By Kara Ozaki
Special to The Advertiser
"Im sorry we were so poor."
Dad was telling the grandchildren about our early days in the country. In 1943, during the war, he had scooped up his young family from plantation life in Aiea and plunked us down in Kapahi, the inaka (deep in the country) above Kapaa town on Kauai.
No electricity or telephone. A real ice box, cold only when the man delivered a block of ice. A kerosene stove. An outhouse 50 feet away from the house. A big wooden furo (Japanese-style soaking bath) that Ojichan (Grandpa) had built. A house with a dirt-floored kitchen. Kerosene lanterns and a battery-operated radio. A Model A Ford with a rumble seat.
The war left scars: screams when many planes flew overhead, bad memories of blackened lights, the grotesque gas masks, the bomb shelter in the back yard. Luckily, we were very young and dont remember much of this.
We were new farmers, growing truck crops like string beans and tomatoes. Dads only experience was home gardening. It involved hard work with long hours and a strong commitment to survive.
While Dad remembered the difficult years of struggling to "make a go" for crops were vulnerable to weather, pestilence and mismanagement I can smile about those growing-up years between 1943 and 1950.
Close to nature
Our long, narrow, winding road was beautiful and quiet except for the chirping of birds. Below our place were the mountain apple trees and the small stream where goldfish could be caught. Our back yard, full of banana trees, bordered a shallow river where we could catch crayfish, oopu (goby fish), and 'opae (clawed shrimp). There were mango trees, too.
Alongside the road were hau trees to climb in and play "Tarzan" and guava trees with fruit so good with salt and pepper. The Tone family had a large fig tree by their furo. And I cant forget the starfruit tree in the pasture across the dip in the road. Whenever we had ochigori (big water), the water would overflow onto the road and leave fish, crayfish and 'opae jumping around for us to catch.
As we grew older, I would pack a lunch for my little brother and myself, and we would walk up the road under the shade of the tall trees. We hoped to meet "Santa Claus" on the way. Mr. Souza was round, jolly, with white hair and an abundant white beard.
Our favorite spot was the "swimming hole" by the bridge where the neighborhood children naturally congregated. The youngest children puttered in the shallows. We ate in the shade of the bridge and always waited impatiently for an hour to pass (so we could go back in the water).
The teenagers taught the younger ones to swim. If you could swim from the big rock in the middle of the pool to the natural stone seat across the river, you graduated. Sometimes Dad and Mom came to swim, too.
When we felt adventuresome, we would follow the river, heading back to our home, bumping and splashing over the rocks and whooping it up over the small waterfalls.
We lived in shorts and T-shirts, barefooted most of the time. Oh, yes, dont forget my big hat to keep off the freckles. We had friends and family, food we grew or raised (chickens and ducks) and a wild, woodsy playground. At night we read a lot discarded magazines from the store, books and comics and listened to obake (ghost) stores on the radio.
We were poor???
Kara Ozaki lives in Hilo.
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