September 1, 2012

This is How You Begin

The Samoan Letters started life as a four year correspondence from a family that had moved from suburban Detroit to American Samoa in 1964. Actually, it was my family, which is how I know all this stuff.

For the full story on that, check out Introduction – The Blook. If you’ve just found The Blook, go to Post One and wade right in. Or maybe you’ve been reading right along from the beginning, so just start with the most recent post. And if you’re feeling kind of non-linear, man, just start anywhere. You’ll catch up eventually.

New feature: The early chapters will start appearing as links at the top of the page so they can be read in sequence without scrolling (because we all know how exhausting that activity can be!)

Keep checking back on Fridays for new posts, and if you’re enjoying the story, please hit Like on the Facebook link on the right side and feel free to share. When it’s a movie, you’ll all have been responsible for helping it go viral and I will send each of you ten dollars. (Okay, that part is what we writers call “fiction.”)

All posts © Chris Broquet.

March 14, 2016

Post 87 —Epilogue (Part 2)

The story of the Family Broquet didn’t end in 1968, although their tans faded quickly. After returning to Detroit for an awkward summer of feeling like strangers among their relatives, Larry got a job at another new start-up, WMUL-TV, the first public television station in Huntington, West Virginia.

The culture shock of living in Huntington was almost as great as when they first arrived in Samoa. West Virginia may have fought on the Union side of the Civil War, but it still had roots deep in the south. Manners and appearances counted—not only were people wearing shoes all the time, but stockings and girdles as well!

Huntington was a college town, home of Marshall University; the entire family immersed themselves in a community theatre group, and somehow thrived amidst the green mountains of Appalachia, the one thing that reminded them of Samoa.

The stay in Huntington was short and the family left after three years, headed to the Land of Lincoln. Larry became an administrator for the Illinois Board of Education, figuring there were enough good state schools in Illinois to be able to send all his girls to college. Jean also worked for the state and the two of them stayed there until their retirement in 1989. They spent their leisure years traveling, managing to check China, South Africa, most of Europe and New Zealand off the list of Places To See Before You Die.

Several reunions of ETV alumni were held, and Jean and Larry fulfilled a life-long dream in 1990 by going back to the island, some 22 years after they had left. Jean chronicled that trip in (what else?) a letter:

We expected to ride around Tutuila, reminisce and see all the changes. What we didn’t expect was the welcome and continual hospitality we received. Tapes of the old TV project were played on KVZK and the public was informed that some of these people were visiting and anyone who had formerly cherished them should come to the airport. They did, complete with great big smiles, shrieks of remembrance and some of dismay. One Samoan lady thought Larry had traded in his old brunette wife for a silver-haired one!

We stayed at the hotel in ocean-view rooms. (Rumor has it that rats are living in the hotel fales!) Hotel beach area is polluted, but the pool is enormous . . . much larger than remembered. No wonder the kids became such good swimmers since they had to do laps in that pool! The sky, ocean and mountains are still impressive and a Samoan beautification campaign must have been waged on a grand scale. The blooming island we all expected long ago . . . now is. Poinsettias, puas, ginger, crotons, etc. are everywhere. Now the island is not only green and lush, but lusciously colorful too.

There have been many changes but much remains the same. The hotel restaurant menu has a variety of offerings but seldom had them available; the vases in the snack bar contained plastic flowers but the water was changed daily! We attended a reception at the hotel and those of us who wore long dresses were in the minority – the local ladies wore heels, hose and cocktail dresses.

There were many busy Samoans rushing around but there was always someone who would happily pass the time of day and swear that they remembered being in one of the original TV classrooms. We toured the TV studio and mourned the changes. The old spiral staircase (aka The Golden Screw) from KVZK somehow ended up in a village. At one point, Larry and Gene S. and a few others of our group actually ended up on TV again, on a Samoan version of Password!

Random thoughts . . . flower ulas not generally handmade but bought at ula booth at airport; shell ulas imported. No more Boat Days, so hang onto your artifacts. Collectively the ex-contract people possess a vast and valuable treasure of Polynesian history. Hurricanes have virtually eliminated traditional fales for homes; all wood and cement block now. The coral sand of Tafuna is now covered in sturdy crab grass and the mature palms in that area could only have been planted by the early pioneers!

There was a serious decrease in the pig population while we were there. Reason: feasts for us! Nancy M. counted; she said it was a five-pig trip! What a time we had, both then and now.

And today:

Jean was diagnosed in 2000 with a rare brain disorder called PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy) and her slow decline was the impetus for The Samoan Letters. She died in 2007, leaving boxes of saved notes and letters everywhere that her daughters cherish.

Larry lives in Springfield, IL and is currently struggling with memory-related issues, but can still sing every song he ever learned before WWII. Although he was never chosen to be on his beloved Jeopardy!, he did manage to appear on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, a show on which he won no money. He still wears his lavalava.

Kathy, the oldest of the four girls, is now retired from journalism/copy editing and lives with her husband Jay in Washington, DC, where she volunteers for The Smithsonian and tries to think of new ways to interest her two grandsons in musicals. Every year she creates a diorama out of marshmallow peeps to enter in the Washington Post Peeps Contest. She still beams whenever a camera is pointed at her.

Carolyn followed Larry’s path into television and has been a video editor for the local Chicago CBS station for over thirty years. She has so many Emmys that they are literally just scattered about her house. All those years of singing while doing the dishes really paid off, and she now sings and plays guitar in a band called Cowboy Choir (full disclosure: they are not real cowboys). She hopes this is the year for the Chicago Cubs.

Karen, the curly-topped youngest who whined her way across the south pacific, actually grew up to be a lovely person with a normal speaking voice who is also a doctor. She has a huge old Victorian house in Springfield, IL that constantly needs work but also has a contractor husband named Greg, so that evens out. Their two adult daughters, Roxane and Lillian, live in nearby states and Roxane occasionally keeps chickens. Coincidence or heredity? You decide.

Chris (aka “Chrissie”) by day is a graphic designer at a music publishing house. She considers her two children, Zoe and Remy, to be her greatest accomplishments, although she has also made scrapbooks for her cats. Her first foray into writing was a column for a small local paper that allowed her to say whatever she wanted as long as it wasn’t longer than 500 words. She mistook that as encouragement and now tends to write overly long emails and Facebook posts for anyone who will click on her. This is her first blook.

Dad_girls_steps_web

Larry and (clockwise from lower left) Karen, Carolyn, Kathy and Chris.

 

March 14, 2016

Post 86— Epilogue (Part 1)

samoa_TV StudioThings went downhill quickly in the ETV program after the Broquets left American Samoa. There were rumblings of problems within the ranks of the project as early as 1967 when Governor H. Rex Lee’s term was over. His successor, Owen Aspinall, had other priorities for the islands and absolutely no investment in the master educational plan that had been crafted by the National Association of Broadcasters under Lee’s watchful guidance. Money was shuffled from the educational budget to meet different objectives and Aspinall flirted with other teaching methods that may have guaranteed results at the university level but were wholly unsuitable for elementary-age children.

There was a bugging scandal that had nothing to do with the infamous roaches found on the island, but occurred in the form of wiretapping. It was discovered that several high government officials were being eavesdropped on, including the Director of Education. Funds were directed away from the program, and the final blow came when Aspinall attempted to institute a bizarre salary increase that would have paid newly-hired personnel up to 30% more than what the eight-year plus experienced employees were already receiving. The threat of mass resignation caused him to back down, but staff morale was at an all-time low and the NAEB stepped in.

We just heard that a 30% raise is going to go into effect with the new contract. Larry knew there was a possibility a couple of months ago, but it is fairly official now. Would have been a good raise, but they are talking about it for the new people, not the old experienced ones. The money here hasn’t kept up with the increases in the states and something had to be done to aid the recruiting. Oh well. We are still unemployed as of 7/31/68.

