Chapter One: 1964 (Posts 1–8)

1–The Terror of the Trolls

As the Pan Am jet banked and began its descent, the girl pushed her slightly crooked bangs out of her eyes and stared out the smeared window, straining for a glimpse of her new home. The visibility was zero and since she couldn’t see anything below, she wondered how the pilot could. There was supposed to be land down there somewhere, but the shrouds of clouds that enveloped the plane seemed to have swallowed up the island as well. She rubbed the nubby fabric on her armrest nervously and touched the metal pair of wings that was pinned to her thin shift. The stewardess had told her that it made her an honorary pilot. She hoped that wouldn’t be necessary.

Her older sisters seemed unconcerned, as if flying thousands of miles and landing on a tiny speck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was a skill they had perfected in the past seven days. Her little sister was sprawled across her parent’s knees, her face pale under her curly hair as she contemplated throwing up in her mother’s lap. The strange combination of scrambled eggs and chicken livers that had been served for breakfast would eventually make the decision for her.

The mist parted like the cotton curtain between first class and coach yanked aside by an irate stew, and the previously missing mountain was suddenly right under the plane. For something that had been invisible just moments ago, it quickly got bigger and bigger as the plane roared over it. The jet seemed to clear the impossibly green peak by mere feet.

The landing gear made a thunderous bang as the wheels hit the runway, but the plane bounced back up into the air. The collective, depressurizing gasp of the passengers nearly caused the yellow air masks to drop from the ceiling. The girl grabbed her armrests and dug her heels into the carpet, as if that was going to somehow help. The 707 touched down again, but this time, with a screech of brakes, stayed down. As the speed began to decrease, the plane ate up the runway at an alarming pace. With the end of the tarmac nearly reached and the ocean on either side starting to seem like a distinct possibility, the girl grabbed her sister’s hand and squeezed her eyes shut. What had started as the greatest adventure of her young life was about to become a really good argument on why air travel was never going to catch on.

She thought tearfully of the extensive troll doll collection that had taken her years to amass. The plastic fold-out cave where the colorfully coiffed little ogres frolicked and had their merry adventures was the jewel in the collection, but it was shut up tight and stuffed in a packing crate with the rest of their household possessions sitting on a dock somewhere, waiting to be shipped to their new home. But since they were all about to be blown up in a fiery explosion, the tiny trolls would be forever trapped, locked away in a ten by ten foot coffin with a piano and a record player. Even more unfortunate would be the fate of the three little ones she had stashed in her travel bag. She imagined their faces melting as the plane exploded, their flared nostrils becoming even more grotesque, their beady plastic eyes popping out of the sockets from the extreme heat. How ironic, she thought, to have traveled for seven days and 7000 miles to have it all come down to this, smashing into a God forsaken island that was seven miles wide. Clearly, seven was not the troll’s lucky number. How in the world had she gotten them into this terrifying situation?

September 4, 1964
I liked the flying a lot, it’s a wonderful way to go. My mother, in her letter, said Grandma Broquet kept talking about whole families going down together; it’s better that way, instead of one at a time. Oy. We were scheduled to leave for Samoa from Hawaii at 1:00 but the baggage handlers were negotiating about a strike. We got a message that we could board at 3:00 but it was 8:00 before we finally hit the air. A small note here: the girls were the best, nicest, well-behaved, patient, good and cooperative creatures I have ever had the pleasure to have traveled 7000 miles with. Imagine, 7000 miles, my God. So we were on our way and I don’t mind telling you that I had a great big cold lump in my stomach.

Jean

2–The Family Broquet

Before the plane ride, before the packing, before the terror of the trolls, they were simply an ordinary family. A history teaching dad, a stay-at-home mom, and a bunch of kids who spent most of their days coloring pictures of apostles and learning how to spell from nuns.

Detroit in 1964 was still three years away from the riots that would paralyze the city, although racial tension was high and a long simmering resentment was building based on widespread reports of police brutality. The Detroit Tigers were in fourth place in the American League and the Beatles, fresh from their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, would be playing Olympia Stadium in September. But for these children living in suburban Harper Woods, MI, life was as insulated as the plaid thermos of tomato soup that was tucked into their Flintstone’s plastic lunchboxes.

