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May Day Memories

Me, Beth and friends at Nanakuli Beach

I lived in Hawaii as a child. I flew there on a cold day in January. Well, cold in San Francisco anyway where our flight departed. My mom had dressed us up for the flight. Those were the days. I wore a wool jumper over my turtleneck and pink wool knee socks. She shouldn’t have bothered. It was a no fuss military flight where the “flight attendants” tossed our hoagies to us over the heads of other passengers.

When we got off the plane, it was warm and the air smelled like a greenhouse. A little string of faux pearls I had worn broke as I descended the stairs and spilled all over the tarmac. It was 2 am and I was too warm.

The next morning, my sister Beth and I woke to the sounds of kids playing in a pool. The sun was shining, the plants were weird and wool clothing was all we had. My mom must have wanted us to imitate the missionaries.

Beth and I stared out the window in despair. Our summer clothes were in transit. And it was hot. And the pool was so blue and cool.

One of the parents decided that something must be done so we walked to the local Wigwam Store in Waipahu to buy short muu muus that would become our temporary wardrobe. A green one for me, brown for Beth. There were also bathing suits, because, to be honest, after school, that’s all we were planning to wear.

We went to school where our teachers were mostly Japanese and we were expected to clean our own classrooms and serve lunch. No one complained. And a couple days a week, we had hula lessons. That was in preparation for May Day.

Beth and I knew nothing about May Day in Hawaii. It turns out to be a big deal with a queen and her court representing each of the islands. They sat on a platform covered with ti leaves and flowers while each class performed a hula in muu muus or carefully folded and tucked pieces of colorful cloth. My class’s girl dance was Down on the Beach at Waikiki. I think Beth’s was I Want to Go Back to my Little Grass Shack. The year after that, our dances got more authentic and were sung in Hawaiian. I played an ipu and danced on my knees.

Anyway, in my memory, it’s always a sunny day on May Day with a light breeze and the scent of plumeria, gardenia and awapuhi. All the keikis sing:

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii
Garlands of flowers everywhere
All of the colors in the rainbow
Maidens with blossoms in their hair

Flowers that mean we should be happy
Throwing aside a load of care
Oh, May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii
May Day is happy days out here

Happy May Day Everyone!

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