MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 66 – Paradise at Ke-Nui
After much thought, we finally decided to call our new puppy ‘Pele’, after the most revered goddess of the Hawaiian Islands. Pele was the heart of the volcano, a demanding but generous goddess, and frankly, the only Hawaiian word we had learned by the time we brought her home to our little A-Frame at 59-215A Ke-Nui Road, Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii. Even this had such a nice ring to it that I could hardly wait to write back home and give everyone our new address. None of us had any idea what Ke-Nui meant in Hawaiian, and I still do not know, but for the McConnell family it meant ‘home’ – a home filled with love and laughter. How could I possibly know the laughter would soon die, replaced by tears, regret, and grief so devastating that even now words cannot do it justice?
The Quartermaster supply surprised us with a set of two freshly covered overstuffed chairs and a large sofa to match in a soft shade of aqua, not as deep in hue as the ocean, but lighter, and nonetheless lovely. The slipcovers were removable, washable heavy cotton, which was a plus with the children’s inevitable spills and other accidents, and of course the puppy. The cream carpet was perfect with the color, and made the entire room with its exposed wooden beams look cool and welcoming, with a tropical feel about it without being garish. Billy hung fishnets from the balcony that overlooked the living room and we both filled them with float balls, chunks of coral (legitimately gathered, I hope), and starfish of various sizes. There was also a large mahogany desk and matching chair for the living room, and a huge mahogany server that fit the space under the balcony perfectly and gave me a place to store what little silver and good linens we owned. Destined to become a ‘catch-all’, the top drawers contained a mixed array of items that we had accumulated during our four plus years of marriage that I simply could not bring myself to throw away. All homes need at least one place where anything that is not in use, but looks useful, or seems important as if it came off of something is kept until its use is discovered, or in the case of so many of these items, is just tossed away before the next move. The buffet’s size and location made it the only appropriate place to store ‘stuff’. There was a small kitchen table with an aqua Formica top and four small chairs, just perfect for our family and for playing bridge, although we had brought our own card table and chairs with us. I just hoped that Billy would be home enough so we could use it! I could not believe how well the furniture fit in the house and actually all went together very nicely, one with the other, since the Quartermaster usually does not take such feminine care matching their furnishings.
Billy had managed to ‘find’ two entire rolls of ‘target cloth’, a type of burlap used to cover the targets on the various firing ranges, and I never really did get the full story how he happened upon this ‘treasure’, but I am not sure that I wanted to know! He had a way of finding things that no one else could find, and I rarely questioned him if I needed it. The natural color of the cloth complimented the other furnishings, and I spent night after night using a saucer as a template to cut scalloped tops, which I turned inside out and finished with a twelve-inch upper lining, then I added a twelve-inch hem. Finally, I hand sewed brass rings on the top of each scallop and after Billy hung thin brass rods down the entire side length of the living room and kitchen, we slipped the curtains onto the shining new hardware only to discover that they were too short! I could not believe that I had misjudged so badly, and to take out the neatly sewn hems would ravel the loosely woven fabric, so Billy just lowered the rods until the top of the windows were exposed. Actually, it turned out even more attractive and allowed more sunlight to enter the house than if the entire window was covered, but when alone at night, with the curtains drawn, someone would have had to be on stilts to see inside! In the end, I realized that my error was not in my measurements, but in the fact that I did not pre-wash the fabric, which shrunk badly, thus the size difference in the finished product. It was one of those lifetime lessons and never again did I not wash anything that needed hemming, or have any other adjustments made, not to mention any fabric I used to make clothing or decorative items for our home.
To cover the front sliding glass doors, we drove down to Ala Moana Shopping Center and went to Sears where we found very attractive, but plain, cream colored draperies that matched the carpet perfectly. Billy hung these on a brass rod with hidden hooks, and after dark, I could draw them closed, and I felt quite secure and safe in our new home.
Actually, the trip to Sears came out of the necessity, at least according to Billy, to purchase a queen-sized bed. The Quartermaster only had twin beds available in their warehouse, and when Billy saw these, as they came off the truck, he quickly said, “This simply won’t work.”
He then asked the soldiers delivering the furniture to reload the beds, and amid smiles and whispered jokes, that the soldiers thought I did not see, they returned the beds to the truck. After they left, off we went to Honolulu to buy a bed so we could ‘touch’ while we slept. Since I was concerned about adding to our charge card, I told Billy that we could push the beds together and buy a king-sized spread and they would look like one large bed, but that was decidedly not good enough for him.
“Honey,” he said, “we have been married for just over four years, and except when I was in the field or training, or when you had our children, we have never slept more than an inch apart, if that, and usually you sleep in my arms, so I am not about to change that now. Everything is just too perfect for us to settle for less, and we are going to sleep in the same bed, now and forever.”