There were four Broquet siblings, all girls and as alliterative as they could be: Kathy, Carolyn, Chris and Karen. Their parents, Larry and Jean, claimed that all the ”kuh” sounds were unintentional. Kathy might have been Virginia and Carolyn was very nearly a Martha. The names had no particular significance or family connection; the folks just liked the way they sounded. Although the Broquets never really planned on having their daughters sound like a girl’s singing group, it occurred to them by the time they got to the fourth one that they should keep going or it would look like they hadn’t been paying attention. That decision would prove problematic when it came to discipline. Their mother would frequently run through two or three of the wrong names until finally landing on the one she was yelling at. “KathChrisKar …Carolyn! Stop it! Take that snake out of your cousin’s pants!” Fortunately there were no pets at the time to add to the confusion, although they had once had a dog named Clancy.

At twelve, Kathy was the oldest. She knew her perch at the top of the birth order made her the alpha kid and she relished being in charge. “Now we will place one sock on top of the other, roll each pair from the toe up and then fold the open end where the foot goes in down so that the compact bundle stays intact! Karen, don’t wipe your nose on the sock.”

Vivacious with a dazzling smile, there were dozens of pictures of her in the Broquet family photo shoebox, and in every one of them she strikes a pose and beams at the camera. Her tiny white teeth are straight and even like small rows of baby corn. Although the photos are all in black and white, her cheeks appear to be rosy, as if the wonderfulness of her could not be contained in shades of gray. There was always one kid picking at something or scowling in the pictures, but it was never Kathy. Even the baggy plaid uniforms they were required to wear to St. Peter’s elementary school took on panache when she walked by, her beanie at a rakish angle.

Carolyn was next in line, born two years later. When she was quite young, the family called her Lynnie. This was surely meant as an endearment because Carolyn is a bit severe for a baby, but somewhere around age six she decided that as diminutives went, that one was pretty lame. “I will only answer to my real name,” she stated.

She solved the problem of relatives who insisted on addressing her as Lynnie by pretending they were dead, which was distressing to her grandmother, who was not. Her sisters figured out pretty quickly that this was not a girl to be trifled with and dropped the nickname before anyone could get hurt. There was a brief period when they tried calling her “Leonard Gas Station”, but that was mostly just to annoy her.

Amidst all the photos of Kathy, there is a shot of Carolyn in her First Communion finery, looking pudgy and adorable in her smudged white organza. Under her snagged veil, she wears a gleeful grin and clutches a Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle. Receiving the body of Christ for the first time was big event in the lives of Catholics, and they celebrated accordingly.

Born like clockwork two years after Carolyn, Chrissie enjoyed her position as the baby of the family until she was four, when her little sister Karen came along and robbed her of what she felt was her rightful birth order spot. She became the reluctant middle child, forced to be cheerful and easy to get along with instead of the pampered and cherished baby. But she adapted, because that’s what middle children do.

She developed a fondness for troll dolls, perhaps seeing in them kindred souls who were no longer the center of attention. She even developed the ability to make a face that made her look eerily like one of her ogres. It involved setting her mouth in a straight line and puffing out her upper lip until her nostrils widened. Her Polish ancestors would not have been pleased to know that their genetic material was exactly the right shape to inflate into a troll snout. The only things missing were the Day-Glo plastic eyes. Carolyn thought the troll face was hysterical and encouraged her to do it often, sometimes joining in herself. Whole rolls of film were wasted as they begged their parents, “Now take one of us as trolls!”

Carolyn and Chrissie looked so much alike that they were often mistaken for twins. Both had otter brown hair and eyes the color of mixed nuts. Pictures of them were frequently captioned with question marks, as if even the labeler wasn’t sure who was whom. This worked in their mother’s favor, for when she was accused of taking only photos of Kathy, the photogenic one, she could point at the mystery label and swear that was a picture of whomever was making the accusation.

