“big aunty” levitates, “trick-or-treat?”

As Halloween’s ghostly hour draws near, prepare yourself for some true-to-life, Hawaiian storytelling. Granted, it’s from accumulated memories, some mine, some my mom’s, and some from my older siblings. A very superstitious people, belief in the supernatural is inherent in our culture. While native Hawaiians today may not speak of the religion of our ancestors, most, including myself, won’t dispute what we were told. I’m certain it’s the same with descendants of other native people, whose beliefs were so closely intertwined with nature.

When I was a pre-teen, I met “big-aunty” for the first time. I’d heard tales about her, so I imagined she’d look and act like a mean, ugly old woman, a hag, a witch. I dreaded having to look at her, scared to death that she’d cast her malevolent eye upon me. I didn’t want to touch any part of her, not even shake her hand. I was baptized a Catholic, but as a frightened kid, I wasn’t sure my religion was going to protect me from a relative imbued with supernatural powers. In truth, I don’t think we children even spoke of “big aunty,” fearful that even our words would draw her attention, and bad luck would befall us.

With great anticipation, and some anxiety, I looked forward to finally meeting our family “Kahuna,” the witch doctor. At a cousin’s high school graduation reception at his parent’s home, my mom introduced me to “big aunty.” If my memory serves me right, my mom’s attitude seemed reverential, as if deferring to someone of higher standing. 

The eyes that greeted mine reminded me of the sea as it washes up onto black sand beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii. While her stare seemed able to penetrate right through me, I felt as though I were gazing into eyes that were dull, dead. I think she was in her 80’s at the time. But I was captivated by my “big aunty’s” small stature, and soft, gentle countenance, framed by thinning, white hair, cut short. By comparison, her younger sister, my mom, was broader, towering over her older sibling by several inches. At that moment, I feared my mom more than my aunt. Strange, I thought, how different the real person, from the one I’d imagined all those years.

Caught up in the celebration, and wanting to hang out with my boy cousins, Lincoln and Martin, whom I rarely ever saw, I didn’t engage in much conversation with “big aunty.” She, of course, spent most of her time mingling with the other adults. From time to time, I would seek her out, just to be near her. Her charisma was evident, even when she was still. In her presence, I felt no evil, only goodness. But I knew from my mom that “kahunas” possessed both; they could cast good spells, and bad ones. They could also remove spells cast by other “kahunas.”

An older brother and sister were favorites of  “big aunty,” from what I’ve been told. Because there were so many of us, she would have them spend the summers with her in Kahakuloa on Maui. While tourists are able to visit that coastal village today, roads were almost nonexistent in the old days. Of packed dirt, they were difficult to travel, especially when heavy rains eroded the soil, leaving behind deep ruts. Electricity did not exist, so nights were lit by kerosene lamps. I can remember only a couple of occasions when I visited the home built by “big aunty’s” oldest son. Being the youngest in my family, I always went with my mom. Thank God! Nights in that house by the beach, scared the living day lights out of me!

There were no screens on the windows, so I’d lay awake watching the flimsy, homemade, cotton, print curtains gently swaying in the breeze. Humid, the still air would make falling asleep difficult, especially with one whose imagination was as active as mine. I’m sure I lay there bug-eyed, anticipating what might happen at any moment.  Listening to the smooth pebbles that blanketed the nearby shore, tumbling over one another as the waves washed over them, added to my insomnia. On one such night as I’ve described, something did happen.

I was but a child, not allowed, and probably not inclined, to witness as much as the adults. But I still remember the overwhelming sense that things were not right, not good, not holy. We were awaken by “big aunty’s” children, whom we kids called aunty and uncle because they were near my mom’s age, even though they were her nephew and niece-in-law. I’m not positive, but I think my two siblings directly above me in age, were with my mom and me.

As the kerosene lamp cast eerie shadows in the darkness, I could hear the adults speaking in hushed, frantic whispers. Beads of sweat appeared upon my mom’s brow; fear showing in her eyes. Uncle left the room, as mom and aunty continued talking in barely audible voices. “Big aunty” was mentioned throughout the conversation. It seemed something was happening that involved her. I think we kids were told to go back to sleep, when they left the bedroom. Easier said than done.

