Archive for the ‘Memoirs’ Category

A Kapoho Christmas


It was Christmas without lights.

It was Christmas without indoor plumbing.

It was Christmas without carolers at the window

Muffed and warm under falling snow.


But there was Christmas.


A Christmas program at school

Where the Holy Night reenacted:

White tissue paper glued on spines of coconut  fronds

Shaped as angel wings and halos.

Long white robes, over bare feet.


Santa Claus with bagfuls of hard mixed candies

Ho ho hoed by the plantation manager,

His yearly holiday role in the village where he reigned.

Fathers  in Sunday best

After a hard day’s work in sugar cane fields.

Children in home-sewn dresses and shirts.


A fir tree from the hills,

Needles not lasting 24 hours.

Chains from construction paper,

Origami balls and strands of tin-foiled tinsel.

Kerosene  and gas lamps

Moving shadows on the walls.


It was not the Christmas of my dreams.

No carolers at the window,

Singing Silent Night, Holy Night.

No large presents under a real Christmas tree

No fireplaces and rooftop chimneys.

No blue-eyed  boy handing me hot chocolate.


For 18 years, the true Christmas

Lived in my head until Madame Pele*

Came to my rescue

And buried our kerosene lamps.


Finally, I said, running out fast

On unpaved roads

To the Christmas of my dreams.

* Fire of Goddess of Kilauea Volcanic Crater










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I met with members of a book club who selected my book Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii, as one of their selections. The hostess, Jill Thornburg, was incredible. She had Sears ads in the bathroom as toilet paper and she served Vienna Sausage, Kapoho style. They really knew the book. One woman who was stationed in Hawaii with her military husband in the 60’s said she got to know my soul while reading the book; that it was more than a group of stories. Each discussed their favorite story.  I was asked to discuss writing and other aspects of the book. They expressed gratitude for the discount my publisher had given to their Kapoho purchase.

What a lovely visit back to Kapoho. And in Denver, too.

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kapoho line

book signing kapoho

This is a quote from a statement made yesterday by someone:

“The Japanese do not talk about earthquakes, volcanoes, etc….”

So here I am at the Volcano National Park, signing my book: Kapoho:

Memoir of a Modern Pompeii. I begin my stories with Pearl Harbor and end with the lava

destroying my home village, Kapoho.

Below, I’m holding Charles Pellegrino’s book: To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima at Barnes and Noble. The voices of  the survivors of Hiroshima echo out of the pages. And yes, we are all Japanese, btw.

b&n 1





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Phil Abbot, well-known radio personality in Hawai’i passed away this week. I knew him as Phil Miyamoto; he was a first grader and later a third grader in my classes in Hilo. I have not seen Phil since third grade, but his late artist mother Kay had kept me updated on PhiI’s life from afar. I regret not calling Phil during my last visit to Hawai’i as promised, but we did email two years ago when we both worked on an obituary story on his mother.


I was a young inexperienced teacher when Phil was in my classes and he taught me to become the kind of teacher students needed.

I had a rule in my class: Whenever a poem comes to you to be written, take your chair and sit under that tree and write. Phil was the only one who took full possession of this rule. During math and science classes, he would take his chair, pencil and paper, look at me, I would nod to him, and he would be under the tree, writing mostly haiku. He was the only one who wrote throughout the year. Yes, he usually chose math and science periods to turn poet, but he did all his work. A few times, other teachers spoke to the principal that my students were being unsupervised outside of the classroom. When the principal came to my room to discuss this problem, I pointed to the tree and said, “I have full view of that tree.” He never approached the complaint again and I continued to be young and sort of arrogantly fearless because I had students like Phil covering my back.


Phil was a leader so his classmates followed him; they liked the children he liked and were rude to others he didn’t like. There was John, I will call him, who was on welfare and was barely making it in class and I saw him being taunted by Phil and his friends. So one day I had a talk with Phil.


“The children in this class see you as a leader, Phil, and when you become a leader, there’s a lot of responsibilities. You noticed, the kids are nice to kids you like and are rude and mean to kids that you don’t like. You don’t like John, do you?” When he nodded, I asked him why.


His reasons were appropriate for 6 years old: he dresses funny, is dirty, smells and makes lots of disruptive noises in class.


