Sunday, January 21, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 21, 2001

Hawai'i Ways, Hawai'i Days
Playing without structure fades away

By Elizabeth Williams

Talking to my grandchildren the other day, I brought up a question that seemed to puzzle them. "Where do you play?" I asked.

I live in town and they live out Mililani way, and, because I don’t drive, they tend to visit me at my house. But having seen their very California-fied neighborhood with its culdesacs and tiny yards, I was wondering if they’d found some favorite spots, not so civilized, in which to "go out and play."

"We play at recess at school," Kara said. She’s 6.

"I don’t play, I hang out," Rodney said. He’s 9 but he can’t wait to be a teenager.

"Don’t you build forts and play hide-and-go-seek?" I asked.

Rodney looked insulted, and Kara, who likes to make everyone happy, offered a puzzled, "No, we go to soccer in the park."

This made me sad. I started remembering my small-kid time, in Wailuku, Maui, weekends with my cousins in Wailuku Heights and friends we had in Iao Valley.

When I think about those days, in the 1950s, the whole world seems to have been one big haole koa forest.

We never walked on the sidewalk if we could thread through the "woods." We girls spent entire days clearing out circles in the young haole koa groves to form the rooms of imaginary houses, "cooking" and "cleaning" for our dolls. There were woods right in town, on Sand Hills, and between the various neighborhoods.

Behind our house was a narrow little street. (When I went back there a few years ago, I couldn’t believe how narrow and short; it seemed like a whole world to me at the time.) That street was always full of kids, playing games, having fights, running and screaming.

We were outdoors all the time, even in town. We’d check out what was happening at the YMCA swimming pool, loiter outside the Jodo mission waiting for our friends to get out of Japanese school or outside St. Anthony School for our Catholic friends. We slunk through the graveyards and scared ourselves with stories of ghosts and grave robbers. We went to the library and sat at the little tables in the children’s section, looked at books and shushed each other until we got thrown out.

In Wailuku Heights, with my boy cousins, we played Robin Hood and Maid Marian (I always had to be a dumb lady in waiting; my pretty cousins were Marian) and shot arrows made of haole koa branches and fought with swords of guava wood. You could whack someone good with a branch of guava wood.

When we found enough guavas along the banks of Kepaniwai River in Iao, we had rotten guava fights and then, sticky and smelly, with seeds in our hair, rock-jumped up the river to the swimming pond by the hanawai man’s pump house, halfway between the park and the Iao Needle.

I don’t remember our parents ever worrying. I don’t remember anyone playing any organized sport until the boys got into Little League, and that was only Saturdays. I don’t remember any after-school activities except a few girls who went into Brownies and Girl Scouts. I just remember playing. And I wish my grandkids could do that, too.

Elizabeth Williams lives in Honolulu.

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