Jean

On February 17, 1969, a letter was sent to The Honorable Owen S. Aspinall from the president of the NAEB. It was five pages long, and William G. Harley made no attempt to hide his disdain.
Here are a few excerpts:

For nearly eight years, the NAEB has been actively engaged in the basic design and development of an educational system for American Samoa. The accomplishments of the system have attracted worldwide attention and have illustrated that it is possible to provide relevant educational opportunities for children whose situation presents them with fundamental and serious learning handicaps.

The NAEB is proud of what has been undertaken and what has been achieved in American Samoa. It is especially aware of the personal and professional contributions that a large number of American educators have made in order to give life and meaning to a unique educational plan. We are also aware of the willing and confident trust of many Samoan educators and leaders for whom the plan was designed and upon whom its success will continue to depend.

………………..

Since assuming office in the summer of 1967, your public statements to the contrary notwithstanding, it has been clear that the Governor’s tolerance of the NAEB and the main officials in the Department of Education was grudging and impatient. All conversations between the NAEB and the Governor of American Samoa have illustrated a major failure to understand the central characteristics and needs of the education system, and an unwillingness to support it. 

……………………

It is conceivable that the important educational lessons being demonstrated in Samoa would persuade the NAEB to maintain its interests, at considerable professional risk and inconvenience  to itself, if it were not that the same tactics and behavior have seriously affected the leaders in the Department of Education. They have been publicly maligned and humiliated; they have been capriciously treated with respect to contract renewals, housing, early departures  . . . prorated budget cuts have seriously jeopardized the education program, and a recent memorandum outlining Major Program Issues for FY1971 does not include education.

The 5-page letter finishes with this:

In withdrawing from our relationship with the Government of American Samoa, I wish to underline that we intend to communicate no lack of confidence or support for the Samoan and American educators who have played such a central role in making the program so successful. But we do not believe that our continued tolerance of the present circumstances will improve the conditions under which they work.

Feb 17, 1969

William G. Harley
President
NAEB

After the NAEB pulled their support from the program, Aspinall decided that teachers should have control over whether or not they used television lessons. Over the next few years, television – both the production of lessons and their use in the classroom – was cut further and further back. By 1975, high schools were not using instructional television at all. KVZK was separated from the Department of Education in 1976, and today is used for commercial broadcasting.

Was the great ETV experiment a success or a failure? Depends upon on whom you ask. The program was dismantled before enough data was gathered to determine if it would have remained a viable way to bring education to places without easy access to teachers or textbooks. To the teachers and administrators who were involved from the beginning, it was groundbreaking and fulfilling, and they could point to the hundreds of students who became fluent in English and were able to pursue their studies with many more available resources. The experiences of the ETV staff and their time in American Samoa changed the lives of all who had been pioneers, and their hope and belief was that they had given back as much as they had received.

February 26, 2016

Post 85—Tofa mai feleni

There is a very nice custom here in Samoa; it is perfectly proper for a host to tell a guest to go home. The translation is something like, “The mat is cooked,” meaning you have been sitting around so long that the seat is warm and it is time to leave. It works great on departing drunks.

Jean

overhead_bay2_72dpi_bigger

Of course it was raining.

Chrissie sat in the airport terminal watching the foggy drizzle. It had been raining when they got to Samoa and it was raining as they left. Just as well, she thought. A gorgeous tropical morning in paradise would have made it so much worse.

She pulled her dress away from her sticky back and readjusted the shell ula around her neck. She’d been given so many of these lately that her suitcase was probably over the weight limit. She thought they were beautiful but you could only wear them for so long before the back of your neck started to feel like sandpaper. She contemplated giving hers to her mother but Jean was looking a little wilted. The combination of non-stop tears and the humidity level had drained her of fluids. Her mother had always been the one most affected by the dampness, to the point where sometimes you had to avoid her; Chrissie was pretty sure she would never have this problem. (Author’s note: She was wrong.)

The next few days were going to be very long. Samoa to Hawaii to California to Detroit was about 7000 miles. By her calculations, she had flown close to 30,000 miles in the past four years. It was too bad Pan Am didn’t give you some kind of present for the amount of miles you flew on their planes. She should suggest that to someone.

She patted her pocket to make sure all of her good luck tokens were in place. She wasn’t really nervous about the flight but it was always a good idea to have a little help. Something kept digging into her leg and she realized it was the broken shell. It didn’t look like much but this was the first shell she had buried in the sand to allow the ants to eat the animal inside, a thrilling demonstration of how the food chain worked. It was her favorite memory of her friend Liz, who had left a few months ago.

The second object was about the size of a marble and, if she were being honest with herself, looked like a small piece of poop. It was a see-mui seed (see-moy), a delicacy she and her sisters were wild about. It was not really a seed but a dried plum that tasted as if it had been brined, injected with saline and then rolled and coated in salt. The brown, wrinkled pod was so salty that you could not put the whole thing in your mouth; you had to tear bits of it off with your teeth and suck on those until your pH Balance was roughly the same as the ocean. She figured the one in her pocket would get her all the way to Michigan, and she had a small stash of them in her suitcase as well. She hoped there wouldn’t be a problem with the Department of Agriculture about that.

She was a little embarrassed about the last thing but had not been able to stop herself when she found it under Karen’s bed during packing. It had obviously been dropped and forgotten by her little sister because it had no ink moustache or pink hair chopped off in an attempt at styling. It was a troll doll, one of the original ones that had made the maiden flight to the island clutched in her sweaty hand, four long years ago. She had handed the whole clan of them over to Karen when she felt it was time to give up childish things, but right now she wasn’t feeling very grown-up. She would be a teenager in six weeks and it felt as if she were leaving her childhood on this rock.

She wondered what her family might have been like had they not left Detroit, because it was clear that some type of sea change had occurred on this island. The remarkable freedom that she and her sisters had enjoyed here as children would never have happened back home. It had led to an ability to problem-solve that was highly developed—what to do if your top came off in a water ballet, say, or if your paopao sank. Life-skills that would certainly do them well wherever they ended up. But it had been more dramatic than just that.

They had starred as the main characters in their own adventure story, one filled with a monster tree and an imaginary tidal wave, roaches the size of cats, a terrifying hurricane, and parties that rivaled those of Jay Gatsby. The fact that she actually knew who Jay Gatsby was was a testament to all the hours she had spent devouring books, because television here was mostly her father teaching people how to go to the bathroom and Bonanza reruns. She wasn’t completely clear on what Larry had been doing at the TV studio, but she knew it was important and that he was very proud of it. Her parent’s story had contained separate, exciting chapters that were lived simultaneously with their children’s, and that had made her realize what unique individuals they were. That would change, she assumed – she was almost thirteen – but for now it was pretty cool.

The magical setting of the story had been this glorious island, and the biggest surprise was that such a small geographic area could hold people with such huge hearts. It had been scary to be dropped into a culture so foreign from what they had known, but they had been welcomed and embraced by the Samoan people with such warmth that she would always think of them as aiga. She knew that she would remember this place with longing every time she was forced to put on a pair of shoes.

This story would make a great musical, she thought as the engines began to rev. Too bad that Michener book had already taken the title “South Pacific”.

The plane gathered speed as it thundered down the runway, rising at the very last second to avoid plunging into the ocean. She had never gotten used to that moment when the runway disappeared and suddenly there was nothing but water. She craned her neck to see out the window as the plane banked over the harbor and then headed east toward Hawaii, the troll doll clutched in her hand. The island grew smaller and smaller until, in no time at all, it was gone. It was like it had never existed.

The mat was cooked.

February 18, 2016

Post 84—”K-V-Z (zee ya real soon!)”*

larryontv

The control room at the TV studio.

Larry looked around his office at the KVZK television studio for the last time. His desk was clean, waiting for the next supervisor to stack his own pile of projects and To Do lists. The honorary Sanitation and Hygiene toilet seat had been removed from the wall and was now on a boat somewhere on its way back to the mainland along with their other household goods. It was difficult to imagine how it was going to fit into the decor of his next office, but he was determined that it would.

Where that office would be was still unclear. He was leaving the island without having lined up a new position, although he felt confident that something would come along. One thing was certain; he was not going back to the Detroit Board of Education. It was time for a new adventure.