Other than seeing the adults’ reaction, the only picture framed in my memory is the one I have looking out the window at a shack set back towards the edge of the property, which belonged to “big aunty.” I don’t think she lived there, but she would ensconce herself in the shack for days at a time. On this particular night, I could see images walking back and forth inside the shack. For some reason, the light emanating from within was bright, not like the dimly lit rooms in the main house. I don’t know who the figures were. I don’t think they included my mom, aunt and uncle. It seems to me they were watching from elsewhere in the house, that they were not with “big aunty.” My sense was they were staying clear of what was occurring in the shack. The only other thing I remember before finally succumbing to sleep, is hearing wails coming from the shack, ungodly cries. Now, in the comfort of older age and the safety of my home, I can wish I’d been a “fly on the wall” of the shack. Back then I wished we would have gotten the h— out of there.

The next morning at the breakfast table, the adults were still speaking in quiet voices. From what they said, I gathered “big aunty” was exhausted, worn out from the previous evenings occurrences. I don’t remember if we saw her before leaving Kahakuloa later that day. In fact, we may have driven off after breakfast, my mom not wanting to remain any longer than necessary.

Whether I overheard or was told, it seems a woman had visited “big aunty” in the middle of the night. Looking to enlist her help, the woman asked that a curse be placed upon her husband, or the woman with whom he was having an affair. Evidently “big aunty” consented, and what took place involved her levitating off the ground.

From what I understand, “big aunty” derived her powers from the devil. They were “held” within a “special, blue rock” secreted away in a cave in the side of the mountain, overlooking her shack. There was one particular story which my child’s imagination could vividly picture, when it was told to me.

During my childhood, tsunamis seemed commonplace. As my older sister, beloved by “big aunty” told the story, the sea had rolled back toward the horizon, exposing the ocean floor, a normal phenomenon with tidal waves. When the waters thundered back towards the shoreline, they split in time to spare a cow tied to a palm tree in front of my uncle’s home and “big aunty’s” shack. The waters circumvented the buildings as they continued thrashing forward, wreaking havoc everywherelse. I would liked to have been standing alongside my relatives as they witnessed the extraordinary event, from high atop the mountain.

Before “big aunty” died, she attempted to pass her powers along to her beloved nephew, my older brother. My older sister, of whom I’ve spoken, had called my mom from Honolulu, where she and my brother lived in neighboring apartments. He was sick with cold sweats and fever. At night when the moon was full, he claimed to see a spirit enter through an open window, coming to rest on top of his chest. He felt its full weight as it tried to squeeze the life out of him. I think this happened more than once. With the break of dawn, the apparition disappeared. When my mom heard this, she called “big aunty’s” family right away. From them she learned that her sister was very sick. Phoning my sister with the news, she was ordered not to let my brother return to Maui.

My mom felt that “big aunty” wanted my brother by her side before she died, that she wanted to tell him where to look for the “special” rock, wanting him to carry on as “kahuna.” A devout Catholic after converting to my father’s religion, my mom had no desire to have dealings with the devil, or have any of her children involved either. When my brother did not fly home to Maui, I think “big aunty” got better, and so did my brother. I’m not certain when she died, but she did so without passing her powers onto anyone, that I know. Unless she found someonelse, the rock remains hidden in the cave to this day.

I’m as dedicated to my Catholic beliefs, as my mom was when she lived. But like her, I’m a native very respectful of my Hawaiian heritage. As I get older, my roots seem even more deeply embedded in the soil of my culture. When I visit sacred grounds or spend the night lodged near sea cliffs, the hairs on my neck stand up, and I sense, and feel things that others don’t, not even my husband or daughter.  It’s as though spirits of my ancestors know I feel their presence, that I’m sensitive, a potential “medium.” It may be my imagination playing tricks upon me, but my family history makes me feel otherwise.

“Big aunty” wasn’t the only purveyor of curses; my mom would herself seek the help of “others” when she felt someone had put a spell on her. I’m not sure if they were “kahunas,” but they had influence over my mom for sure. I recall that she would refer to those she saw as “holy” people who would “lay their hands upon her,” blessing her, removing any evil.

There were times when my mom would drive to a lady’s home in Iao Valley, after picking me up from school. She’d disappear into the house for hours, while I waited in the car doing my homework, eventually curling up to take a nap. When my mom returned, she’d either recovered from whatever ailed her, or murmured worriedly that it would take time for things to sort themselves out. I never asked what she meant; I don’t think I really wanted to know. Taught by priests and nuns, I couldn’t reconcile my mom’s superstitious practices with my Catholic school upbringing. But the passing of years has a way of altering one’s perspective.

