Posts Tagged ‘Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii’

Our old house lot in Kapoho was covered with lava a few days ago. The poem below describes the original Kapoho of my childhood, not the current Kapoho:


Once There Was a Kapoho


Once there was a Kapoho

Where children played barefooted

Until the evening sun disappeared

And kerosene lamps and gas lamps

Beckoned each child home.


Once there was a Kapoho

Where outhouses and water tanks

Prominently stood as sentinels

And ohi’a firewood sent signals

Above rooftops, announcing

A hot furo* for the tired and the toiled.


Once there was a Kapoho

Where mothers pumping sewing machines

Marked the end of summer.

Homemade clothes and one-strapped schoolbags

For the first of September.


Once there was a Kapoho

Without television,

But battery-run radios,

Crackling “The Romance of Helen Trent,”

Dr. Malone and Arthur Godfrey.


Once there was a Kapoho

Without washing machines

But wooden washboards

Against concrete tubs

Slippery, muddy denims

Boiled in Saloon Pilot cans.


Once there was a place

Without shopping malls and Macy’s,

But catalogs from Sears and Montgomery Ward,

Dream-makers, before Charmin or MD.

Once there was Christmas without lights.

Yes, once there was a place

So simple and free

Where children swam in Warm Springs

And fished in Green Lake,

Played marbles and Ojame

And Steal Steal Stone.


Once there was a place

Where life went on without question.

Sons went off to war,

Teachers taught the 3 Rs

Parents were the PTA

And children pledged allegiance.


Yes, once there was such a place

Until Madam Pele** said, “No more!”

And scattered all the children

Like stars in the universe,

Echoing Thomas Wolfe,

“You can’t go home again.”


From Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii


* furo: bath

**Kapoho was destroyed by lava flows. Madame Pele, fire goddess in Hawai’ian lore, is believed to be the creator of eruptions.

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The Sea Meeting Pele

He explodes

Into a million


As her fiery tongue

Laps into

His undulating loins,

Sizzling and burning

Every ecstasy.

frances kakugawa

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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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HI H Pahoa storyTo people of Kapoho and Pahoa, the Hawai’i Herald generously used my story on Madame Pele’s visit to both these towns as their cover story. My open letter to Pahoa, and an excerpt from my Kapoho book may be of interest to you. Thank you. Yes, that’s me on the porch in Pahoa village during my last visit in September.

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My grandmother’s house was the first to be destroyed by Pele’s lava flow in Kapoho. Today, another family’s house was the first to be covered in Pahoa. So many of us relocated to Pahoa. On my last visit to Hawaii, I visited all our neighbors from Kapoho  who now reside in Pahoa. How are we? What can we be except philosophers when it comes to the power of Fire Goddess Pele whom we respect and fear.  My heart goes out to everyone. The sun is shining out here but I feel the dark clouds and smell  sulphur in the air from memory.

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Kapoho’s history of being covered by lava flows is now Pahoa’s. And once again, our respect for fire goddess Pele is heard over and over again as seen in the excerpts below. I hope all the communities will be there for the residents of Pahoa just as they were for us, when we evacuated from Kapoho and relocated in Pahoa. Our hearts are broken once again.


An Excerpt from Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii by Frances H. Kakugawa

“Did you hear? Someone saw Pele facing Pāhoa. I think Pāhoa is going to be next.”

Kapoho cover
I was away in college, buried under my studies to get pidgin out of my mouth on my way to becoming a famous writer. I had no way of learning firsthand what was happening to my family and friends in or out of Kapoho. That panic later turned into anger as I shot bombastic arrows into my speech class. Instead of giving my prepared speech that day, I tossed it aside and gave vent to some improvised rage.

“Kapoho, my hometown, is being destroyed by lava as I stand here. In the snack bar downstairs, in the media and in conversations among many of you who have taken helicopter rides to view the eruption, I hear you saying things like ‘spectacular,’ ‘awesome’ and even ‘inspiring.’ The camera lenses and the firsthand sightings from low-flying helicopter rides only show Pele’s fire. That can be awesome. Spectacular, even, if Kapoho were just a piece of dirt, a nowhere place that nobody cares about. But Kapoho is where I grew up.

“My family has evacuated to my aunt’s house. I was there last weekend when my father’s name shrieked from the radio to identify the next house that was destroyed. My father’s response made me feel afraid for him as I watched his disbelief. I was afraid that his mind could crack like the land beneath our house, cracked wide open by earthquakes.

“My father looked at us and said, ‘That can’t be me. That must be another Sadame Kakugawa.’ It was spooky to hear him say that.