As he walked through the hallways, he thought about those first few weeks on the island when the ETV program was slowly taking shape. At times it had felt like they were making up the curriculum as they went along, probably because they were. There had been so many problems they hadn’t anticipated, from humidity-induced equipment failures to unanticipated departures by freaked-out teachers. The hurricane hadn’t helped much, either. At one point they had been producing 188 programs per week, an insane schedule that had taken its toll on the administrators and teachers alike. And yet the program had flourished, frequently held together by nothing more than the dedication of a staff who fervently believed that what they were doing was making a difference.

It was difficult to measure the success of the program because there had been no real way to collect data, and even if there had been, there was simply no time. Because the Samoans had little proficiency in English to begin with, standard tests that were given to stateside students were useless. But Larry had visited the villages where the consolidated schools were thriving and engaged in long, enthusiastic conversations with students in all grades. Their ability to chatter about all kinds of subjects had convinced him that they were doing something right.

But there were rumblings of trouble in the program. The new ETV system that started in 1964 had been the baby of then Governor H. Rex Lee. The new governor, Owen Aspinall, had been appointed in 1967, and the past year had shown that he wasn’t nearly as enamored of the project as Lee had been. Larry hated to think that everything they had worked so hard for could be derailed by politics. It was infuriating for everyone involved to think the ETV program might not be able to continue, but mostly it seemed unfair to the Samoan students who had embraced the system and learned so well.

Whatever happened, Larry’s active participation in the great educational television experiment was over. The odds that he would have the opportunity to be involved in something so special again were slim. He didn’t even have a job right now. But this island and these people were always going to be a part of him; he knew that for sure. He was taking his lavalava with him.

Larry and I got a big laugh out of the comment about the pile of money we had saved. It’s more than we could have managed at home but it isn’t a very impressive pile. But even if we had lost money, I wouldn’t have had the last four years be any different; it was all worth it . . . The kids are independent as heck and I’m afraid you all might disapprove a bit, but they sure are prepared for the world. . . I’m still sad about leaving but looking forward to a change. It’s time and probably if we stayed, things would start going sour.

Jean

* The title comes from a song parody performed in The Samoan Fales, sung to the tune of “The Mickey Mouse Club” –  “K-V-Z (zee ya real soon!), Z-K-Y (Why? Because we like you!)”

February 12, 2016

Post 83 — The End Begins

american-samoa-np-021

The night sky over Ofu island. Photo from the US National Park Service.

The static was driving Jean crazy. Larry had been fiddling with the radio for twenty minutes and had yet to find a station that came in clearly. Although early June was supposed to be the beginning of the dry season, it had been raining for days and her mood in general was damp. There was sewing to finish and packing to be started and she didn’t want to do either of those things because both activities pointed in the same direction: they were leaving the island.

She wandered into the bedroom to get away from the radio and started looking through the closet. Decisions were going to have to be made about what stayed behind. She had fourteen long dresses in various shades of pink, yellow and lime green and was having trouble visualing them at a PTA meeting in Harper Woods.

“Jean! Jean!” she heard Larry shouting. Running back toward the front of the house, she met her white-faced husband in the phonograph room. “They shot Bobby Kennedy.”

June 7, 1968
The whole island is in an uproar over the new Kennedy assassination. The Samoans couldn’t understand it and how can you explain something that terrible? How cheap people hold a human life these days. It’s pretty frightening.
Jean

The political assassinations were somber bookends to their time on the island. They had left the summer after JFK was murdered and now were about to return to the states as another Kennedy brother was gunned down. Jean and Larry were aware of the turmoil and protests that had been ongoing during the end of the 1960s, but the impact had been somewhat lessened because most of their news came from months-old issues of Time magazine. The decision to come to Samoa in the first place had been difficult; the decision to return to the chaos had been even harder.

Samoa was not a utopian society; there were many problems similar to those the mainland faced. In the past year, the principal at a village school who was a good friend of theirs had been shot in an armed robbery. Fortunately he had recovered, but the news had sent a wave of unease sweeping across the island. You could feel the real world creeping in. It was just easier to ignore it with a gin and tonic in one hand and a tropical breeze in your hair.

But not all the bookends were bad—some simply completed a full circle. That very night, the family were guests of honor at a tofa fiafia held in the village of Vaitogi, the same place they had gone their very first day on the island. Unlike the last time, the evening was clear and the air was fresh and scented with the sweet aroma of fragipagi blossoms and red ginger. The family of Siamau were the hosts – he and Larry had worked together the entire time the Broquets had been on the island and considered each other good friends. In fact, Siamau’s youngest child was named Larry and he was running around in a pair of Chrissie’s old shorts. The Broquets handed down the girl’s old clothes and Siamau shared as much fresh pineapple and bananas as they could eat – both families felt they got the better part of the deal.

The fiafia followed the usual script— large amounts of food cooked in umus, singing, dancing— but every moment felt as comfortable and welcoming as the old family parties in the grandparent’s basement. All that was missing was the potato salad. The girls jumped up to join in the dancing, proving those sivasiva lessons they had taken in their first year had been worth it. Gifts of tapas and mats were heaped upon the family, ordinary everyday things on the island that would come to mean so much once removed from this setting. The evening was already long and emotional when Siamau and a group of Samoans stood up and began to sing:

Tofa mai feleni, o le a ou te’a (Goodbye my friend, we are departing)
Ae folau i le vasa le ali’i pule meleke (As you travel overseas)
Ne’i galo mai Samoa, si o ta ele ele (Don’t forget our homeland Samoa)
Ae manatua mai pea, le aupasese (Always remember us)

Jean’s eyes filled up, and she heard a small sob. Her stoic, unsentimental husband had tears streaming down his face. She took his hand and looked up at the night sky. There was a wash of brilliance that looked like someone had flung a handful of glitter into the air and a full moon so bright you could read by it – just another ordinary Tuesday night here in Polynesia. She remembered that first fiafia and how strange the Southern hemisphere sky had seemed. Larry had reassured her that the giant moon hanging over the island was the same one they could see from home. She knew that was true; the difference now was that home was where they were, not where they were going.

February 2, 2016

Post 82 — The Pow-pow-powerful Winds of Change

pao pao

The actual pao pao being expertly steered by Mark Hastings, who was a much better sailor than Carolyn was. (Photo by George Hastings, actual pao pao owner)

Carolyn sat in the canoe and surveyed the awesomeness that was all around her. Pago Pago Bay was a mirror that gorgeous afternoon, and the reflection of the mountains that enfolded the harbor made it feel like she was skiing across the tops of the peaks. As a teenager, most of her waking thoughts were of herself, but at this moment even she could appreciate the beauty of the scenery.

The boat ride was an impromptu thrill, prompted by a party at her house and a neighbor’s conveniently located canoe. Her parents and their guests had started singing show tunes, and there was no way anyone was looking for her until they had finished with the entire Richard Rodgers songbook. She was safe until they hit “Younger Than Springtime”.

Her neighbor was fine with her borrowing the canoe, or so she assumed. He had loaned it to the family before so she didn’t see why it would be a problem if she took it out now. The boat was a traditional Samoan outrigger, carved from the trunk of a breadfruit tree. The weight of the passengers was balanced by the extended arm that stretched out over the water. The body was narrow and just barely accommodated two people but the sleekness of the craft made it extremely aerodynamic. The Samoan word for the boat was paopao (pronounced pow pow) and Carolyn delighted in the way the boat shot forward through the water. She liked it when things sounded like their names.

Her friend Marilyn had joined her for the adventure and it took a few minutes to get their paddling in sync. Carolyn considered herself the captain since she was in the front (which was either the bow or the stern – she could never remember which was which), and she set the course straight out into the bay, as the ancient Polynesians must have done as they headed into the sunset without a clue as to where they were going. They skimmed past the docks and waved at the people walking along the decks of the ocean liner that was anchored there. High above their heads, the cable car began its slow ascent across the bay toward the peak of Mt. Alava, swaying gently as the wind picked up. The breeze also brought a pungent reminder that the tuna canneries on the other side of the island were operating at peak capacity.

