a trunk of “old memories”

If you had an old, long-forgotten trunk stored away in a cob-webbed corner of your attic, or a dark, shadowy corner of your basement, what would you find if you were to drag it out of its hiding place? What treasures would you uncover, hidden away these many years? What memories would escape, like moths taking flight once again?

Like me, I’m sure you’ve so many memories of bygone days, some further back, only fragments remaining. Sorting through them isn’t easy. Their essence is so ephemeral, after all. Is it one complete remembrance, or is it a collage of several? Where does one leave off, and another begin? Unwinding memories can be like pulling on a single thread, and watching a sweater unravel, until nothing remains but handfuls of yarn. But I think reminiscences are made of stronger stuff than articles of clothing that are eventually tossed out, or given away. Of your own free will, you could  never be rid of your memories.

A painting of Wailuku and the Iao Valley, Maui...

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One of my fondest memories is of a time in high school, when I was recognized by the nuns as a budding choreographer. The St. Anthony Girl’s High School  Logothat I attended in Wailuku, Maui in the 60s, was a relic from another era. There was a Boy’s School as well, but it sat across the parking lot, on the other side of the campus. There were very few occasions, very few, when the student bodies would interact. Teenage boys and girls could only strain their necks, trying to ogle each other from a long distance away. Binoculars would’ve been handy. I should have had a concession. No. Too capitalistic for Catholic nuns.

I can’t remember if anything I staged for school assemblies, held in the cafeteria, was performed for a gathering of both student bodies. It wouldn’t have mattered to me, except that the butterflies in my stomach would have multiplied sizeably in number. After all, how often did I have more than a hundred guys staring at me all at once? Never! I repeat. Never! Still don’t.

I can recollect 3 particular instances when I entertained my fellow students. I did a modern interpretation of a popular Peter, Paul and Mary folk song at the time, “Blowin in the Wind.” 

 
Peter, Paul and Mary onstage at the Westbury M...

Image via Wikipedia

 I vaguely remember starting the piece lying prone on the floor, and eventually dragging myself into an upright position. Slaves were my inspiration, what they had to endure to survive, another day, another month, another year. I delivered my performance with great anguish, felt in every moral fiber of my spirit, every muscle of my body. The nuns hailed it as my entre into the professional world of choreography. I took their acclamations in stride. At the time, and considering my mom’s personal financial straits, New York and Broadway were as far  away as the moon.

But I went on to bigger and better productions. I choreographed a number from West Side  Story, which one I can’t recall. Perhaps it was “I Want To Be In America.” Setting the piece on my best friend, Lee, and myself, we had a blast dancing it. She was also my romantic lead in an Asian fairytale  that I wrote, at least I think I wrote it. The title of the play escapes me, although it contained the word “runner.” And no, it wasn’t “The Road Runner.” Besides Lee as a princess, me as the poor peasant pining for her, and her disapproving father, there was a green dragon. Of papier-mache and medium height, it was also one of my artsy concoctions. I’ve an old, black-and-white photo of the 4 of us buried somewhere in an antique blanket-chest. But don’t look for it in this post. It’d take me days, if not longer, to unearth.

Cover of "Flower Drum Song"

Cover of Flower Drum Song

A final memory, not a favorite, is of a solo I choreographed to “Happy Talk” from the  movie “Flower Drum Song.” I imagined myself as the beautiful, Eurasian actress Nancy Kwan.

Nancy Kwan Looks Back on an All-Asian ‘Groundbreaking’ Film

January 25, 2002

Nancy Kwan recalls that the 1961 film version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Flower Drum Song” was such a big hit with audiences, “I used to go to Chinese restaurants and get Chinese for free all the time! It was very well-received. We were very proud because it was an all-Asian cast and it made money.”

Kwan, a vivacious 62, played Linda Low, a beautiful and ambitious performer in a Chinatown nightclub in San Francisco. Although her singing was dubbed, Kwan had several memorable dance numbers including “I Enjoy Being a Girl” and “Grant Avenue.”