Maturity, motherhood, and a lifetime of experiences changed my perception of what was, and what is. I can accept, in fact cherish, being a native Hawaiian, and all that encompasses. Yet I can still worship God who, in His generosity, created all of us to live our best lives with what He has given us, including nature, its inhabitants and their habitats. God did not tell us how to live, just that we live. He gave us “free will;” and he will determine if we did the best we could.

proud of my heritage, including “big aunty”…hugmamma.

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fathers cast “long shadows”

Never knowing my father, has surely influenced the course of my life, for better or worse. Not that I grew up dwelling on my loss, because I knew no better. Life with my mom was, what it was. However years of observing father-child relationships, including my husband’s and daughter’s, and being privy to others telling or writing, of their own experiences,  made me realize that being fatherless probably impacted my life in a major way. I’m certain I sought a replacement in every relationship thereafter, looking for the security and safe haven every father is thought to inherently possess. I’m positive I looked for him in every male I encountered. But I would have been just as happy, perhaps, if a woman filled the bill since my mom was preoccupied on so many fronts. My older siblings knew my father as children. So I can’t identify with their loss when he died, although I’m sure it was devastating. What we had in common, was being emotionally bereft of both parents.

As society’s traditional head of the household, a father seems to define a child’s psyche. If he’s present and a positive influence, the child flourishes. If he’s present and a negative influence, the child diminishes. If he’s “missing in action,” the child flounders, and “crashes,” or picks himself up by the proverbial “bootstraps,” and becomes a better man for having suffered. If a child is fatherless, he searches far and wide for his identity. These scenarios don’t preclude a child’s own life experiences with its accompanying peaks and valleys. However, how he celebrates or copes is affected by the presence or absence, positivism or negativism, of his father.

Does a father know the power he has over his children? Too concerned with providing material sustenance, I don’t think he ponders the question. If he did, he might run for the nearest “exit.” What man in his right mind would want the responsibility of playing God? Having to walk the fine line between “His Benevolence” and sergeant-major, while allowing his children the luxury of exercising their own free will in all matters. In my estimation, a man walks into fatherhood “blindfolded.” What he does when the blinders come off, determines whether he’s a good father, or one who sucks, on a scale from 1 to 10. I don’t think I know any 10’s. Even my fabulous husband, probably comes in at a 9 1/2, but my daughter might override me with a resounding “10!”She’d win; after all, he’s her father.       

So much has been said about Michael Jackson’s father who abused his sons, mentally and physically,  in attempting to garner a better life for his family. One oft told anecdote involved Tito playing his father’s guitar, something forbidden by Joseph.

…one day Tito broke a string on the guitar. ‘I knew I was in trouble,’ Tito recalled. ‘We were all in trouble. Our father was strict and we were scared of him. So I put the guitar back in the closet and hoped he wouldn’t figure out what had happened. But he did, and he whooped me. Even though my mother lied and said she had given me permission to play the guitar, he tore me up.’ When Tito tells the story, his words tumble out and he gets tongue-tied. So many years later, one can still sense his anxiety about it. ‘She just didn’t want to see me get whipped,’ he said, sadly. ‘Not again.

J. Randy Taraborelli also writes the following in his biography Michael Jackson – The Magic, the Madness, The Whole Story.

Joseph believed in the value and impact of brute force as a disciplinary tool. ‘Either you’re a winner in this life, or a loser,’ he liked to say. ‘And none of my kids are gonna be losers.’ To be sure of that, he would smack his kids without giving it a second thought in order to keep them on the right track to being ‘winners’. Shoving them into walls was not unusual behaviour for him, especially the boys. Michael, however, was the one boy in the family who would attempt to fight back when provoked by his father. Once, when he was just three, Joseph spanked him for something he had done. Crying, Michael then took off one of his shoes and hurled it at his father. Joseph ducked; the shoe missed him.

‘Are you crazy?’ Joseph screamed at him. ‘Boy you just signed your own death warrant. Get over here.’

Infuriated, Joseph grabbed Michael and, according to Marlon, held him upside down by one leg, and pummelled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks. Soon, Michael was crying and screaming so loudly it seemed as if he was trying to summon the entire neighborhood to his aid.

‘Put him down, Joseph,’ Katherine hollered. ‘You’re gonna kill him! You’re gonna kill him!

When Joseph released the boy, he ran to his room, sobbing, ‘I hate you.’ Those were fighting words for Joseph. He followed Michael into the bedroom, slammed the door and then let him have it.