Carolyn was lost in her thoughts as they glided across the aquamarine water. She realized that this could be the last time she would see the harbor from this perspective. School was almost over and they would be leaving the island for good in July. She blamed her older sister for this decision; her parents were worried that Kathy’s island education wouldn’t be academic enough to get her into college. If the girls had known that was going to be a problem, Carolyn thought, Kathy should have just flunked out and they could have stayed longer.

As the wind picked up, the water got choppier and the progress slowed. They were no longer gliding but paddling harder and harder to stay within swimming distance of the shore. Rounding the point of the island where the Intercontinental Hotel jutted out into the bay, the girls could see some boys splashing around on the beach who seemed a lot farther away than they should be. The little swells of sea water suddenly became swollen and the waves started breaking over the bow and/or stern. Both girls were soaked and Carolyn tasted salt on her lips.

She glanced back at Marilyn and realized that her usually unflappable friend suddenly looked flappable. The plan had been to paddle around the harbor close to the shore, not fight the wind as it carried them out to sea. Carolyn hadn’t given much thought to how deep the water might be but had assumed that the reef was right below them so if they capsized, they could still stand up. Now she realized that the color of the water was changing to a darker indigo color, and that meant the end of the reef was approaching. A rogue wave suddenly crashed over the boat and both girls were tipped sideways into the ocean.

The first thought in Carolyn’s head was to save the outrigger canoe. It had filled with water and was listing to one side. Drowning was preferable to sinking the boat and having to tell the story of this seemingly harmless adventure to her parents, who had certainly finished with Rodgers and Hammerstein by now. Maybe they had moved on to Lerner and Loewe.

She felt something sharp under her foot and realized with relief that that they were still on the reef. Balancing on her toes, she could just keep her head above water and hang onto the listing paopao. The poisonous coral was the least of her problems right now. Marilyn was hanging on to the other side but the two girls could not tip the outrigger over to bail out the water.

The ocean had always seemed like a benevolent friend, warm and welcoming in the shallows and filled with colorful sea life and shells. Carolyn had never been afraid of it before, but now she started remembering the two surfers who had drowned just a few weeks ago, and the couple who had disappeared one sunny afternoon after heading out in a canoe for some sightseeing. Hanging onto the paopao was exhausting and she didn’t know how much longer her arms would hold out.

She heard shouting behind her and turned to look back at the shore. The boys who had been splashing at the beach were now swimming toward them and yelling to hold on. They were able to dump enough water out of the canoe that it floated on the surface again and could be pushed toward the beach. The two girls swam slowly to the shore and staggered up on the rocky sand. The boys were teasing them about their boating skills but the girls were shaking too much to go along with the joking.

Later, after a dramatic period of resting on the beach, the girls gratefully accepted the boys’ offer to return the paopao. They walked back to Carolyn’s house and found the party was still going on. No one had noticed they were gone. Carolyn really wanted to share the fact that she had just narrowly cheated death, but it seemed like a better idea to keep her mouth shut. Besides, they were only halfway through the score of Funny Girl.

December 24, 2015

Post 81 —The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway . . .

The Broquet family in 1968

The Broquet family in 1968

Chrissie carefully peeled the paper back from the linoleum block she had carved and inspected the printed image. It was a palm tree with a Christmas ornament hanging from a frond and she had smeared the ink while removing it. Again. Sighing, she crumpled up the paper and tossed it on the pile. Earlier that morning, she had confidently told her mother that she could easily print out forty of the images to be used as Christmas cards. Four hours later, she had done six of them. She went to find her mother to tell her that the family would really appreciate a Christmas letter instead. It was so much more personal.

December 1968

Manuia Le Kirisimasi!

It seems unbelievable but we are in the midst of our fourth Christmas season here in the South Seas. This year is much, much different from that first lonely one when we missed the family, snow and a piney-smelling tree. Even Christmas shopping seemed appealing compared to the panic of the possibility that the Sear’s order wouldn’t be on the boat that came in just before December 25th.

Many changes have occurred since our first Christmas here, both in the island and in our family.

We now get three planes in a week instead of the single anxiously awaited jet that used to come in at the crack of dawn every Sunday. The Samoan boys seem to have adopted sports shirts and long pants instead of the wildly patterned lava lavas. A wrap-around skirt, which is essentially what a lava lava is, may sound peculiar for a male but these kids didn’t lose one ounce of masculinity, even though they were wrapped up in a pink and yellow print.  The puletasi, the native dress the women wear, is now mostly seen on the older women. It is a short dress with an ankle length lava lava  worn underneath. The younger girls still wear the tops but are most likely to have shorts on under it.

We have a new warehouse and enlarged dock area, a new modern hotel, three tennis courts, several parks being developed, regular and more varied food supplies and more tourists and strangers invading “our” island. While most of the cars were once the small Japanese models, bigger and heavier stateside cars are now being imported. Oddly enough, it is the Samoans who have the big cars and the palagis have the small ones. This makes for exciting driving conditions since there is only one road from one end of the island to the other.

The stores all have names on them now, no more wondering which wooden building is which. Shopping still has the nightmarish aspect of a poorly organized scavenger hunt. One shops according to what one sees, not what one wants! Many good friends have left and while it is painful for a while, we keep in touch and are pretty certain we’ll be running into them again somewhere.

Larry has had a busy and frantic year administering to the needs of the principals and their families that are situated in each of the twenty-four Consolidated schools scattered among the villages all over the island. In addition to the endless paperwork, he rides over mountains in a jeep to the remote schools and over the ocean in a motor launch for 75 miles to the even more remote ones. Good thing he is a good sailor because it is a bouncy crossing.

I am in my second year as Assistant Supervisor of Materials and Productions. I have one of the longest titles in the building! Our office handles, correlates, prints and distributes all of the materials that go out to the schools. One of my duties for a while was to drive a tremendous pick-up truck. I was very proud of my accomplishment and was all set to apply to the Teamsters Union.

The girls, whether it is the sun and rain or would have happened anyway, have sprouted and matured beautifully. Kathy is a sophisticated sixteen and a half, Carolyn is an independent fourteen and Chris is a happy twelve. The maturing process really worked on Chrissie. She is referred to as the “best developed girl in the seventh grade.” There must be some distinction there because she smiles modestly whenever it is mentioned. Karen, our baby, is a long-legged eight and a half. All the girls go barefoot most of the time, are doing well in school and are as happy as most adolescents can be, although they itch to see the big city and bright lights.

We are planning to attend midnight mass as we did the first year. We know most of the people now, and palm trees swaying, the lights shimmering on Pago harbor and Christmas lights from the fales scattered all over the side of the mountain no longer seems strange or exotic. We are all very happy and contented and our initial “daring” adventure has subsided into a pleasant way of life. I hope our friends and relatives have an equally happy Christmas and we are looking forward to seeing many of you next summer.

Jean, Larry and Girls

December 17, 2015

Post 80— LB, LBJ and KVZK (Part 2)

The motorcade heads toward the school dedication.

The motorcade heads toward the school dedication.

(The journal kept by the Presidential secretary continues:)

12:15 PM: Traditional presentation of Samoan gifts to the President and Mrs. Johnson.
[Margin note:] The weather seemed to get much warmer, and the President wiped his forehead several times. The President received: a roast pig, tapa cloths, miniature outrigger canoes and the supreme ula—one made from the red fruit-seeds of the pandanas tree. The single most prestigious gift to be given to President and Mrs. Johnson was a Samoan fine mat (took nearly two years to make).

The President then went several yards to the rear of the platform to a round grass hut with open sides. At one end of this native girls in native dress were kneeling and began singing as the President entered. At the other end, to which the President went, was a bar. The President paused here and had a drink of water.

12:21 PM: To motorcade. A truck of photographers led, then the President’s car, a red Impala convertible with the President and Governor Lee sitting on the rear seat. Mrs. Johnson followed the Secret Service cars in a light blue Mustang convertible with Mrs. Lee beside her.