Gosh, wasn’t she gorgeous? For this number, I sat upon my haunches, using only my hands to gesture the lyrics. I was appropriately attired in a sleeveless, Chinese top, with a cooly’s hat perched on my head. Why I performed the piece in an outdoor assembly of both the girls and boys student bodies, I’ll never know, but I did.

Standing very close to where I performed, were my boyfriend and his friends. Of course I was in my “element,” or so I thought. As I began to move my arms, the strapless bra I decided to wear so that straps wouldn’t slip down my arm as I danced, began inching its way down my chest, almost nonexistent at the time. I literally sweat through that number, constantly trying to maneuver my bra back into place. It was the longest 4 or 5 minutes of my life, and a memory that I’ve not relished telling. But at my age, there are so many others that far surpass that one in remaining buried at the very, very bottom…of my trunk of old memories.

remember some of yours?…hugmamma.

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peanut butter and co., “small town” and out-of-this-world!

On a lighter note, much lighter to be sure, “Are you happy with your brand of peanut butter?” Yes, you heard me right. Many, many things catch, and hold, my attention. The Wall Street Journal and its treasure trove of meaty reading is but one. Food, as you’ve already surmised is another. Of course not being the young chickadee of yesteryear, I’m not so gluttonous anymore, by choice, but not by choice. So of late, I’ve satisfied my sweet tooth with a slice or two of fibrous bread, and “to-die-for” peanut butter. Strange how the older we get, we seem to revert back to childhood habits, childhood passions. Again, I’m not sure if it’s our decision, or Mother Nature’s. In my case, it’s a little bit of both. I like peanuts, a lot, so I like peanut butter, by default. But if it weren’t for my “plumbing” concern, I would probably be gorging on chocolate covered nuts, salty potato chips, and peppermint ice cream leftover from the holidays! Oh, and I’d throw in some white rice and teriyaki chicken for good measure! But already down 6 pounds, give or take depending upon the time of day, I’m more than fine with the new “object of my desire.”

“All Natural PEANUT BUTTER & CO. No-Stir Natural” peanut butter is the “cat’s meow.” My felines would say so, if they ate peanut butter. There are no trans fats, no cholesterol, and no high fructose corn syrup. Two tablespoons equals 180 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar. With a concern for high cholesterol, I have to watch my intake of saturated fat, so I try to ingest the least possible amount I can, and at 2.5 grams, I opt to “pig out” on one serving, sometimes less, of this heavenly peanut butter. These stats are for CRUNCH TIME; they vary with the other flavors, but not by much. 

I’ve sampled 4 distinct flavors, there are others:

  • CRUNCH TIME – natural peanut butter with great big pieces of chopped peanuts (was my all-time favorite, but has temporarily taken a back seat)
  • WHITE CHOCOLATE WONDERFUL – peanut butter blended with sweet white chocolate (now one of my favorites)
  • DARK CHOCOLATE DREAMS – peanut butter blended with rich dark chocolate (tied for current favorite)
  • CINNAMON RAISIN SWIRL – peanut butter blended with cinnamon and raisins (least favorite, too healthy, still better than other brands)

Besides its best selling feature, the fact that it tastes fantastic, “All Natural PEANUT BUTTER & CO.” is a small town product, just like me. Of course, I’m really small town, having been raised in Maui in the 50s and 60s. By contrast, this peanut butter hails from The Big Apple, where it was “born” in 1998. My daughter, sister-in-law, niece and I visited its charming digs in NYC’s small, but famous, Greenwich Village, quite a few years ago. We might’ve even been witness to its humble beginnings, now that I think about it.