‘Joseph once locked Michael in a closet for hours,’ said a friend of the Jackson family’s. ‘That was traumatizing, horrible for him.’

 Suzanne Finstad’s Child Bride – The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, reveals that she  inadvertently discovered her mother’s closely guarded secret of Priscilla’s real father’s identity.   

Priscilla nearly collapsed under the strain of her sacred pact of silence with her mother. Ann Beaulieu had placed an enormous burden on a thirteen-year-old child by asking her daughter to keep her paternity a secret, even from her siblings and from the man she now knew was not her real father. 

…She  told no one about the discovery of her true identity, not even Pam. As time passed, she became conflicted about wearing the locket containing the picture of her real father. ‘I felt guilty, because I felt now that I was betraying my stepfather, who was so good to me. Because now it’s like I was hiding something from him.’

The trauma of her mother’s betrayal and her own suppression of the truth affected Priscilla’s behavior. Her grades dropped, eliminating her from eigth-grade cheerleading tryouts, ‘and it was a big blow to her,’ …’She went through a real change of personality,’…

Knowing nothing about him, Priscilla fantasized that her long-lost father died a great war hero. ‘In times of emotional pain and loneliness,’ she said, ‘he would become my guardian angel.’

Finstad’s book also sheds light upon the father-daughter relationship between Elvis and his daughter with Priscilla, Lisa Marie Presley.

Lisa’s self-image as the princess of rock, spoiled utterly by a superstar father, with a staff at Graceland at her command at the age of six, continued even after Elvis died. She was imperious even with Dana, the one close friend she had. ‘It was always very clear that whatever Lisa wanted to do,…she had to have her way.’ In later years, Dana attributed this trait to Lisa’s unexpressed anger over losing her father.

Lisa’s marriage to Michael Jackson, continues the author, may have been deeply rooted in the unconditional love she and Elvis shared.  His sudden death left her feeling helpless, since at age 6, Lisa was incapable of saving him from a self-destructive lifestyle.

Lisa had wed, by an obvious Freudian motive, the nineties equivalent of her staggeringly successful superstar father. Elvis was the King of Rock; Michael was the King of Pop. Both singers, oddly, had pet chimpanzees at one time; both shared an interest in UFOs. Elvis lived in semiseclusion at an estate called Graceland. Michael lived a reclusive life at Neverland. Elvis often rented amusement parks, one of his favorite forms of entertainment; Michael had re-created Disneyland on the grounds of his estate and took Lisa, incognito, to the California theme park on their honeymoon. Both men had married to avoid scandal in their careers: Elvis to erase the stigma of his live-in relationship with a seventeen-year-old girl, or to avoid the Beaulieus’ revelation of their illicit arrangement for Priscilla; Michael to rehabilitate his shattered image following the molestation charges. Michael and Elvis entertained small groups of fourteen-year-olds in their bedrooms for slumber parties. The two music legends were notorious eccentrics trapped in an arrested adolescence, existing on unorthodox diets.

Lisa, some of her friends surmised, had married Michael–on a subconscious level at least–to ‘save’ the father she had loved and lost. By restoring Michael to his former position of glory, by elevating him from the ruin of his molestation scandal, she might, in her mind, redeem and perhaps resurrect her father.

I’m currently reading In My Father’s Shadow – A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles by Chris Welles Feder. A third of the way into it, I’ve felt a pervasive sadness throughout. Despite her unquenchable longing to always be with her father, Christopher, the name chosen by her dad, joyously celebrated what precious little time she shared with him. And in her own words, she explained that while her new stepfather successfully brainwashed her mother in behavior becoming the proper wife of a British Major, Orson Welles’ daughter would never succumb.

During our first year in South Africa, my mother changed from the open-minded American woman who had treated African-Americans as her equals, the woman who had loudly cheered and danced around the living room with Charlie Lederer (her second husband) when we heard on the radio that Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected to a fourth term. She became a female clone of Jack Pringle, and the two of them teamed up against me, because I refused to change my essential self and blend in seamlessly with my surroundings. I was not a chameleon like my mother. And, strangely, the absence of my father made me realize how much he had already shaped me and that his power did not depend on his presence. I was Orson’s kid–not Virginia’s and certainly not Jackie’s–now and forever.