12:23 PM: Motorcade moving. Along the way to the school there were people scattered on either side of the road way waving and saying “Talofa.” Small thatched huts could be seen, the obvious homes of some of the native population. Along the way the motorcade passed a band, groups of Boy Scouts, and other uniformed groups. (The police of American Samoa were dressed in red skirts with white shirts, red fez. ) The route was 1.3 miles to one of American Samoa’s new consolidated (ETV) schools for dedication by Mrs. Johnson. The new name of the school is Manulele Tausala Consolidated School, which translates roughly into “Lady Bird Consolidated School.”

The new Lady Bird Consolidated School.

The new Lady Bird Consolidated School.

12:32 PM: Out of the cars. The President and Mrs. Johnson paused to be photographed by a sign written in flowers growing in a special flower bed. The red floral arrangement spelled out the name of the school.

Mrs. Johnson cut the floral ribbon to officially dedicate Manulele Tausala Consolidated School. The children of the school, dressed in black skirts and white shirts were gathered on either side, forming a line for the official party to walk through.

The President and Mrs. Johnson then began a visit of the classrooms. They observed six channels of educational television broadcasting for grades one through 12. They went into one room of small children, greeted the teacher,  posed for pictures, and watched the children learning a language from the television teacher.

12:53 PM: The school children sang their school song— very melodic. Mrs. Johnson responding by thanking them again.

12:56 p: Motorcade departing. Once again people lined the route, waving, smiling, singing.

1:04 PM: Arrive at airport. The crowd sang the Samoan farewell song, “Tofa Mai Feleni” (“Goodbye My Friend”). The President and Mrs. Johnson were given more leis.

1:15 PM: Air Force One off. President to his bedroom to change from his clothes for he was so warm. He remarked how beautiful the island was.

Departed Pago Pago, American Samoa. Wheels up for Ohakea, New Zealand.

[Margin note:] The temperatures had been in the 90s in Pago Pago and the President and Mrs. J. were warm and uncomfortable. They went immediately to the bedroom which had been kept cool in their absence, changed into pajamas and got into bed for takeoff.

Back at the TV studio, enthusiasm was beginning to flag. The teachers had been in a state of readiness for hours, but there had been no sign of the President. The visit to KVZK had been planned for after the Lady Bird School dedication, but word got back that the President’s entourage was running late. No one dared eat lunch or leave the building for fear of missing the visit, and the teachers were hungry and cranky when word finally came in that Air Force One was not headed toward them but on its way to New Zealand.

The disappointment in the studio was palpable, and some teachers felt angry that they had skipped the dedication in order to stand by in the studio. Regardless of personal politics, a Presidential visit did not happen every day and many of them had been thrilled with the idea of giving him a tour. They had also been in the only air-conditioned building on the island all day and had no idea that the sweaty President just wanted to get back in his temperature-controlled airplane, put on his pajamas and brush his teeth to get the taste of kava out of his mouth.

Larry looked around at his tidy office and sighed. He had really wanted to meet the President. He got up and hung the toilet seat back on the wall.

(Photographs supplied by Farida Sweezey and Dave Gillmore)

For an important disclosure note, see The Word of the Day.

December 17, 2015

Post 79 — LB, LBJ, and KVZK (Part 1)

President Johnson in American Samoa.

President Johnson in American Samoa.

The whole island was sparkling with anticipation. Crews had been cleaning and planting for weeks, and even the rocks lining the flower beds had been given a fresh coat of paint. The marching band had finally finished plaiting their palm frond vests and had cleaned out their spit valves, an important note since the tubas rusted faster than the cars. This was the most exciting thing that had happened to Samoa since the hurricane.

KVZK was buzzing, with all four TV studios operating at the highest level. Six channels were on the air broadcasting school lessons and every single teacher was wearing shoes, even though they were only being shot from the waist up.

Larry paced nervously around his office, stopping for a moment to re-arrange the papers on his desk. He wanted to look busy but efficient, like someone who could handle teaching a variety of subjects and supervising a department in a culture that had been completely foreign to him just a few short years ago. It was important to the program that he look as professional as possible. He paused for a moment before the object hanging on the wall: it was a toilet seat that his coworkers had presented to him after he had finished the Health and Sanitation curriculum. It occurred to him that this was not exactly helping his image.

Seven miles away, the sun was blazing as the silver jet touched down at Pago Pago International Airport. The tropics usually settle comfortably in the low eighties with a cool breeze, but on this particular October 18, the temperature was hovering around 93 degrees. A tall, beefy man in a dark suit appeared in the open door at the top of the exit ramp, and the humidity smacked him in the face with no regard for his title or rank.

The band broke out with “Hail to the Chief” as the sweating leader of the free world became the first sitting president to set foot in American Samoa. Lyndon Baines Johnson was greeted heartily by Governor H. Rex Lee, and worked his way through a reception line of many chiefs and their wives. They shook hands with President and Mrs. Johnson, piling shell ulas around their necks until the weight nearly pulled Lady Bird over. LBJ’s face was turning red as streams of water poured down his temples, but somehow Lady Bird’s hair remained perfect.

Lady Bird is dressed appropriately for the heat, while her husband the President wears a wool suit.

Lady Bird is dressed appropriately for the heat, while her husband the President wears a wool suit.

(The following are excerpts from a journal kept by Presidential secretaries Walt W. Rostow and Marvin Watson – Special Assts. to the Pres.)

11:22 AM [time change]: Arrived Pago, Pago International Airport, American Samoa. 

[Margin note: The weather was warm and very sunny. Samoa gives the  impression of being an island paradise —rich verdant vegetation, browned, barefoot people, and the sound of the surf in the background.]

 [It was a very colorful scene— the band was attired in bright blue print shirts and white trousers with some kind of leaves over the shirts. The native chiefs and their wives had on brightly colored skirts and leis and many had grass shawl-like articles over their shoulders. A sign at the foot of the ramp on the fence read “Talofa! President L. B. Johnson” and had a picture of the president on it. Talofa means hello!]

11:40 AM: To the platform. There was a very warm welcome by the group gathered. Grass and straw were tossed in the air, drums beat, cheers and applause.

11:50 AM:  President and Mrs. Johnson standing as the President was presented a piece of wood by one of the Chiefs—it was unfinished wood (this was a single dried kava root— a high gift—resembling drift wood).

11:51 AM: Royal ‘Ava Ceremony, conducted by Talking Chief Pele. This was very colorful as the natives danced, chanted, and took cups of liquid to the dignitaries on the platform (the President, Mrs. Johnson, Governor and Mrs. Lee).

[Margin note: This ceremony is the supreme honor to be bestowed on a visitor. Samoan chiefs prepare the ‘ava drink from the pulverized root of the ‘ava tree. Juice is bitter in taste. (Ceremony has some parallel to ‘smoking the peace pipe.’)]

[During this it was very warm, and the President was noticeably hot, often wiping forehead with his handkerchief. He also seemed just a bit ill at ease—this was tribal ceremony, and one had the feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next.]

11:56 AM: Governor Lee introduced the President.

12:00 AM: REMARKS* by the President. There were three applauses during the speech and a very warm reception afterwards in which the natives threw straw and grass in the air. 

“I am very proud that I could be here with you today.

I can assure you that the people of the United States share my pride in what American Samoa has done to prove that destiny is really what we make it.

This island—with a population of only 22,000—has become the symbol of what many large nations may achieve for their people. It has become a showplace for progress, and a proving ground of methods to improve the lives of our fellow human beings.

And, along the way, American Samoa has taken the term “self-help” out of the bureaucrats’ dictionary and made it a living language for their people.

You have recognized that education is the tidal force of our century, driving all else ahead of it.

I am told that the pilot program of education which you have started may point the way to learning breakthroughs throughout the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia. Samoan children are learning twice as fast as they once did, and retaining what they learn. Surely from among them, one day, will come scientists and writers to give their talents to Samoa, to America, and to the world.

One requirement for good and universal education is an inexpensive and readily available means of teaching children . . .  Unhappily, the world has only a fraction of the teachers that it needs. Samoa has met this problem through educational television—which was pioneered here by your outstanding Governor, Rex Lee.