Karen, at four, was the youngest. She had golden ringlets and the men in the family wrapped around her tiny finger. She had a well-deserved reputation as a whiner but could turn the charm on and off like a faucet. She liked to get up early and visit their grandparents, who were conveniently located about twenty feet away in the house next door. “Here’s Charlie Brown!” her grandfather would exclaim, mixing a milky coffee and handing her a pale beige slice of braunschweiger with the silky texture of velvet. “Here’s my curly top!” She must have been adorable. No pictures of her exist.

Sept. 4, 1964
The girls are doing fine. Karen was whiny with us but was ready to stay with a Samoan family we met and has been perfectly charming to all she meets. So if we can stand her for a little longer we won’t ship her back. Chris has adapted beautifully and is letting her hair grow. Lynn is still going through the complaining stage, she has been in it for four months now, and the going has been pretty rough. However, they are all acquiring a very “Fa a Samoa” attitude, which loosely translated means “what the hell, everything is loused up in Samoa!” Kathy is still her charming pre-teen intellectual self. She received an invitation to a teenage dance but hasn’t shown much interest. I think she will stay like she is until she’s 17 then suddenly be an adult. Maybe I’m wrong but we’ll see.


Jean

3–The Mother, Jean

They were a rambunctious group, roughhousing like puppies and occasionally really beating the crap out of each other. The actual level of physical abuse might have seemed out of place in a house full of girls, but no attempt was made to force them to adhere to feminine stereotypes. The competitiveness was heightened by their perception of parental favoritism, something their mother and father were well aware of and determined not to give in to. Christmas gifts were presented in stacks of exactly the same number of boxes; each girl had an equal amount of socks in her drawer. The canned peas were counted and divided by four, regardless of whether or not anyone planned on eating them. Every child was equal in the Broquet household, and it occasionally drove them mad with fury.

The keeper of this zoo was their mother, Jean. Everyone was a stay-at-home mom in those days so clearly she knew what she was getting into, but she must have had regrets occasionally. After all, it had been twelve years since she had had a moment to herself. “Get out of this house and get the stink blown off of you,” she would yell at her girls, using a quaint old family expression. “I’ll call you when it’s time to eat.”

It was a neighborhood tradition for moms to stick their heads out the front door and shout for the kids when they wanted them home. Since the restricted play borders were all within hearing distance, Jean would stand on the front porch like a modern day farmer and call her piglets to the trough. “Kath-eee! Chriss-ie! Lyn-nie!” would echo off the street, and the girls would perk up their ears and then moan theatrically about having to leave their play. But dinner was always a high point of the day so they would scamper off to eat. Everyone except for Carolyn; she may have been starving but she remained defiant in the face of the dreaded moniker. She never understood that you simply cannot yodel a three syllable name.

The siblings spent the summer of 1964 roaming the neighborhood with the rest of the kids on the block. Their best friends were another set of alliteratives down the street – Debbie, Davey and Dawn – and with the others joining in, they played loud and complicated games of baseball that involved a lot of shouting. Catholic schoolchildren are raised to strictly adhere to the rules, and there was always much discussion if the girls felt other people were not following their interpretation. The days seemed endless, long hot afternoons that faded away into dusk as they all headed home at the first glow of the streetlights.

They must have seemed endless to their mother, too, but for different reasons. On one particularly sweltering July day after she’d spent the afternoon trying to keep the crowds at bay because she’d washed the floors, she finally flipped. “Go outside! I don’t care how hot it is. Drink out of the hose if you’re thirsty.”

Jean was usually pretty easygoing and put up with the continuous chaos that four children can create, but the heat and the noise seemed to push her over the edge. There was a pile of ironing that needed to be attacked, even if the humidity in the house made the clothes go limp as soon as she finished them.

Into this hellhole came Larry, the head of the household and provider of food and shelter, right on time at 5:30pm. Oblivious to the fact that there were screaming children everywhere and his wife had a crazed, wild look in her eyes as she waved the iron at them, he gave her a kiss on her cheek and said “Hi, honey. How’d you like to move to American Samoa?

Her immediate response was, “Great, where the hell is it?’

She thought he meant alone.

