened at Menards, they were going to charge him 50 cents, and that was too expensive.

“I was expecting a dime,” he said. I tried to explain to him that it is natural for prices to increase over time, but he wasn’t having any of that.

Several years after my Grandma passed away, Grandpa started to date again. He mainly dated one particular woman. However, he broke up with her for a period of time, when she criticized his clothing choice. They were getting ready to leave on a date, and she said, “You’re wearing THAT??!” referring to a flannel shirt he had on.

Grandpa decided he was too old to deal with that kind of crap and broke things off. After awhile, they started dating again, but it was never the same.

Grandpa had standards. He didn’t let people push him around.

He loved life. He loved work. My dad would look out the window on snowy days at 5:00 am and see his father-in-law shoveling.

“Now why is he doing that? He’s making me look bad,” my dad would mutter.

Every fall, Grandpa liked to cut all of the tops of his trees off. He said this made them more beautiful when they would begin to grow again in the spring.

He mentioned to my mom that he was going to cut down the biggest tree in the front yard.

My mom all but begged him not to do it.

So, he instead cut the tree down in his back yard, and didn’t tell her about it.

At some point during the process, he fell. They lifelined him in a helicopter to Indianapolis. They operated on his legs.

He survived the operation, but once he woke up and realized the severity to the injuries in his legs, he let go of life.

Someone at his funeral said, “Clayton died the same way he lived. He died doing something he loved.”

Grandpa’s life wasn’t easy. He lost a son to cancer. He lost a grandson. He lost his father right before he was supposed to go to Depauw University on a full ride scholarship. He ended up not going to college, since his mother asked him to stay with her.

But I never once heard him begin a sentence with “I’m worried about…” or “I’m angry because..” He just didn’t have time for self pity. Grandpa believed everything happened for a reason, and that things were always exactly as they should be.

He knew when to let go. He didn’t hold on to his broken legs, begging for healing.

You see, I want to be this man. I want to leave a legacy behind that has people talking about me for years. I want to get up every morning and do what I love. I want to serve others, yet never allow myself to be pushed around or devalued. I want to know that I am living in a universe filled with intent and purpose. I’m not just a bunch of cells colliding around, bumping into things and letting life happen to me.

I want to care deeply about each day. Because that is the point.

And the next point is that Grandpa loved cornbread. This was Grandma’s recipe:

1 c. yellow corn meal
1 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
4 t. baking powder
1 egg
1 c. milk
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. shortening

Sift dry ingredients into bowl. Add egg, milk and shortening. Beat with mixer until smooth–about 1 minute. Do not over beat. Bake in 8 inch sq. pan at 425 degrees for 20-25 min.