. . . It is truly a remarkable experiment. This technique—which you are helping now to improve—has the power to spread the light of knowledge like wildfire, to spread it all across the wide areas of our earth.

An American editor, who used to have nothing to say about what we were doing in Samoa, recently wrote, “Somewhere on earth there may be a more spectacular example of revolutionary change in an area and its people, but in years of roving the world’s far corners, I have not seen it.”

Go to Part 2

*Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: “Remarks Upon Arrival at Tafuna International Airport, Pago Pago, American Samoa.,” October 18, 1966. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. 

(all LBJ information comes from http://www.lbjlibrary.net/collections/daily-diary.html)

November 9, 2015

Post 78 — Super Visors

Students in a consolidated school.

Students in a consolidated school.

August 30, 1967

Larry has been told he will be a supervisor. The details haven’t been worked out yet but an announcement was made to the people in the building. He will still be doing some TV tapes (Oral English.) We think he will be getting $11,000; if that doesn’t go through, it will be $10,500. I will be getting $5000. That’s not bad for a little girl with no education – us strong backs are good for something! So between us the financial is pretty good. 

Jean

L.B. reporting this week and I must admit, it has been a while. I offer no excuse other than that I’ve been too damn busy to write. Our program is going full blast now, and it seems to occupy every waking moment. At the present time, I have twenty-one palagi and three Samoan principals under my jurisdiction, and just getting around these islands to all the schools takes a good portion of the time.                                                                                                                                                     Larry

Larry clutched the side of the speedboat as it bounced through the sparkling water on the way back toward Pago harbor. The sun glared off the shiny forehead of his fellow supervisor Gene S. and reminded him that he’d forgotten his hat. They were both going to have terrible sunburns from this trip.

The supervisors did monthly inspections of the consolidated village schools, and the Public Works motorcraft made quick work of the trip to the north side of the island. The villages there were on the other side of the mountain and with no actual roads available, the only other way to access them would be to walk over the 1000 foot peak. It was doable, but it took awhile. Time was more precious now than videotape, and disappeared almost as fast.

I made another trip to Manu‘a, the island group about eighty miles east of Tutuila, to help install a new principal in his school. We have four elementary schools and one high school operating there. It’s gratifying to see the way education is being received in these areas. The schools are beautifully kept, and the kids respond to questions eagerly. When I was there two years ago, none of the kids could speak any English at all. This time, I was carrying on conversations all over the place. Formerly, the students operated in grass huts with one teacher for the whole school. Now we have four consolidated schools on the three Manu’an islands. 

Larry

There were six new principals to settle into their new positions and three of those were in the remote villages. With a myriad of details for them to sort out and remember, a one of the most important was the names of all the veterans of the program who were now running it. A duty of Larry’s that didn’t show up in his job description was a get-acquainted cocktail party for over a hundred people that would be happening at his house later that night.

The requirement for hosting was having a house big enough for everyone to fit into and he seemed to be the only one who was qualified. The bulk of the preparation fell to Jean, who complained about it but actually enjoyed the event. Since each guest brought a bottle of booze, a snack and their own glass, all she had to do was make sure the piano was dusted and the ashtrays out. The party was the new people’s first (and sometimes only) chance to make new friends and hear the horror/success stories before they were shipped off to the other side of the island. The support system that came out of the relationships developed was as crucial to the program’s success as the fragile videotape that was constantly in short supply. And it gave the old-timers an opportunity to see how far they had all come in such a short amount of time.

We know we have to make up our minds eventually about our plans after we leave but we sure aren’t looking forward to it. As far as I’m concerned, I could stay forever, but we have the kids to consider and I don’t know if Larry could stand another year like this one. Although, tired and busy as he’s been, he’s never been healthier. Maybe he has been an underachiever all these years and has never worked up to his capacity before. His capacity here has been fantastic. He and Gene S. figured out that they are getting less money per hour now than they were getting the first year. They both work evenings and weekends. They are doing terrific jobs and things are running smoother than they have in three years. I know you keep wondering why they do so much work for so little recognition — it’s the challenge and the built-up loyalty to the project and the fact that they are seeing such good results.

Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were both firmly convinced that nobody else could do the jobs as well. I think they might be right, but I’d never tell them that. They are too difficult to live with as it is! I am speaking of life with Larry, although Farida says Gene is a little obnoxious sometimes, too!

Jean

October 2, 2015

Post 77 — Liner Notes

Matson-Monterey-LOGOBoat Day was happening in full force as Chrissie and Liz made their way through the crowded marketplace. Tourists haggled with Samoans over the price of mats and carved wooden outrigger canoes, each feeling sure that they gotten the best of the other person. It was an age-old dance that happened every time a cruise ship docked and everyone enjoyed it. The real winners were the palagis who lived on the island, who would swoop in after the boat had left and buy all the carved kava cups they had been coveting at rock-bottom prices because they knew the Samoans wouldn’t want to cart the stuff back to the village.

A large British woman walked away from the market back toward the dock, fanning herself with an intricately woven fan embellished with bright feathers that she had just purchased. “Look, Bertie,” she exclaimed to her sweating, red-faced husband. “They must have exotic birds on this island. How colorful!” If Bertie realized that the wispy parrot-like decorations were actually dyed chicken feathers, he did not share that information with his wife. He just wanted to get back on the ship and have a G&T.

“Let’s follow them!” whispered Liz, grabbing Chrissie’s hand and pulling her toward the enormous Matson liner. From the dock, the SS Mariposa loomed above their heads, its sleek white sides both indimidating and exciting. As they approached, tourists on the upper deck waved at them and tossed coins down into the bay. “Little boys!” called one lady. “See if you can find this shilling in the water!”

Chrissie looked around to see who they were shouting at. Both girls were barefoot and deeply tanned, their hair cut short for convenience against the humidity. She supposed that Liz could be mistaken for a boy, but puberty had hit her hard and fast and those simple shifts her mother made for her suddenly had to have a lot of darts in them. Liz muttered something out of the side of her mouth about stupid tourists thinking they were pearl divers from the Philippines and pushed Chrissie forward.

Before she realized what Liz had in mind, they were halfway up the gangplank, trailing behind Mr. and Mrs. Bertie. “Look like you belong to them,” whispered Liz. No one even glanced at them as they boarded the ship, and as their British surrogate parents headed toward the bar, the girls ducked around a stack of deck chairs and collapsed into giggles. “I can’t believe we just did that!” gasped Chrissie.

“Let’s go explore the ship,” said Liz. “I bet nobody pays any attention to us at all.” Liz was correct, although it seemed impossible to believe that the people in charge would not question the right of two pre-teen girls (one of them wearing a red bandana-like fabric shirt with an orange Fanta stain on it that was buttoned up incorrectly) to be roaming around a luxury cruise ship.

There was a pool on board with a tiki bar that looked very much the one at the Pago Pago International Hotel, but the girls barely glanced at it. If they wanted to see Polynesian decorations, they could go sit in their living rooms. The dining room was elegant and spacious, with white cloth tables already set for dinner. “This is going to be a really fancy meal,” whispered Chrissie, who knew from her own cruise ship experience that the more silverware involved, the higher the nose of the waiter. They found a tiny elevator and went up two decks, hoping they might be able to find an open stateroom. There was a garbled announcement coming over the loudspeaker, but between the giggling and the British accent, it was unintelligible.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” announced Liz, as they passed a door with fancy gold script that said Ladies Lounge. The bathroom was more ornate than any other space, and they were astonished to see small bottles of lotion and baskets of fruit just there for the taking. “You could live in here,” exclaimed Chrissie, stretching out on the leather divan. “Imagine if we were stowaways — we could sail around the world and use this as our hiding place.”

In one corner of the room, there was tall standing scale with a little weight that could be moved back and forth. “Hey, look, I weigh 87 pounds!” shouted Liz, who apparently had the metabolism of a border collie. Chrissie did not want to step onto this device with her friend standing next to her, for it would be the equivalent of putting up posters in every classroom in school, but she knew she had no choice.