4–The Father, Larry

Larry Broquet taught geography and world history on educational television, WTVS Channel 56 in Detroit. ETV was a fairly new concept in the sixties and the station was producing original programming to be broadcast into classrooms. The information being taught was the same as in a regular school, but it was hard to hold student’s attention if you just stood in front of the camera and pointed to a map. Larry had always had a bit of a theatrical side and he put it to good use in his curriculum. He would write sketches that illustrated great moments in history and regularly worked costumes and props into his lessons. He also enjoyed using puns to make his point. One show about the Crusades ended with the punch line “I wouldn’t send a knight out on a dog like this” and involved a suit of armor and a live sheepdog in the studio. His program was very popular.

Live television could be unpredictable. Larry was on the air one afternoon in late November when the station manager walked in front of the camera and interrupted him mid-lesson. In a classic “where were you when Kennedy was assassinated” moment, Carolyn and Chrissie were at home sick that day, watching their father’s television program. They called for their mother to come and see what was happening. Sitting together in a rocking chair, tears running down Jean’s face, they listened to the sketchy details of what had happened in Dallas. After the announcement, the manager said, “Mr. Broquet, please resume your lesson,” and walked away, leaving Larry standing dumbfounded in front of the camera trying to figure out what to say about Joan of Arc as the nation went into shock.

Several months later, a visitor to the Channel 56 studios gave a presentation to all the television teachers. Vernon Bronson of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters was in the process of redesigning the educational system in American Samoa, and he was looking for pioneers.

In the early sixties, the approximately 5500 Samoan school children in this American owned territory could barely speak English. Unfortunately, their teachers couldn’t either, most of them having the equivalent of a fifth grade stateside education. Attendance in the schools was minimal and the general easy-going attitude on the islands was that if there was more pressing personal business to attend to, the teachers might not show up at all. If you lived in paradise to begin with, why would you want to spend a beautiful afternoon indoors talking about other places that weren’t nearly as nice?

The United States government was experimenting with televised public education and saw the situation in Samoa as a great opportunity to test some of their programs, while at the same time improve the language and reading skills of the natives. Vernon Bronson, who had been with the NAEB for several years, was given the responsibility of trying to make this project work. He had established the first ETV system in Florida in the late fifties, and was considered an expert in the field. His plan was to incorporate television as a central part of the teaching process, but he knew the program was about more than just hardware. He needed teachers.

His proposal to the staff at Channel 56 included a brief history of the ETV program in the U.S and information about getting in on the ground floor of a remarkable new way to bring education to places that were too remote to have a traditional school system. He had reports and statistics and a ton of paperwork, but all he really needed was the 30-minute film that he showed to the transfixed crowd.

American Samoa knows how to work a photo shoot. The village of Pago Pago sits on what has been called the most beautiful harbor in the Pacific Ocean. White sand beaches with towering palm trees line the coasts, and the central mountainous area is a tangle of green jungle and plant life not even remotely familiar to the crowd of gaping Detroiters who sat on a campus of concrete that suffocating July day. The Samoan people are some of the warmest and friendliest in all of Polynesia and they love having their photo taken. Stick them in front of a camera and let them talk about their culture and islands, and the result is a recruitment tool that could convince anyone to abandon their lives and move 7000 miles to the other side of the earth.

Coconut palms swaying rhythmically as the ever present trade winds blow gently from the east; pounding surf crashing on the lava rock, lulling you to sleep at night; days of brilliant sunshine followed by cool pleasant nights in which the unfamiliar stars of the Southern Hemisphere sparkle overhead; garbage collectors wearing garlands of flowers around their necks and singing songs which date back a thousand years as they perform their rounds; these are some of the memories the Broquet family will be discussing in future years.

Of course there will be other memories, not as pleasant perhaps, but just as interesting. Torrential rains lasting for days at a time; picking the insects out of the bread while you eat; dueling with three inch cockroaches; earthquake and tidal wave threats, along with impending hurricanes; these will be discussed in future years also.

Report from Samoa by Larry Broquet
A look back after the first year.

5–The Decision

The Broquets were not big travelers. Larry had spent some Army time in Germany at the end of World War II and Jean had taken a cross-country bus trip to California, but that was about it. Their family vacations were the typical throw-all-the-kids-in-the-back-of-the-station-wagon kind to places within a few hours of Detroit.

