Memories of Punahou

This memoir is taken from a letter I wrote to a Punahou alumnus who was the correspondent for the Punahou Bulletin. It began, “Dear Kirk …”

The gang I ran with was Marcy Drothzen, Sheila McCall, Norma Larson, and their friends and relatives. Norma feels strongly that she does not want her name in the Punahou bulletin and I believe in honoring her request. So this is for your eyes only.

Before I came to Punahou they used to act out stories, whoever was there taking various characters in the story.  One day the story was Peter and the Wolf, and Norma Larson was Peter.  Everyone liked the way she played that role very much, and to this day her close friends call her “Peter.”

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Carolyn getting ready to ride her ti leaf
Carolyn getting ready to ride her ti leaf

It was New Year’s Day of 1939 or 1940.  Peter (Norma) and I went ti-leaf sliding with the Trail and Mountain Club. At the end of the sliding she and I drove down to Waikiki and went swimming with all our clothes on to wash off the mud. She knew that if we went around the breakwater we could come out on the beach at heiress Doris Duke’s Islamic-style mansion, the “Shangri La” (now a center for Islamic arts and culture). The City Council had said that the shore belongs to the public, and they could not deny us landing there. Peter was a good swimmer, and it was half a mile out to the end of the breakwater, but we made it easily and swam up to Doris Duke’s docks. We pulled ourselves onto a dock and sat and rested in the sun. The people working there saw us, but paid us no attention. When we were rested we swam back to Waikiki and went home—our clothes now rid of mud.

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One night we went to a Chinese Opera. We were the only non-Chinese in the place. It had started early in the afternoon and was to run late into the night. They seated us in the very back row explaining that the music was too loud for us otherwise. We stayed a couple of hours. I learned later that that particular group was one of the finest in the world. It was another culture from ours. The costumes were superb and the story line was fine. People wandered around gossiping, eating, drinking, and reading the newspaper. They threw the steaming hot, rolled up washcloths through the air for people to wash their perspiring faces and clean their hands. We enjoyed it thoroughly, but never returned.

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When I was 16, my folks got me a 1929 Model A Touring Car—a convertible. I haven’t been so excited before or since. But in the summer of 1940, I had a boyfriend who had shipped his “bug” from California and planned to sell it before he went home. He didn’t get any buyers, and wanted only $100, so my mother offered to buy it for me. Then in February of ‘41, my mother and I were shipped to California by Navy Transport. I drove up the Larson driveway to say goodbye to Peter, and when her dad saw the “bug” he immediately wanted it for Peter. He wrote out a check for $125 immediately, and so the little car went to Peter and she drove it around the Island for quite a while.

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 The next spring vacation I went back to Hawaii—invited by Mary Porter to visit with her and her sister at the sister’s home near the top of Kilowea. It rained almost all the time we were there, but we did take walks. At the house there was a newly published book by Degener about the local flora, and I spent a lot of time identifying different plants. There was one plant—a kind of orchid that grew up out of the ground—they called a tattooing plant. The early Hawaiians would split the leaf and lay the open part of the leaf against their body to etch it, tying it in place for 48 hours.

Mary’s sister took one of the leaves and made a cross with it on the inside of her arm. Shortly afterward she got on the boat to Oahu, took a sleeping pill and went to bed. (Apparently she got seasick easily, and that was her way of getting to Oahu in one piece.) She told me the next day that the acid hurt her arm so badly that she took it off during the night. I, however, made a cross on my baby toe with a leaf and plastered it down with adhesive tape. I left it on for the total 48 hours, and when I took it off there was a brown cross on my toe that  lasted for more than six months.

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