Thinking that Orson had forgotten her twelfth birthday, Chrissie, aka Christopher, complained to her mother, who responded ‘Instead of sitting there feeling so sorry for yourself, why don’t you think about all the birthdays he did remember?’ After a brief pout, Chrissie contemplated what her mother had said “Then, as though she had flung open the doors of an old toy cupboard, I suddenly saw the doll my father had given me on my fifth birthday–the most beautiful doll…pretty blue eyes that opened and closed when I rocked her in my arms. …the stack of Land of Oz books; the recordings of Peter and the Wolf and The Nutcracker Suite,…the fluffy, pink bedroom slippers… One by one, they came back in a joyful parade, all the birthday gifts from my father. Gifts that were always exactly what I wanted.” But the gift that left its greatest impression upon Orson’s daughter was the one he bestowed on her seventh birthday. During his half-hour radio evening program, This Is My Best series, he announced ” ‘Good evening, this is Orson Welles. …My eldest daughter, Christopher, is seven years old today, and like most ladies and gentlemen of her age, Christopher likes her father to tell her a story. Well, I don’t know of a better one than ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ …” Orson’s 7-year-old was overjoyed that Orson remembered her favorite story. Reflecting back, Chrissie speaks of that special occasion.

For a long time after the program ended, I had sat by the radio, lost in a magic world of poisoned apples and happy endings. Five years had elapsed since then, but no one–not even Jack Pringle–could take that memory away from me.

So now I knew what I had to do. Whenever being without my father began to hurt too much,  I would come and sit quietly in my room, close my eyes and remember.

My daughter remembers that in the very early years of her childhood, she wished she could have seen more of my husband. He commuted to work in NYC from Connecticut, a 4 hour round trip which he gladly made, so that we could raise our only child in the idyllic town of Redding. The only concession he asked was that her curfew be 9:30 p.m. He wanted time to play with our daughter each evening, and read her a bedtime story. This was a small request for the sacrifice of time and energy my husband made, so she could be nurtured in the small town environment which we favored.

The better part of our daughter’s memory is filled with wonderful remembrances of a father who was actively present in her life. Unlike childhood friends whose fathers only exacted discipline, or were absent from mealtimes, or dancer friends whose fathers are never seen at performances. My husband has allowed his toddler daughter to dress him in hat, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings and fur boa when they played her favorite game, “Pretty, Pretty Princess.” Against his natural instincts that she attend college, he allowed his 16-year-old aspiring ballerina to move to another state in pursuit of a dance career. And after a summer caring for her cat while our daughter was away dancing, her father escorted Misha back to his “mom” en route to a business trip in a nearby state. It was a supreme act of love, since my husband has been on meds for years, as an asthmatic with allergies. Going through airport security, he wore gloves when removing the cat from his crate which went through the scanner, while Misha and “grampy” walked through the screening gate.

All fathers are human, bringing personal “baggage” to the job. Most intend to do well by their offspring, whether they have a plan or “fly by the seat of their pants.” Gazing upon the innocent faces in the pediatric ward, new dads quickly pledge the “moon” to these tiny infants. They never question their ability to “deliver.” That comes later, as reality and responsibility seep into their overtaxed brains. Some walk away; some commit long-term; others remain undecided, going through the motions, until something triggers a decision one way or the other.

A parent is expected to multi-task. Raising children is added to the “to do” list of chores, walk the dog, empty the trash, gas and wash the car, mow the lawn, clean the gutters, power-wash the driveway and roof, refill the bird feeders. Of course children should be top priority, but sometimes life can overwhelm, especially when an unexpected glitch occurs disrupting the fine balance. A parent loses a job, is diagnosed with cancer, is divorced, must care for a parent with Alzheimer’s, suffers the irreparable loss of a child. Where does a parent seek relief? It’s not inconceivable that duty to one’s child slips, eventually occupying the lowermost rung on life’s ladder. In that eventuality, I don’t know a parent who wouldn’t feel like shit. Sorry, but I know that’s exactly how I’d feel. 

Parents don’t get a reprieve. We don’t get to pick and choose which jobs we want to relinquish to someonelse, while we tend to our children. We’re expected to do it all simultaneously. We should show ourselves compassion for trying to do it all, remembering, however, that children are not a commodity, but rather smaller versions of ourselves. They deserve the same respect we desire for ourselves.

Fathers cast “long shadows” over the lives of their children. Their influence is long-lasting, if not permanent. Dads are imbued with the power of “life and death,” physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They are the kings of their castles. Succession to their “thrones” is dependent upon how thoughtfully they rule over the lives of their children.

for all fathers, huge hugs…hugmamma.