Having wend our way through Little Italy and Chinatown, where we lunched on so-so food, my niece expressed a fervent wish to find a shop she’d read about. Until then, I’d not known Jennifer was such a huge fan of peanut butter. A taxi ride later, we found ourselves in front of a quaint-looking shop which only sold peanut butter related items. There was a menu board listing sandwiches of every imagineable combination. I seem to remember that there was one in honor of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. It probably included bananas and bacon. My niece might have bought a sandwich “for later.” I know I was too overwhelmed by the whole peanut butter thing, to take it too seriously. Until now, that is.

Who would’ve thought I’d find jars of a Greenwich Village, specialty peanut butter sitting on the shelf at my local grocer’s? Needless to say I tried it, and it’s been our family’s choice ever since. I hesitate to say that I found about 10 jars of it in my cabinet just now. Several were hidden in a corner, so I thought we had none and decided to stock up. With threat of snow days, peanut butter is a nutritious, tasty food to have at hand. It’s a comfort food, I can still turn to…for comfort.

Other brands cost a few dollars, add another couple for “All Natural PEANUT BUTTER & CO. No-Stir Natural.” It’s well worth the price, in terms of taste, and your family’s health. In the current economy small companies are struggling to survive. I’m hoping my favorite peanut butter weathers the storm, making it through to sunny days that lie ahead. I’m doing my bit, after all 10 jars for 2 people is a bit much. But they’ll keep. And if it disappears from my grocer’s shelf, I can try ordering my favorite peanut butter online at www.ilovepeanutbutter.com or call 1-866-ILOVEPB. 

If you can’t find “All Natural PEANUT BUTTER & CO No-Stir Natural” where you are, and decide to order online or by phone, tell LEE ZALBEN, THE PEANUT BUTTER GUY, hugmamma sent you. Their website includes youtube videos which you can view, one produced by a travel channel. Your mouth will water just watching shop visitors sink their teeth into thick, flavorful, pb&j sandwiches!!!

gotta have my pb on fibreous toast, now and then…hugmamma.

attitude adjustment

One day I had occasion to visit a beautiful, upscale mall in sunny southern California, The Costa Mesa Mall. Sprawling over several acres, it was a shopper’s paradise. A favorite phrase,”eye candy,” coined while strolling the cobblestone streets of Venice, seemed just as applicable at this retail complex. Anchoring this shopping mecca, were giants Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Sak’s, and Sear’s. Sprinkled in and around them were other name stores, Gap, BCBG, MaxMara, Mango, Barney’s New York, Abercrombie & Fitch, and a seemingly endless list of other brands. Rolex caught my eye. I’d not seen it in any other mall I’ve visited. In fact, I’ve never seen its storefront before.

My first stop had to be Bloomingdale’s. Our first “introduction” was at 53rd and Lex in NYC in 1976. Several years ago, my daughter and I visited a branch in Soho, New York. There’s a distinct vibe to the retail icon. It’s upscale with a contemporary, youthful flavor. New York is culturally diverse, with Chinatown and Little Italy as neighbors, deli workers commuting alongside doctors on subways, and homeless setting up house across the street from Trump Tower. As a result, Manhattan’s Bloomingdale’s caters to customers from all walks of life. Everyone is treated equally. When you enter the store, whether you browse or buy, you’re a BFF (best friend forever).

As I wandered through Costa Mesa’s Bloomingdale’s, the mood was the exact opposite of its “sister” in the east. I felt invisible as I made my way through different areas of women’s wear. Several of the saleswomen were young and Asian. None approached to assist me, instead greeting and speaking with Caucasian shoppers. I took notice because I’m half-Chinese. Perhaps I didn’t appear to have the money to spend. No matter I thought, I’m just browsing. If something “grabbed” my attention, I would’ve made myself known.