“Guess what we did,” Chrissie bragged to Debbie, Davey and Dawn. “We got to tour this big cereal factory in Battle Creek. They gave us little boxes of Fruit Loops and they were free! It was the best vacation ever!” They saw the tulips in Holland, rode the Boblo boat in Detroit, and actually left the country once to drive through the tunnel to Windsor, Canada. They bought some cheese and came home. It took about an hour.

The possibility of an adventure like the Samoan project was irresistible to Larry. As a geography teacher, there were places on his maps that he had always longed to see. Samoa had never been one of them, but it was certainly a good enough place to begin. He also knew that his teacher’s salary would limit any opportunities for his four girls to see the world as well. Although the chance that he would even be considered seemed remote, he filled out an application and then assumed he would never hear from them again.

Two days later, he got a long distance phone call from Vernon Bronson, telling him that Larry Broquet was exactly the kind of person they wanted for the program and by the way, could they leave next month?

His wife was taken aback by the suddenness of the whole thing. “My God, Larry, when I said yes, I didn’t think they would actually choose you,” exclaimed Jean. With a solid offer on the table, what had seemed in the beginning like a great adventure was now a life-changing choice, not just for themselves but for the future of their children as well.

“How can we leave Harper Woods?” said Jean. “We grew up here, all the family is here. What will they think if we leave? Will the kids be able to go to school? Will it be safe? How much will you be paid? And what is your mother going to say?!”

Both Larry and Jean had lived their entire lives in and around Detroit and most of the extended family members had never left the comforting, if somewhat suffocating, circle of relatives. Their entire social life revolved around the family. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries—the guest list always remained the same. Even the location was fairly constant; Larry’s parents, Harold and Tracy Broquet, lived next door and had a basement that was made for parties. The grandchildren and cousins learned to shoot pool in the cool dark and ran through the haze of smoke that hung in the air, while the ladies prepared copious amounts of potato salad and ham. The men drank beer and played pinochle in their shirtsleeves and skinny ties, and everyone knew everything there was to know about everybody else. The parties were interchangeable, but the good times and the feelings of belonging could not be dismissed.

September 4, 1964
The people have all been very nice and we have the beginnings of some friendships. After being firmly entrenched with familiar people, I had forgotten how difficult and slow it is to start new contacts of any meaning. Most of the people I have met so far are seasoned travelers and are crazy about the place. Maybe since it is my first trip anywhere I have a different view. I like it, am prepared to dig in, however as far as traipsing all over, I don’t know. They make contentment at home and enjoyment of old friends and relatives seem like a personality defect.

Jean

But Larry was certain that they could make their parents and siblings understand that leaving meant opportunity, not rejection of them and the hometown lifestyle that had been working fine up until then. Well, fairly certain.

“Jean, there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered but it comes down to one fact: this would be the adventure of a lifetime. How can we say no?”

The contract would be for two years. They took a deep breath … and said yes.

Selection from The Samoan Fales, Act One, Scene One

(original script by Larry Broquet 1966)

Mother: You don’t care about us at all. You’re only interested in yourself! Go ahead! Be selfish! Drag your family off to God knows where! But before you do, have you thought about what your MOTHER is going to say? (she storms offstage)

Father: No, I’ve been too busy thinking about what YOUR mother is going to say!

Father: To go, or not to go — that’s the question. Maybe Mary’s right. I’ve got a good job; the house is almost paid for. I’ve got security, why, when I retire, I’ll get 48 dollars a month—for life! Hah! How much life will there be after I’m 65? But, do I have the right to take my family off into the unknown—the wilderness? (studies atlas) Hmmm. I didn’t know there were two Samoas. There’s Western Samoa, became an independent nation in 1962. And there’s Pago Pago! Gee, I wonder what John Hall and Dorothy Lamour look like today. (rises, begins to pace)

That’s how America was built, by people taking their families off into the wilderness. Were they better men in those days? (flexes his muscle –wiggles stomach) Don’t answer that question!
(Father paces)

Father: Decisions, decisions. How does a guy make a decision that will affect his entire family? (turns on radio and flops in chair) If only I could find something to help me make up my mind. (radio blares out news report with all the bad things happening in the world)

Father sits in chair with stunned expression during news—leaps to feet shouting—

That’s it! That made up my mind! Mary, Betty, Bobby! Pack up! We’re going to Samoa!