I knew that there was no changing his mind once he had the beds put back on the truck, but I had tried to find a suitable solution without going into any more debt. Honestly though, I too would have been disappointed not to sleep in my Billy’s protective arms, and I knew I would have been most unhappy.
Since this had been his idea, I let Billy choose, and he selected a matching queen size box springs and mattress with just the frame and no headboard, and it was actually on sale and a good buy. Within minutes, I found a bedspread in a washable tapestry that was the same aqua as the ocean. I had decided, even before I found the spread, also on sale, to dye the last of the target cloth that same deep aqua and gather it tightly on a brass rod over the only small window in the bedroom, which was right over the head of the bed. This area posed a problem since it was triangular, with the top of the triangle at the ceiling, so only a short brass rod would fit the space and cover the window. I wanted the curtains to flare out to touch the floor behind the bed from corner to corner, thus making a headboard of sorts, and with the bulk of the cloth, it would take a thicker rod than we had used downstairs to handle the weight. I really was trying not to buy anything that was not a necessity, but Billy kept saying that since he had saved so much money on the cloth for the side curtains, that we could afford the bed and the spread. That night we also bought pink paint for the rocking chair in the nursery and a new full-size playpen for Margie, since Michael’s had not withstood his climbing, and the netting had ripped long ago.
Billy also insisted that I look at the muumuus since he had heard me say how comfortable they looked, and with his help, I chose three that reflected the bright colors of the tropics, but were loose and very comfortable. I wound up ‘living’ in these three dresses, and later even bought a ‘formal muumuu that was a floor-length patterned tone-on-tone emerald green that reflected in my eyes, and made them the same deep green color. I still had weight to lose from my pregnancy, so these loose, flowing garments were just perfect for now, although they did not open in the front for nursing. I learned to slip them off my shoulder when necessary, although I certainly always did so in private. Billy particularly liked the formal green dress that fit snugly over the bust, and when I wore it, he would say that I never looked prettier, especially since now I actually had some breasts and cleavage! However, he never commented on the latter, but I could almost read his mind as his eyes remained glued to my bust.
All weekend we labored to get the house set up before Monday when Billy had to go back to work, and of course, we had our traditional pineapple sandwiches for supper when we finished, and this was the last time that we ate pineapple from a can. Everything looked so nice and fresh, and so clean! I just hoped I could keep it that way, but knew that it would be a never-ending battle. Since I had never owned a mop, rather mopping my floors on my hands and knees, and I had more floor than ever before, which, of course, was off white linoleum almost the same shade as the carpet, I knew that along with my ‘mommy’ chores, cooking and laundry, I would never be at a loss for something to do. Because of the expense of the on-post laundry, our already over-stretched budget, and Billy’s need for a fresh pair of fatigues each day, I told him that I would continue to wash and iron them. Once again, I starched them until they hung stiffly on the clothesline, and then sprinkled them with water, rolled them up and ironed long into the night, mostly when he was in the field. Frankly, his uniforms looked much nicer than those from the laundry did since, always the perfectionist, they did not have one single wrinkle. Our washing machine arrived with the rest of our household goods, and much to our surprise, we found that in Hawaii, the machines stayed outside, and our landlord had supplied a small, protected cemented niche with hookup and water in the back of the house just for this purpose. Later, as I began to get to know some of the local surfers, I would allow them to use my machine, thus offering the double security of making friends with them, and further protecting our property. I knew that within the closed surfer community, the word would get around that we were not to be bothered.
I enjoyed washing clothes, hanging them on the long lines that ran between our house and the house that was closer to the beach, and I even made friends with a tiny Japanese woman who lived in a small house just to the side and behind our own. We became ‘clothesline’ friends and often chatted while we worked, and then afterwards over the fence. Most of my wash was diapers and the constant breeze on this side of the island provided an environment practically free of humidity, and as soon as I finished hanging them, the first were completely dry. This had never been an arduous chore for me anyway since I loved the sunshine fresh smell of my children’s clothing, and my husband’s white t-shirts and underwear, and even my own muumuus, now there was even a hint of the sea in the clothes, which was unique and refreshing. Yes, laundry was probably my favorite chore.
Then there was the ironing, and although I did not resent having to iron those heavy fatigues with all their pockets and creases, and I enjoyed knowing that Billy would have a fresh uniform whenever he needed it, it took me an hour and a half to iron each set. Mostly because of the weight of the fabric, the heavy starch, and the time that I spent making sure that all the creases were perfect, and indeed this was a labor of love since I knew that Billy would want and need to be an example to his ‘men. I wanted his uniforms to look as if they had been professionally laundered, or even better. I saved the ironing for nighttime after the children were sleeping, and many were the nights, with Billy in the field, that I ironed until the wee hours of the morning while listening to the traditional Hawaiian music on the radio. I almost felt as if Don Ho and I were intimate friends since we spent so much ‘time together’.