“Wow, 112 pounds,” said Liz in a hushed tone. “Your new boobs must weigh a lot.” Two well-dressed women entered the lounge and looked at them quizzically and Chrissie took that as an opportunity to dash out of the open door.  “We need to get out of here; we’re going to get in trouble,” she called back to Liz as she ran through the narrow hallways, trying to find the elevator they had come up on. Fifteen minutes of increasing panic later, they finally found the lift and quickly pressed the down button. As the doors closed, the tail-end of an announcement suddenly sounded crystal clear: “The Mariposa is leaving this harbor in ten minutes. All visitors must disembark immediately.”

“It’s okay,” soothed Liz, as she saw the look on her friend’s face, “we’ve got ten minutes.” Before she had even finished the sentence, the elevator jerked to a stop, but the door didn’t open. Chrissie punched the down button again, but the elevator did not move. Visions of being trapped while the ship sailed to Tahiti filled her head and the image of her father’s face when he landed in Bora Bora to pick her up made her pound on the panel until every circle was lit. “Open the damn door!” she shouted. “We’re not passengers – we’re palagis! For God’s sake, look at the way we’re dressed!” Her panic was infectious, and now Liz was throwing all of her 87 pounds at the door, only to bounce off and land on the floor, stunned.

“Excuse me,” said a very British voice, “do you young ladies require assistance?”

A tall man holding a screw driver stood in the open door. “I do apologize. This one sticks occasionally. May I escort you to the exit?”

A few minutes later they were back on the dock, having been unceremoniously frog-marched to the ramp and then pointedly watched by the purser until they were on dry land. Chrissie thought about dropping to her knees and kissing the ground but was too shaken to make the dramatic gesture.

“You know,” mused Liz, “this is just like at the end of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy realizes that there’s no place like. . .”
“Shut up, Liz,” Chrissie interrupted. “I am never listening to you again. And if you tell anyone how much I weigh, I’m going to say you wet your pants in the elevator.
“But I didn’t!” Liz wailed.
“I know that, but I’m going to tell everyone you did!”
Liz stomped away across the now empty malai, and Chrissie headed in the opposite direction, grateful not to be going to Bora Bora. “You know,” she thought, “there really is no place like home.”

October 2, 2015

Post 76 — The Write to Remain Silent

Everyone takes a turn writing to the family back home.

Everyone takes a turn writing to the family back home.

With Larry off in California visiting Stanford with the Samoan group, Jean took over the correspondence to the family back in Detroit. Since most of the new and interesting Samoan experiences had been covered in the past three and a half years, the letters tended to focus more on the Broquet girls and how they were growing. You could only mention the non-stop parties so many times before everyone got really irritated.

“Karen’s girlfriend who had gone to Seattle is back so now she has someone to fight with. Kathy and Carolyn are going around with the same gang of kids and are thick as thieves. They even changed bedrooms around so they could share one. Chris is right in the middle of growing and is very much aware of it. The other day she said she really didn’t enjoy playing with dolls anymore but couldn’t think of anything as a replacement so she has been reading a lot and alternately being nice and nasty to Karen. She is the only one of the group so far who has gotten chubby. She is not fat, but kind of hippy through the hips and middle. We are trying to discourage the third and fourth helping of potatoes.”

While her daughters may have wished for a little more discretion while discussing their journey through puberty, the truth was that Jean often censored herself when she wrote to the family. The slightly white-washed version of their life made everyone at home feel more comfortable, and Jean didn’t have to constantly explain why it sounded like they were living in a state of alcoholic bliss and free love. Her letters to Larry were a little more chatty.

June 25, 1967 

Dear Larry, 

If they are sober enough to remember, I am going to have the Grants mail this in Honolulu. There is to be a small party next door so I will take it over when I am finished. 

After we dropped you at the airport, the ride back home was uneventful. However, about four o’clock in the morning, the phone rang and it was Barb P. – she wanted to know if her daughter Diana was here. Carolyn, (she who claims she never sleeps) when asked if she had seen her, muttered something unintelligible but Kathy said she had seen her at the airport. I relayed this information back to Mrs. P. It seems that after Bill had brought Diana home, she had turned around when no one was paying any attention and snuck out the door. Myra F. said she and Riley were spotted walking down the Tafuna road at nine o’clock the next morning. Already the word is out that Gordon K. is furious at his parents because they won’t allow him to go the “all night picnic at the sand pile.” Stay tuned. 

Karen had the shortest case of mumps in history, if that is what she had. No swelling or nothing. Just the runny nose and bad breath. 

Kathy is trying on an old dress and holding out all the excess material as a result of her five pound weight loss. Carolyn said very enviously, “Gee, I wish I had someone to break up with so I could lose weight.” 

We started out to see a movie but Karen, who didn’t want to go in the first place, threw a temper tantrum about being hungry. She is on her third bowl of Cheerios but I still think it was an act. 

Carolyn just called from the club and wanted to know if she could go out to the airport. I said no. She didn’t even ask why. 

We all went to 5:00 mass today and the sermon was all about St. Peter. Father Lynch was telling about how Jesus was walking on the water and Peter wanted to, too. So he did, then did a double take and started to sink. The next line was “Ye of little faith!”, but Karen misunderstood it to be “You little fink.” He does have that strange eastern accent! 

We have that large cat with the funny voice staying under the house and he’s in heat. Apparently he is confused about the gender of our cat. He also has a ripped open hide — must have been in a fight. Also a large bloody patch on the back of his neck. 

The phone just rang. Kathy wants to know if she could go to the airport. I said no. She didn’t even ask why.

Jean

August 28, 2015

Post 75 — The Girls With Kaleidoscope Eyes

The route from Nadi to Suva.

The route from Nadi to Suva.

The four sweaty girls were crammed in the back of the cab, their legs stuck to the plastic seat. Every once in a while someone shifted and peeled their thighs off the seat, which produced a wet, farting noise. Even after five hours, the girls still giggled every time this happened, causing Jean to sigh and roll her eyes. The cab driver sat in stony silence.

The five of them had landed in Nadi, Fiji and had hired a cab to drive them to the main city of Suva. This had seemed like a good idea until about halfway through the trip when they realized it was 180 miles. This distance was almost incomprehensible to them after spending the last three years on an island that was 18 miles long. After a rocky ride on a dusty, gravel road that went up and down and around a mountain, no one cared about the different scenery anymore. They just wanted to get out of the car and possibly throw up.

“Stop! Look at that cow!” shouted Chrissie, causing the driver to slam on the brakes. The girls took the opportunity to jump out of the cab, glad for any excuse to stretch. A crudely built wooden fence ran along the side of the road, and right in the middle of it was a pathetic cow with its head trapped between the railings.

“Oh, that poor thing,” moaned Carolyn. “Is there any way we can get her out?”

“No, no, no” shouted the cab driver. “You must not remove her. That cow is being punished.”

Jean looked at him in disbelief. “What on earth could a cow do that it would need to be punished?”

“It was swinging on the gate,” he explained, “and it has to learn not to do that. Please get back in the car.”

The older girls exchanged puzzled glances, each of them silently questioning this form of discipline but also kind of wishing they could see a cow swing on a gate, and moved toward the cab. Karen crept forward and extended her hand toward the humiliated bovine, hoping that an empathetic pat would make it feel a little less alone. The cow snorted, stomped its hoof in the dust, and then snapped at her hand like it was a horsefly. She rushed back to the cab and threw herself into the back seat. That cow deserved to be punished.

The island of Fiji is beautiful. It is about 376 sq. miles and full of rolling plains and mountains. They have miles of sugar cane fields, rice fields, huge spreading fat banyan trees with thick twisty trunks, palm trees (naturally), mahogany trees, clumps of bamboo and miles of gorgeous beaches. The airport is at Nadi, which is where we started from, and Suva is the main city. It has sidewalks and curbs and streets: hundreds of little Indian stores and several large department stores. It is a beautiful city. Big trees, hills surrounding the harbor, all green and nicely planted with lovely homes on them. Many big trees throughout the city itself with several large parks — and millions of poinsettia bushes just dripping with huge red blossoms.

