Post 41 — Surf’s up! (Part 1)

The packing crate is at the end of the house on the right side.

The packing crate is at the end of the house on the right side.

The arrival of the household goods was the last step in the family’s assimilation. Although life before had fallen into a comfortable rhythm, now it felt like home. And while the girls were happy to have new additions to their wardrobes after wearing the same three outfits for the last few months, the most exciting thing was the actual crate itself. It was like an apology from the shipping company: “Hey, we’re sorry it took ninety-eight days to get your stuff to you, so here’s a tiny extra house for all your trouble!”

Once everything had been unpacked, a set of hinges and a cheap padlock turned the box into a useable storage compartment. The crate was built out of two by fours and plywood and looked fairly substantial. When it was new, it also had the advantage of actually keeping things dry since it was completely contained when the side was shut, whereas the house was eighty percent screens and frequently damp. People stored bikes and lawn chairs and any other overflow that might not have fit in the house.

The crates were fine for about a year until the humidity and mildew got a good foothold in the pressed plywood, and then they began to disintegrate quickly. You could tell how long people had been on the island by the condition of their packing crate. If it was standing strong with all the sides intact and kids climbing on top of it, the wood a bright yellow with a whiff of sawdust scent, the family had been there less than six months. A pile of rotting black splinters that meant a sure battle with gangrene should a puncture wound ever occur, next to a couple of rusted lawn chairs, indicated a veteran.

For the four Broquet girls, it was as if Dorothy’s house had landed in the coral sand that was their backyard. Instead of wandering out into a Technicolor Oz, they would retreat into the coolness of the crate where the color was reduced to shadow and sepia. Pushing the bikes to the side, it became an excellent performance space, complete with a proscenium and backstage area. Back in Detroit, they had always been a dramatic group of girls, prone to putting on shows for the neighborhood. They felt they excelled at musical reviews since they didn’t require much of a script and no one seemed to be willing to step up and be the Jo of these faux March sisters. In a pinch they could perform a cappella but now that the record player had arrived, they could lip sync the entire score of “Flower Drum Song” and charge the neighborhood.

Work was proceeding on a production number of  “One Hundred Million Miracles” that had some tricky choreography, with an extra cast member in the chorus because Chrissie’s friend Holly was staying with them for the week. Jean and Larry were both at work, leaving them in the competent if somewhat uninterested care of Kathy.

The rehearsal was going well when the show biz vibe was shattered by the hysterical shouting of a neighbor. Mrs. Grant was one of the few-stay-at-home moms in the neighborhood. She was a religious woman with firm ideas of how children should be raised, and in her opinion, leaving them home alone to be supervised by a twelve-year-old did not constitute proper parental supervision. As she ran toward them, her eyes wide with fear, her voice seemed to reflect equal measures of terror and disapproval.

“There’s a tidal wave coming! A tidal wave! Run to higher ground!,” she shouted. Then, like a crazed Chicken Little in flip-flops, she disappeared around the side of the house to alert the rest of the neighborhood.

This was a bad sign. If a grown-up was hysterical, that probably meant that the girls should be, too. They turned to each other and shouted in unison, “Where’s higher ground?!”

The island is a former volcano with a central mountainous area but their little patch of Tafuna was basically sand and a few palm trees; not a mountain within blocks. There was a brief discussion about climbing on top of the packing crate but in their hearts they knew that wasn’t going to keep anybody dry, let alone from drowning.

Their knowledge of exactly what a tidal wave might be was quite limited. The image in Chrissie’s head was lifted directly from a postcard she had bought in Hawaii on the trip over. It was a cartoon of a little man on a surfboard with a forty-foot wave about to engulf him. The tiny cartoon bubble coming out of his mouth said, “What now?” It had seemed hilarious in the airport in Honolulu.

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3 Comments to “Post 41 — Surf’s up! (Part 1)”

  1. Think you ment to say 2 x4’s as to what the BOX was made of?? can see the box in your picture!! surprised it didn’t wonder off into a village as a House!! HaHa!! What portion of Tafuna was your house in? Had the FAA homes been built then? FAA divided the two sections of the Tafuna houseing area. You all had moved out of tafuna by the time my family arrived in 1967.

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  2. Attached is the Large group that my family arrived in Samoa with in 1967. You recognize any of them??

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