Speaking of music, the lack of television was probably the major disadvantage to life on the North Shore since we could not get television reception from Honolulu. There was a huge bluff directly across the street from our house, plus many others between us, and the stations. So radio was my only diversion. At first, I could not get enough of the island music, but after awhile, ‘Pearly Shells’ got a bit old, and I would search the airwaves for anything other than my friend Don Ho! Michael did not seem to miss his cartoons, and he managed to stay a busy, into everything, little boy. He performed some of his most notorious stunts while living on Sunset Beach, and I have told him the stories repeatedly. I cannot wait until his children are old enough to hear them too!
True to his word, Billy had Pele` trained not to step onto the carpet in just three weekends. The puppy especially loved Margie, and often when she thought I was not looking, and the baby was lying on the carpet, I could see, out of the corner of my eye, Pele` lying on her belly as she put one paw on the carpet. Then she would look around to see if I was watching her, and if she thought not, she would put the second paw on the carpet and again pause to see if I was looking. Then came the third paw, and that created a particularly awkward pose and I could barely keep from laughing, but she would look again to see if I was watching, and finally came the fourth paw and she was so proud of herself. At this time, I would call her name, and she would rush back to the linoleum flooring with a ‘bad dog’ look on her face, but a longing to be with the baby. Once, I startled her so that she ran under the huge sideboard, not realizing how large she had become, and became firmly wedged. In order to get her out, I had to walk down to the beach to see if any of the surfers were around. Fortunately, I found two of the young men we knew, and I brought them back to the house where they lifted the heavy piece of furniture off the now thoroughly panicked and yelping puppy. She never tried that again, but as a child sometimes must, she had to learn the hard way. Of course, that did not cure her from trying to sneak on the carpet to play with Margie, but it was not long before Margie was pulling herself along with her arms and was able to get to the puppy. She loved to pat Pele’s soft fur and the cool linoleum floor, she worked hard to get from the far edge of the living room to the edge of the carpet, and, like her brother, was determined, and it was not long before she made this her regular routine.
Pele` was usually outside with Michael, and although I tried to keep them in sight, often when distracted, they would disappear, and I with Margie in my arms, would have to go look for them. This happened at least once a day. A curious three-year-old, an infant and a puppy kept me more than busy, and the daylight hours passed quickly. It was the long lonely nights when Billy was working late or in the field, and I could see Rusty’s car parked in their driveway, and the family sounds coming from their home, that I was lonely. Lonelier than I had ever been in my life, but still I truly did not know the meaning of the word, ‘lonely’ – that would come later.
One night when Billy was home, we had cut off all the lights and were sitting on the couch catching up with each other’s news and looking at the stars through the top window when Pele` first earned her keep. She had been quietly sleeping beside Michael’s bed in the back of the house, when all of a sudden she rushed to the front sliding doors, ignoring that she had just crossed the forbidden carpet. Her hackles raised, ears erect she let out a low menacing growl, which she had never done before. Quietly Billy rose from the couch, took his pistol out of the locked desk drawer, and the flashlight out of the top drawer of the sideboard. I heard the click as he released the safety on the pistol and he instructed me to cut on the outside floodlights thirty seconds after he went out the side door. Frightened for him, I begged him not to go, but he said that someone or something was out there messing with our car or Pele` would not be on alert. I wanted him to take her, but she was still a puppy and he did not want her hurt, so he left her with me as he silently slipped out the door. I counted slowly to thirty then flipped the floodlights on, and then heard shouts from Billy, and the running of feet down Ke-Nui Road. No longer able to control my fear for my husband, I slid open the front doors and found Billy standing on the lanai looking down the road where the slap of bare feet on the pavement could still be heard.
“They were trying to strip our car!” Billy said, angrily, “And they were so quiet that if it had not been for Pele`, we probably would not have any tires or a radio right now!”
Fortunately, they had run when I had cut on the lights since they were fully illuminated and sitting ducks for anyone with a gun. The next day I mentioned it to some of our surfer friends, and later was told that we should not worry about anyone ever bothering us again. I guess that the word had not gotten around to these ‘thieves’ that we were ‘hands off’ or ‘kapu’, but we never had any more trouble after that night. I was just grateful that Billy had been home, which was becoming a rare treat, and I savored every stolen golden moment.
I gloried in the nights we spent making love on the soft carpet, and the very sound of him snoring softly as he slept beside me became my lullaby. But most of all, with each passing day I fell more and more in love with my handsome lieutenant, and the sound of the car when he arrived home was music to my ears. Most of the wives of the men of the 25th Division were holding onto their husbands just a bit more tightly and loving them a whole lot more since we never knew when the word would come and they would be gone with the sunrise.
Next Chapter coming soon...