“My father is a simple plantation worker. He earns minimum wage to support our family of seven and send me to school. We depend on our thirteen acres of cane land to pay off our debts. Losing our home would just kill him.

“When my mother told him, ‘It is your house. There is no other Sadame Kakugawa,’ my father just sat there. I could see him looking for some way out. The hardest thing I had to watch that sad day was his resignation. He said, ‘If Pele wants my house, she can have it.’

“And that’s just one story, mine. There’s a village full of stories like this, and the saddest part is that there isn’t even a village anymore. You want spectacle? There’s a spectacle for you.”

I sat abruptly down. At least one person had heard me that day, because for the rest of the year, my lunches were paid for at the snack bar. All I knew about my benefactor was that he was a veteran.

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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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Announcement by the Unitarian Universalist Society

2425 Sierra Blvd.

Sacramento, CA

Ph: 916-483-9283



June 29
The Gift of Caregiving
Frances Kakugawa, speaking, Lay Leader Mary Howard
Nicholas Dold, guest pianist

10-11 a.m.
Discussion follows at 11:30

Ms. Kakugawa is a poet, writer and teacher.  She’s the author of books for adults and for children about the experience of caring for loved ones with a long-term illness, about the Hawaiian town of her childhood which was buried under a lava flow, and about the challenges of the teacher-student relationship.  For five years, she was the main caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease. She writes a monthly Dear Frances for Caregivers column for the Hawai’i Herald.
A longer talk with discussion will follow the service at 11:30.  Don’t miss this rare appearance by a celebrated speaker.

We’re happy to welcome Nicholas Dold back after his first year working at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and before he heads east for the Duxbury Music Festival where he is on the accompanist faculty.

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Dear Robert Browning,
You almost failed me in Speech 100 eons ago. I grew up wanting to be your great love, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I memorized her How Do I Love Thee and wished at age 15 to find a Robert Browning somewhere. I took you to college with me and recited the following poem in class. Great disaster. I should have taken Robert Frost.

  Robert Browning
“Home-Thoughts, From Abroad”

Oh, to be in England,
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England – now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows –
Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,
– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

The professor was a descendent of Joseph Smith; he was also called Joseph Smith and seemed as ancient as the original. I stood up in class and began reciting your poem…

“Oh, to be in England, now that Spring is there…

Professor Smith stood up and shouted: Stop! Stop! Stop! Miss Kakugawa, where did you spend your childhood?
Me: timidly: Kapoho
Professor Smith: Do you ever feel homesick for Kapoho?
Me: still timidly: yes
Professor Smith: What time of day do you miss Kapoho?
Me: trembling: when the sun is setting.
Professor Smith, suddenly a Shakespearean actor with a voice that burst into the hallway, shouted with arms spread-eagled:
“ Oh, to be in Kapoho, when the sun is setting!!!”
(I was too scared to laugh.)
“All right, Miss Kakugawa, change England to Kapoho and let’s hear you again.”

My defiant nature kicked timid out and with heartbeats seeming louder than my voice, I filled the room, not quite the hallway, with your poem. Robert Browning, I failed Speech 100, but it wasn’t because of you. It’s another story told in my Kapoho book.


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Pahoa Cash & Carry

After 75 years, this local grocery store in Pahoa, Hawaii that sold everything from food, clothing  to needles and threads,  is closing its doors for good.

This is the kind of change that ought not to happen. It is with sadness and gratitude that I add my stories about Mr. Hara, the original owner.
We would not have survived in Kapoho without him; he allowed my mother to charge all our groceries and waited until we harvested our cane crop every few years to pay our debts. I see him sprawled through our doorway, taking notes of our grocery list: 100 # of rice, spam and Vienna sausage and Japanese saké among other staples. We had no vehicle so Mr. Hara personally delivered all our purchases.

After  our village Kapoho was destroyed by Kilauea Volcano, state land in Pahoa, a village seven miles away, was offered at a public auction for victims who had lost their property.  Mr. Hara stayed next to my mother and encouraged her to purchase our new property, coaxing her to bid above the going price, “I will lend you the money without interest.”  And he did. My father’s last bachelor spree was with Mr . Hara when they both went to Japan before my father  got “arranged”  married. A black and white photo preserves these two young men in their suits, on their way to their last bachelor fling.

I hope the humanity of his legacy will be carried on by his customers. It will be long remembered and lived here.

A small tribute is given him in my  book, Kapoho, Memoir of a Modern Pompeii.

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