Post 61 — There’s No Place Like Home

Karen knows being the baby is best.

Karen knows being the baby is best.

As the months on the island passed and the Broquets came to view Samoa as home, the letters to the family back in Detroit changed. Originally three to four pages long, now they were barely two full pages (unless there was a hurricane, in which case – six pages, single spaced!). Somewhere after the first year, Larry and Jean made a remarkable discovery: carbon paper could cut their letter writing time in half. They were upfront about it to their parents, making sure that each set got one original page and one carbon, as if that somehow justified that they weren’t spending hours on each letter. Larry embraced the concept wholeheartedly, although fully one-third of his letters ended with “Oh hell! I just discovered I had the carbon in backwards again!” Since all the big expository subjects had already been described in the missives of the last eighteen months, the letters now described parties, the children, the weather, and what they had for dinner. And hints. Lots and lots of hints.

January 8, 1966 My activities still center pretty much around my work, which, although it’s going smoothly, means a pretty full day every day. We have four full studios operating now, and things are running better than they were last year. We are beginning to reach the point where the contracts of the early arrivals are scheduled to run out, and there’s a lot of speculation about how many people will sign up for another hitch. The subject of re-upping has been kicked around among the teachers, but no one has reached the point where they have committed themselves yet. The Director of Education verbally expressed a desire that I remain for a while, but I don’t feel Samoa has enough opportunities for advancement, nor does the salary make anyone go wild. I’ve certainly enjoyed our stay here and I feel I’m a better person because of it, not counting what it has done for the kids. So, from all indications, it appears we’ll be bidding tofa to Samoa this August, unless they can come up with something awfully appealing.

Larry

Feb. 27, 1966 As far as telling the renters in our house about when we will be home, we still don’t know ourselves yet when we will leaving here. It will depend on how things are going at the studio. There will be a whole new group of confused people and Larry’s supervisor might feel it necessary for Larry to stay to the end to help them get adjusted. We are aiming at August 1st however, so we’ll let you know.

Jean

April 3, 1966 I was trying to think of a delicate way to lead into this, but I can’t think of any, so I’ll be blunt. We are considering coming back here for another year. I’m aware you all have been apprehensive about this so perhaps the shock will not be too much. The elementary program has been running very smoothly and the various evaluation teams which have been snooping around lately have written glowing reports of the progress we have made. One of the areas which has been bothering many people is the fact that all of the contracts of the teachers come up this summer. If all of the teachers leave at the same time, it will be a terrific blow to the program. The Elementary Supervisor and the Director of Education have both been asking about the possibility of some of the teachers re-signing, but no one was interested in another two-year contract. Gov. H. Rex Lee expressed his concern over the impact our leaving might have on the program and offered to do anything he could for us to continue our work for another year. Ordinarily, the government will not give one year contracts because of the transportation expense involved. However, he felt we were important enough to the program to make an exception. He is willing to give us special contracts which provide a trip home this summer and an additional year’s service to the Government of American Samoa. I had felt that a bigger pay raise was in order (the new contract calls for a $500 raise) but since it will cost the govt. about $4000 to send us home and back, I didn’t push that point.

I know the family will not be thrilled about us coming back for another year, but I don’t know if I can make you understand how important this whole project has become to me. Those of us who started this thing two years ago have seen tremendous strides on the part of the Samoan kids, and we know how the program will suffer if we have to bring in new people and virtually start all over again. The Samoan kids who spoke in a You Tarazan–Me Jane vocabulary two years ago now speak English in reasonably complete sentences and can carry on a pretty good conversation. When we first decided to come down here, the idea of the trip to the South Seas was the big thing, but now the project has a become part of our lives. I say our lives because Jean starts work Monday in the Art Dept. at the studio so she’s going to be a part of it, too. She’ll help to prepare the visual materials we use on our programs. I’m glad she finally has an opportunity to use her artistic talent. So nothing definite as things stand now. Whatever does happen, we’ll be home this summer either for 4-6 weeks, or for good. I’ll let you know if and when anything definite is decided.

Larry

The girls sat around the dining room table, kicking each other and whispering. The last time they had had a family meeting they had been told they were being dragged off to an island somewhere in the Pacific. There was a strange feeling of deja vu as they waited to see what their parents were going to throw at them this time.

“Maybe it’s a new brother,” whispered Carolyn.

“NO!” shouted Karen, startling everyone. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and sulked.

“We’re having a family meeting because we have something important to discuss and we want to know what you think,” said their father. The girls side-eyed each other but remained silent. This brand of democracy had never been practiced in the family before. “What would you think if we decided to stay in Samoa for another year?”

Kathy immediately rolled her eyes and started analyzing the situation. She wanted very much to stay — she had a boyfriend and a group of kids she hung out with continuously. But her gang constantly talked about how boring the island was and took The Animals’ song “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” as their mantra. How could she act disdainful at the idea of staying when her whole life was here? As she tried to formulate an answer and look bored at the same time, Carolyn spoke up. “I vote yes!” She had recently borrowed an outrigger canoe and paddled it out into open waters and then accidentally swamped it. It had taken her hours to get back and no one had even realized she was gone. She was also doing a lot of horseback riding and visiting her friend in the leprosarium. This kind of freedom was not going to be available in Detroit.

Chrissie raised her hand, and her father pointed at her. “Will we have to wear shoes if we go home?” Her mother nodded. “I’m staying.” Karen, relieved that the whole baby brother thing was just a rumour that wasn’t going to upset her optimal place in the birth order, abstained from the vote. “Okay, that’s unanimous with one abstention. You’ve just made your grandmothers very unhappy. We’re staying!”

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