Larry writes, directs and sings in the 1967 production of The Samoan Fales. He also borrows liberally from his life to write the script. See Today’s Word of the Day for more information.

6–The Family Has Questions

As Jean had suspected, the news that four of the grandchildren were about to be whisked away to some unknown island was not met with much enthusiasm on the part of the grandparents. “What the hell are you going to Africa for?” her father shouted. “You don’t know what could be hiding in that jungle!” It was difficult to calm the parent’s fears when they knew so little themselves, although they were pretty sure the island wasn’t in Africa. Lack of information was a major problem — it wasn’t like they could just Google American Samoa and get all their questions answered.

The relatives weren’t the only ones who had reservations. The thought of living in a strange new culture made the children uneasy as well. Although Detroit had a large minority population, their suburb of Harper Woods was overwhelming white. There were no black children at the parochial school they attended or on the block or anywhere else that the girls could think of. Their grandfather had made some rather disparaging remarks along the lines of “you’re all going to get as black as the ni–” which made Jean shout “Dad!” and shake her head at her father. Although Jean and Larry were hoping to broaden the children’s horizons and avoid this kind of thinking, it still gave Chrissie pause.

“Carolyn,” she whispered to her sister after they had dropped their dimes in the collection basket at church. “Is Samoa where the pagan babies are?

Carolyn nodded her head vigorously and said, “Absolutely. I’m sure Sister Donna Imelda said that’s where they live.” Carolyn was an expert at saying everything with authority. Even when she didn’t know what she was talking about, you still believed her.

The girls had been taught that as good Catholics, it was their job to help save the poor pagan babies who had never been baptized. Being denied this important sacrament meant the souls of these little ones would fly around forever in purgatory should they meet an untimely demise. Chrissie would often imagine that limbo was a very sad place, full of plump brown babies with tiny wings fluttering as they bumped against the floor of heaven. She and her sisters were required to contribute half of their allowance to the salvation of these unfortunate infants, and she frequently felt guilty about her resentment of this. But at least it gave her something to talk about in confession. She wondered if religion would be this hard on the island.

9/18/64
Catholics can eat meat here on Fridays and don’t wear hats to church. Wonder what the stand on birth control is out here. Would be interesting to find out. We went this morning enmasse and at end of mass just after the priest left the altar, the congregation broke into a closing hymn. “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” in Samoan. Even the kids did a double take on that one. We figured some Texas missionary must have been working the neighborhood! We’ve been told they also have a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers” that they do.

Jean

Eating out was a treat that didn’t occur very often, but a celebration was in order after the decision to move had been made. The Broquets had settled in at their favorite restaurant, a fish and chips place called Blue Gables where a family of six could eat for cheap. The placemats on the table had a map of the world printed on them, and after the food had arrived, Larry pulled out a pen and said, “Girls, I think we need a little geography lesson.” Carolyn rolled her eyes at Kathy and concentrated on her coleslaw. In their father’s opinion, life was full of teachable moments, even if his daughters felt he should stop once the cameras were turned off.

He drew a circle around the fiftieth state. “This is Hawaii. We’re going to stop there on our way to Samoa.” He drew another circle around New Zealand and then connected the two dots. “New Zealand looks like it’s right next to Australia but it’s actually a thousand miles between the two islands.” He drew the final ellipse around a speck that was barely visible. “And this is Easter Island. This place has gigantic stone sculptures that are very mysterious. No one really knows how they got there.” The only mystery Carolyn was interested in was how Blue Gables made their coleslaw so delicious. She missed the part where he connected all the dots because she was eating Karen’s.

“So that’s why this is called the Polynesian Triangle. Each side is over 5000 miles, which means the triangle is larger than the United States. Polynesia means “ many islands” and American Samoa is a group of six about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Do you girls have any questions?”

Kathy started to say something but was drowned out by the wail when Karen discovered her coleslaw was gone.