In lingerie, I looked at a selection of bras displayed on a table. While fingering one in particular, a lovely, black, young saleslady approached saying “Isn”t that nice!” I replied that it was, but couldn’t find the price. She checked one like it nearby. It too had no price, so she left to make inquiries, indicating she’d be right back. Upon returning with the price, she pointed to another bra that was on sale. Following her to the “sale” rack, I explained that I had been searching for one that I had seen more than a year ago at Free People. The saleslady quickly informed me that the store had a branch in the mall. I was pleasantly surprised that she referred me to a competitor. Her recommendation reminded me of the Santa Claus in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” If an item was not in stock, he sent customers from Gimbel’s, where he worked, to Macy’s where he thought they’d find exactly what they were looking for.

Leaving Bloomingdale’s I pondered what had just happened to me. I was ignored by my own ethnic “sisters”, and treated kindly by a black woman, who reached out in true sisterhood. On my way out of the store, I saw BCBG, a retailer of expensive, designer wear. Stepping inside, I strolled about, stopping to more closely inspect items that were of interest. The 3 young, Asian, sales help never acknowledged my presence. Interesting, I thought. As I made my way from the back towards the exit at the front, I stopped to allow one of the sales women to pass. I noticed a half-smile on her lips as she walked by. Continuing towards the door, I saw a Caucasian customer enter and heard one of the sales ladies call out “Hi! How are you?”

In my 20’s I perceived such affronts as there being something wrong with me. Almost 40 years later, I find such experiences curious. On its face it might seem that the Asian women thought I was “beneath” them and their Caucasian clientele. I was dressed well, but not anything like their regular customers. By contrast, the young, Black woman treated me as an equal or better, since I was a potential consumer. But setting aside what might seem like the obvious, it may be that the Asians were behaving according to stereotype, quiet and shy. And the black woman was, perhaps, more outgoing by nature. Murmuring to myself, I continued on my way.

My next encounter, more pleasant than those previously, added another dimension to the racial question. Sylvia, in DKNY, greeted me with a pleasant smile and “Hi! How are you?” As I wandered from table to rack, looking at Donna Karin designer digs, Sylvia’s eyes followed me. Stepping closer, she commented that I should let her know if I needed any help. I thanked her. When I finally spied a long, grey, sleeveless dress that might fit my daughter nicely, I asked for Sylvia’s assistance. We talked a little about the details of the dress, its fit, its color, its multiple use. I shared a picture of my daughter. Sylvia complimented my daughter’s beauty and her pursuit of dancing as a career. I learned that Sylvia was of Korean-Polish ancestry. I expressed my feeling that marriages between easterners and westerners, can produce attractive offspring. My husband and daughter who are Hawaiian-Chinese-Portuguese are proof-positive. I left in a very good mood, promising to return later that day, my daughter in tow.

Before heading off to get a bite to eat, I stopped in at Free People. Immediately inside the doorway, Ashley greeted me with a huge smile and friendly manner that wrapped around me like a warm blanket. We chatted continually while I moved hangers aside to better inspect each piece of clothing. I couldn’t stop staring at her, wondering who she looked like. After a few moments playing charades, we arrived at the conclusion that she bore a close resemblance to the youngest of the 3 protagonists fighting the “good fight” against the witches in “Hocus Pocus,” a Halloween favorite on the small screen. Throughout the boutique, Ashley met up with me to comment on an item that I’d hold up for a better look. A native Californian, she was the friendliest I’d ever met, and I told her so. She laughed, and thanked me for the compliment. To better explain myself I told her of my experience in Bloomingdale’s. “Oh!” she exclaimed, eyes rolling, “They need an attitude adjustment!” Well, I just loved her absolute candidness. She was too precious, I thought.

It was so refreshing to make small talk with a young person, so totally unimpressed with outward trappings. She was Caucasian, but it didn’t matter. She was a resounding reminder that it’s what a person is like on the “inside” that matters, not skin color, or social status, or age. Because of her innate skills for serving customers, Free People made a tidy sum when I returned with my daughter to make a number of purchases. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I wanted to return to Bloomingdale’s and BCBG to say “I was the one you wouldn’t help. Big mistake! Huge mistake! Huge!”

best not judge a book by its cover…hugmamma