It was July 12, 1939, my sixteenth birthday. Mom, Pop, and I were living in Honolulu. I had just graduated from high school, and was planning to go to the University of Hawaii in the fall. It was 1940, eighteen months before the Pearl Harbor attack.
My birthday honors had been acknowledged, and after dinner I had picked up a neighbor classmate, and we walked the mile to Schofield Barracks Army Base to see a movie and then walked home again. My folks were in bed reading, and I went in to say good night. Mom said to me, “Go down and look in the garage.”
I felt bewildered, but it behooved me to do what she said, so down the hall, out the front door, around the house to the garage I went. There sat, looking as though it belonged there, a black 1929 Ford Model A Convertible Touring Car. I jumped and hollered and threw my arms around and squealed and danced up to their bedroom again and could not, did not try to contain myself. For them to give me a car was completely and utterly a surprise.
That car spelled freedom and joy for me. It took my roommate Sheila and me to our University of Hawaii classes and back every day. It took us to the beach. On Sundays it took us to the Trail and Mountain Club hikes. The day of the Labor Day parade eight of the University of Hawaii football players invited themselves aboard, and we sailed down Fort Street, an uninvited part of the organized parade.
One of the sports of the time was to drive up Manoa Valley, where there was almost constant rain, park the car, and then climb up the steep forested hill. Up on the hill grew “ti-leaf” plants, as tall as we were. We would cut a whole plant off at the big stem and shake it out. It was as big as a sled, and starting at the top of the hill we would sit on the plants, holding the stem with both hands, lean back, and toboggan down to the road, sliding in the slippery mud. The photo shows us walking back to the car after our ride. When we were tired, we’d drive down to Waikiki Beach and go swimming with all our clothes on and let the ocean clean off the mud.
Backing up just a little, in September 1937, the first day of the school year—for me the first day in a new school—we were all seated in the auditorium at Punahou School, and Dean Slade was greeting us. He was saying, “Somehow the friends you make in high school will be your lifelong friends.”
I looked around me and thought, “Could that be true? Who, among this group of kids, could possibly be a lifelong friend?” But, now at age 85, there are four of us who are still lifelong friends. One of them is my friend Sheila McCall.
Probably the most memorable experience Sheila and I had in my Model A Convertible Touring Car was with Errol Flynn, the famous film star, and Duke Kahanomoku, the Gold Medal Olympic swimmer, on Waikiki Beach.
After we were graduated from High School, Sheila and I started at the University of Hawaii, and Sheila moved in with my family as a boarder. We were roommates and best friends.
Sheila was passionate about Errol Flynn, and he was her main source of daydreams through her high school years. My mother thought this was not healthy, so the day at the breakfast table we heard Errol Flynn was aboard the China Clipper, the once-a-week air travel from the Mainland to Honolulu, my mother told Sheila that she should arrange a meeting with Errol Flynn to get more realistic about who he was. Four weeks later, listening to the breakfast news again, they announced Errol was flying home this day. My mother reproached Sheila for not trying to meet him.
But the next morning at the same breakfast table the announcer said the Clipper had returned to Honolulu for the day because of engine trouble.
With my mother’s prodding, Sheila and I grabbed our books and piled into my Model A Touring Car and headed for Waikiki instead of the University. I pulled up to the side of the road, and sure enough the beach was empty except for two men sunning themselves on the sand. Sheila and I pulled our shoes and socks off and walked over to join them.
There was Errol Flynn, white with blond hair and blue eyes, wearing only a skimpy pair of white bathing trunks. He was gorgeous. Beside him was Duke Kahanomoku, black with black curls and brown eyes, wearing only a skimpy pair of black bathing trunks. He, too, was gorgeous.
Sheila and I sat ourselves on the sand beside them, and I was quiet while she talked. She had some story made up about how my mother had told her she had to come and talk to Errol Flynn. I didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying. I was taking in the two men, who were polite and listened to her story and responded graciously.
When the conversation sagged, Duke pointed to my car, whose top was down, and suggested we all get in it and drive up University Avenue and wave to all the students. I raised my eyebrows at Sheila, questioning her whether she wanted to do that.
She was adamant. No, she wanted to get to her next class.
So we hiked back through the sand, wiped our feet, put on shoes and socks, and drove away.
Fifty-five years later she wrote me a letter recalling the incident, saying, “Darn it, Carolyn. Why didn’t you say yes?”