7–Filariasis and Vaccinations

Larry and Jean went through the stack of National Geographics to try to find articles that would help them figure out exactly what they had signed on for. Aside from Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa and some mentions in Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, there just wasn’t that much written about the place.

Kathy brought the Michener book to the dinner table one night. “There’s a story in here about a man who had a disease called filariasis,” she said. “It says his scrotum weighed over seventy pounds and he had to carry it around in a wheelbarrow. Daddy, will we get filariasis? Where’s my scrotum?” They all turned expectantly to their father, who had gone even paler than the man with the wheelbarrow.

Even scarier than that disease was the series of vaccines they had to get in order to avoid carrying their enlarged scrotums around. Because the timetable for leaving was barely a month, all the shots were administered in one doctor’s visit. Two adults, four kids, two nurses, and eighteen separate syringes were involved. There was a fair amount of sobbing but no fainting, and all the girls felt very brave as they left the office, their tongues red from the lollipop bribes they had received. When the family returned from the appointment, the girls saw that a neighborhood pick-up baseball game had begun in their absence and ran to join in. It was only when an easy pop fly landed at Kathy’s feet that they realized none of them could lift their arms.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of activity and questions while the family tried to figure out what household items they would need to survive two years on a tropical island. The government would pay to ship the goods overseas, but they would have to decide what should go in the large wooden crate. The piano was a yes, but the cardboard play kitchen would sadly be left behind. They wouldn’t need their winter coats, but the possibility that they might be living in a grass hut made Larry wonder if bringing the washing machine was practical. “I don’t care if we’re going to be living on the beach,” Jean said. “The washing machine is going.”

Most of the furniture would stay because the small house would be rented while they were gone, with Larry’s next door neighbor/father managing the property. But the things that make everyday life possible—clothing, records, books, cooking utensils, troll dolls—all were boxed up and taken away by a large moving truck. The government assured them that their precious items would be carefully crated and then shipped by boat. The estimated arrival time was 4-6 weeks.

9/18/64

We have been trying to get a line on our household things but the only thing we have been able to find out hasn’t been too hopeful. The shipping office has a copy of a letter saying they hoped our things would be leaving the states on the third of October! Oy. The girls have three dresses apiece and me without a sewing machine.                                 Jean

8–Farewell to Harper Woods

Somehow everything got done. The packing was finished, the paperwork signed— all the steps necessary to walk away from an established life for two years. Larry was granted a leave of absence from the Detroit Board of Education so there would be job to come home to when the contract was up. But the hardest task of all was still ahead.  It was time to say goodbye to the family.

The going away party was held in the backyard of Chuck and Betty Broquet, Larry’s brother and sister-in-law. It was the mother of all family parties, with every living relative within fifty miles of the Detroit Metro area invited. There were co-workers, friends, neighbors, and even Jean’s side of the family showed up for some uneasy cross socializing. There was a lot of potato salad.

­­­­

The party was captured on super8 film, and that reel shows a family of six wearing enormous paper leis and looking nervous and excited. Kathy does the hula, Detroit style, and Larry staggers in and out of the frame like a drunk, hinting at the sophisticated humor that will be on display later in his television shows. There is a parade of relatives as every one of the fifty-plus aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents waves goodbye into the lens and forms a bon voyage conga line, dancing and waving. Karen, the littlest Broquet, is actually captured on film for the first time in her life, proving the importance of the occasion.

The camera follows the family to the airport and gets a bit shaky as all six of them disappear into the plane, waving their umbrellas and trying not to cry. Careful research had taught them that rainfall in America Samoa was around 200 inches per year. They didn’t want to be caught unprepared. They didn’t have a clue.

Their adventures in paradise were about to begin.

 

Anyway, back to my original thought … most of the benefits from this jaunt will be tangible. The girls are meeting situations with a good deal of grace and aplomb, learning to accept disappointments (also they have been eating everything without too much grousing), we seem to be getting closer as a family and are seeing that Harper Woods wasn’t quite so bad after all. I hope I can remember all these uplifting thoughts when the ruts get too deep.

Jean

Family video shot in 1964: edited by Carolyn Broquet, narrated by Dick Broquet

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