“I’m going to give you some adult information, Philip. Only teachers know this so I need to trust you with what I’m going to say.”

He listened intently while I told him John had no mother and his father was in jail for shooting his mother.

Phil made a complete turnaround and began to include all classmates, especially John into his circle of friends. He came to me often to ask me how John was doing and wanted more details of his life.


In third grade, he wrote a stage play for Social Studies. I was certain he would take the lead role but he gave it to John. He assigned roles and became the director. He showed such sensitiveness and patience that I got him a special chair with a sign that said Director as they do in Hollywood. I was so proud of him, he drove me to tears.


This humility and acceptance of people from all walks of life followed him to high school and into the rest of his life. He went surfing with all kids in high school. I know because I checked on him.


Years after he left my class, his mother related the following:

He always kept his protective eyes on me. Every morning he stood near the teacher’s parking lot and waited for me to drive in from Pahoa. Once he saw me drive in , he felt relieved that I had safely arrived. Only then would he begin his school day. His mother or dad stayed with him until I arrived.

When he was in the first grade, he would ask his father to drive him to Pahoa so he could see where I lived. His parents totally supported both of us.

My heart feels broken today for that special little boy and for the man he had become.I hope his sons will find another legacy left by their dad in this story. Thank you, Phil. My heart goes out to your family that you so loved. They’ll be fine, Phil. Believe me, as you did your first grade teacher.


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Look, look, I can now say that I am an internationally published author!

Teacher You Look Like A Horse (Chinese edition)

My publisher just got a few samples of the Chinese edition of Teacher, You Look Like A Horse! Do you think I should start packing my bags for a signing in Beijing?

Going to have dinner tonight at Panda Express, the only Chinese restaurant in our area, to celebrate!

UPDATE: According to friends we have asked, the title the Chinese publisher gave the book is “A Classroom with No Barriers: An American Teacher’s 30 Years of Memories.” I like that!

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Here are some photos, courtesy of my niece, Tammy, from the Writing the Hawaii Memoir panel discussion I was in a couple weeks ago.

Nice to see how well the store supports local authors! Here is the section with all my books:

FHK at Basically Books

And this is our esteemed panel of authors, all contributors to Writing the Hawaii Memoir by Darien Gee, with Basically Books shop owner, Christine Reed (center).

WHM contribs

From left to right: Mark Panek, Darien Gee (author of Writing the Hawaii Memoir), Christine Reed (Basically Books), me and Leslie Lang.

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Drop by and say hello…these are my Fall lecture events:


Sat., Sept. 20 at 1:30 pm

Basically Books

160 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, Hawaii 96720

I will be on a panel with other authors to discuss memoir writing based on Writing the Hawai’i Memoir by Darien Gee

Contact:Christine Reed

808-961-0144, Fax: 808-935-1553

Toll-free: 1-800-903-6277




Wed., Sept 24: Hilo Hawaii @ 5 p.m.

The Art of Caregiving…

Hilo Alzheimer’s Association

County Office of Aging: Kinoole St.
Contact: Chris Ridley: 808-443-7360
Mon., Tues., Sept 29 & 30: Honolulu HI

Hawaii Pacific Gerontological Society 18th Biennial Conference: Imagine 2030…Mobilizing

Our Communities Across Generations.

My session: The Future of Caregiving: Writing and Poetry to Preserve Our Humanity”

Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach
Tues., Oct 7: Honolulu HI

Kapoho, Memoir of a Modern Pompeii

15 Craigside, 3:30pm

Contact: Cookie Nakai: cookie.nakai@15craigside.org


Fri., Oct 17: Leeza Gibbons radio Talk Show: Leeza’s Care Connection

Poetry and Caregiving

Time: 10 – 11 a.m.


Mon., Nov 17: San Mateo

Kimochi: 453 North San Mateo Dr

Time: 1 – 2:30

Title: I Am Somebody: Dignity in Caregiving

Contact: Liz Bissell (650-346-0849)


Tues. Nov 18: San Francisco

San Francisco Family Caregiver Alliance

1715 Buchanan St San Francisco

Title: I Am Somebody: The Art of Caregiving

Contact: Fumiko DiDomizio (425-931-2294) ex.127


 2015 ( Details to follow )


Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council. Inc.
Kahului, Maui
Executive Dir: John Tomoso


Maui County Office of Aging



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