This is Carmen Dolores Jaime (James) Medeiros Rodrigues…okay, Grandma Carmen. She was my husband’s grandmother and is the subject of my current work in progress, Aloha Spirit. Today I’ve put a short excerpt from the beginning of Part Two here for you to read. Choosing an excerpt helps me focus, and reminds me that this is still a very early draft! Enjoy
Punch Bowl, Honolulu, 1931
I can’t decide which is my favorite thing about our house on Iolani and Magellan, whether it’s the sweeping view down the hill from Punch Bowl to Honolulu Harbor dotted with ship’s masts, or the multitude of family that surrounds us. Manley and I live in a small house owned by his mother, whom everyone calls Grandma Jessie. The family fills four homes near this intersection, four homes that Grandma Jessie owns. Manley tells me that she came to Hawaii from Portugal when she was only a year old. She married Jose Medeiros, Joe to his family, and he gave her nine children. Manley is the youngest, and Earl’s mother is the second oldest. Joe left his wife shortly after Manley was born. It is said he went to California to collect a debt owed him by some blonde woman. He has never been heard from since.
Earl and his family live across the street with Grandma Jessie. Lydia and AJ Rodrigues have two other children, Melbarine and Sherwood. Earl is the middle child. Manley’s brother John lives there, too, as Manley did until we married and moved across the street.
Grandma Jessie gets up early and washes clothes in a big tub in her basement. Some mornings I go over to help her. I still feel as though laundry is my responsibility. Since Manley announced my pregnancy, however, she shoos me back across the street when I try to help. You’d think a mother of nine would understand that a pregnant woman isn’t that fragile.
I turn away from the window and pick up a basket of vegetables. It’s late enough in the morning now that Grandma Jessie will accept my help. I let myself in through the screen door and head for the tiny kitchen. Grandma Jessie stands at the sink, peeling potatoes. I watch, still fascinated by how fast she peels them in a single long piece. Wisps of hair escape her tightly wrapped bun, where hints of gray tint her dark hair. Her apron completely covers her dress and is always present—Grandma Jessie without her apron is like Duke Kahanamoku without his surfboard. I come up next to her and put my basket on the counter. Leaning over to kiss her cheek, I say, “Smells wonderfully ono in here.”
She smiles and waves my words away. “Ah, go on with you. It’s just the stew.”
Stew is what she called whatever was in the massive pot on the stove. It could be soup, sauce, or stew depending on what is added to it. The entire family comes home for midday lunch, and stretching food so far means a large pot. I quickly peel and chop the carrots and turnips I brought and add them to the pot. I reverently pick up Grandma Jessie’s battered silver ladle to stir.
“Polly wants a cracker!” The raucous words startle me and I drop the ladle into the pot.
“Dratted bird!” I complain.
Grandma Jessie laughs. “Polly is a good bird, Carmen.”
“She bites,” I say, glowering at the colorful parrot. “You won’t catch me near her.”
The older woman picks up a couple of pieces of diced carrot and pokes them through the bars of the bird’s cage. “There you go, Polly dear. Don’t let Carmen scare you.”
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