Jean

The capital city of Suva turned out to be a shopper’s paradise: items were duty-free and quite a bit different from what was available on their island. Jean loved the fact that the girls were old enough to be left alone and had managed to get in a few hours of solo buying that had felt wonderful. She swooned over the gorgeous colors and fabrics in the saris she had found and bought several of them. She would never actually attempt to wear one, but she thought they would make pretty fancy tablecloths.

As she returned to the dignified British resort they were staying at, she was suddenly assaulted by a sound that seemed to shake the whole hotel: “IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY…”

Kathy and Carolyn had done their own swooning earlier in the day, and had found a copy of the just released Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They had pooled their money and bought a portable phonograph so they could immediately listen to the coveted vinyl. As Jean prepared to take Chrissie and Karen down to the pool, the older girls informed her that they preferred to stay inside and listen to the album. They felt that way the next day as well, declining to participate in a tour of the city. And the day after that, instead of going to a movie theatre.

Three days later, they finally emerged from the hotel room, blinking at the bright sunshine. Their skin was blotchy and pale and their stomachs queasy from a diet of room service spaghetti on toast. They watched in astonishment as Karen chatted with a British dowager who had agreeably let the adorable American child try on her tiara, and saw Chrissie engaged in a fierce card game with the proprietor Mr. Koker (“Call me Mr. Koker-nuts!”). Jean was in the lounge having gin and tonics with some sailors and waved gaily at them. Clearly they had missed a few things.

When pressed by their father upon their return to tell him what they liked most about Fiji, they stared blankly at him. “Um . . . well, picture us both in a boat on a river,” began Kathy. “With tangerine trees and marmalade skies!” shouted Carolyn. And they both ran out of the room, laughing hysterically.

Jean looked at Larry and shrugged. She had learned not to question someone else’s interpretation of what constituted a good vacation. She couldn’t wait to try on her new sari.

August 28, 2015

Post 74 — Hondalulu

Motorcycles roaring down the aisle during "The Samoan Fales" were always a big hit.

Motorcycles roaring down the aisle during “The Samoan Fales” were always a big hit.

Jean left the TV studio where she was now employed in the art department and headed toward the car. After three years on the island and copious amounts of salt spray and humidity, the gleaming white Datsun they had purchased their first month there was now barely intact. Large areas of rust spotted the exterior, and in some cases the actual metal had flaked away, leaving holes in the body. The most affected place was the front right quarter panel. On most days you could see right through to the wheel, but not today. Jean was delighted to see that someone had gathered a bouquet of wild ginger and hydrangea and carefully arranged them in the hole, as if the rusting hulk of a vehicle was a delicate vase. She smiled all the way home. She loved this place.

Our car has been rusting very badly but its motor is still good and we are not about to buy new one just to keep up with Larry’s new supervisory position. We have the most recognizable car on the island — fifty percent of the fenders are gone. One of the Samoan boys in my office puts bunches of flowers in the hole — it’s quite jazzy! The car is now being fixed and I have been taking the motorcycle to work. 

Hang on to your disapproval, we bought our own Honda! It is reputed to be the fastest bike on the island, however, this old lady isn’t about to drag race with anybody so I’ll never know for sure. We used the one we borrowed from George a lot and expect to use this one a great deal. Fortunately, the driving age here is eighteen or we would have an eager sixteen-year old breathing down our necks. 

I took Kathy for a ride on the new bike. She was a little apprehensive at first but my confidence won her over. The fact that I was relying on the glasses that make me seasick was the cause of her concern. My old ones cracked right up the nose piece, and these are better than going around blind. I am getting used to them and they don’t bother me too much. I am very conscious of the dark frames but they will do until the new ones arrive. 

Jean

Jean’s confidence in her driving skills had increased greatly since the first weeks on the island, when there had been an unfortunate incident that involved a suicidal pig and the front end of the new Datsun. She had sat in the car staring at the stunned pig in the road, unsure whether she should get out and try to administer first aid or drive away like a bat out of hell. She had gone with the latter and felt guilty about it for months. Now she had no qualms about riding the motorcycle through the villages armed with a big stick to bat away the packs of stray dogs who loved to chase Hondas. Life on the island had changed her perspective about many things.

We both realize we were a disappointment last year when we visited Detroit, but I guess the adjustment to coming home was just as great there as it was when we got here. We have both changed so much and we weren’t prepared to come back and have everything be exactly as we left it. I guess it was the fact that we had so little in common with the relatives and we all seemed a little strange. I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful, or maybe I just didn’t explain it well. You all had common experiences and ailments and shared happenings while we just had Samoa, which after the first five minutes of discussion seemed to pale as a fascinating subject. 

Since we won’t be visiting this summer, we all have plans. The girls and I are going to spend a week in Fiji – sort of a consolation prize for not going home. Larry is going to California for several weeks to Stanford with another batch of Samoans. He will be charge of the group this year. And just to show you that we really are all well and happy, we have a surprise – Larry will be able to spend a week in Detroit after CA as a representative of the family! 

Jean

August 10, 2015

Post 73 – So Long, Farewell

The view from the cable car platform. Carolyn was not invited to the party.

The view from the cable car platform. Carolyn was not invited to the party.

Staying for the fourth year was the right decision for Larry and Jean, but it was bittersweet. Many of their good friends had completed their contracts and would soon be leaving. The friendships that had formed on the island went deeper than any they had ever made before. Shared experiences in such a unique setting as well as the thrill of being pioneers in a bold new experiment had made for a bond that felt like it would last a lifetime. It wasn’t exactly Band of Brothers, but the past few years of getting the ETV program off the ground had been a little like jungle warfare. The only shooting going on was with a camera, but the conditions had been primitive at best. Not to mention the foot fungus.

There was a core group of six couples that had become close, and two of them were scheduled to leave within a few weeks. One of the ladies also had a birthday coming up and it was decided that a Going Away/Birthday party for the group of twelve would be a nice way to say goodbye. (For those of you who were there, the couples were Gene & Farida, Jay & Patty, Sally & Don, Bob & Tuffy, Larry & Jean and Bill & Jean D., who was also the birthday girl)

A circular concrete observation slab had been poured halfway up the mountain at the boarding point for the cable car. The tramway had been built to allow access to the TV antennae on top of Mt. Alava and the cable stretched nearly a mile across Pago Pago harbor. The journey was shaky and windy with magnificent views that made the rider realize just how small the island was when seen from that height. And also to hope that the end of the cable was tied in a really good knot.

On that night, the observation area held a round picnic table that had been set with white linens, good china, sterling flatware and silver candlesticks. The path up from the parking area was lined with plants and flowers, and the scent of pua blossoms followed them to the top and mixed with the bouquets that adorned the table. The couples started to arrive at sunset, as the blazing rays glinted off the tiny boats in the harbour and the light across the bay was filtered with a rosy glow.

Champagne glasses were filled and held in waiting as the birthday girl climbed up to the area and was astonished to find a formal dinner party breaking out on top of the mountain. Toasts were offered and Happy Birthday! was sung as the group of twelve sat down to a meal of beef stroganoff, asparagus with toasted almonds, seasoned rice and chocolate cake. Background music was provided by a small tape deck, and as dinner progressed, the sun sank below the horizon and a velvet darkness fell over the mountain. Pinpoints of light came on around the harbor and dotted the sides of the hills, but they were insignificant compared to the explosion of stars that filled the sky. Tiny lanterns had been strung around the perimeter to make sure no one fell off the platform, and no one even gave a thought to the fact that all the stuff that had been carried up there was going to have to be carried down.

“The men all wore long pants, shirts and ties and the women long dresses in beautiful prints. There were at least two million stars out and the air was warm with a slight breeze blowing. After a delicious meal, four bottles of wine and all that atmosphere, we were all in a very quiet and slightly unreal mood. So we danced for a little while and then sat around the table looking at the stars and talking about the past three years and all the things that had happened. It was Jeannie’s birthday party but it was actually the Tofa party for the group. There will be others, I suppose, but this was the one that meant the most.”

Jean