something in common…an uncommon love affair

Official White House photograph of Nancy Reaga...

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I’m in the process of reading I Love You, Ronnie – The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan, and I must admit to loving it. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be interested in their relationship. Mostly because I have never, ever been a fan of hers. Silly reason being I always thought her head was too large for her body. Seeing the couple side-by-side only confirmed my opinion. I was always gaga about Reagan’s Greek god, good looks. As an actress, Nancy Davis had a pretty face in a plain sort of way, but it was larger than his, larger than anyone’s. But my opinion softened the more I glimpsed of her as First Lady. I’m certain her hairstyle did much to downplay the size of her head. In fact I thought she was very attractive while living in the White House. And now I know why. Nancy was radiant because of her all-consuming love for her husband.

Looking back now, I still can’t define what it was about Ronnie that made him seem so very perfect to me. I think we were just right for each other. And as the evening went on, I was more and more convinced. Ronnie had a great sense of humor, and he wasn’t like any other actor I knew–or anybody else in the movie business. He didn’t talk about himself. He didn’t talk about his movies. He talked about lots of things, but not about “my next picture, my last picture…” He was a Civil War buff, loved horses, and knew a lot about wine. In fact, he had a broad knowledge of a lot of different things. I loved to listen to him talk. I loved his sense of humor. I saw it clearly that very first night: He was everything that I wanted.

 Oddly enough I can relate to how Nancy Reagan felt. I met my husband when I was 17, and he was 18. I think it was “love at first sight” for both of us. Or maybe it was passion. Whatever the case, it seemed we were both hit by lightning when our eyes met.

I was a second semester freshman at the University of Hawaii, while my future husband was attending a small Catholic college nearby. Having returned from San Francisco a week earlier where he had been in a seminary, studying to be a priest, he was now one of many available “fish” in the sea. We met at the birthday party of a mutual friend. She and I shared a class at the University; he’d known her in elementary school. The party was in full swing when he rang the doorbell. When the hostess opened the door, all eyes were riveted upon the tall, dark, handsome guy standing there. If I’d have been a fly on the wall, I’m sure I would’ve witnessed all the girls eyes pop out of their sockets, and their mouths drop down to their chests, including mine! A huge Elvis fan, to me the guy in the doorway could’ve passed as a double.

I was introduced, as were all the other girls. But unlike most of them I was certain I didn’t stand a chance. Why? I’ve always had this perception that part-White, part-Asian girls are some of the most beautiful in the world. Still do. My husband is Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese. So of course he represented my viewpoint as it pertains to men. Naturally I assumed he and the girls with similar pedigree would go off and make beautiful music together. You can imagine my shock, and delight, when it was me he pursued! My best friend at the time watched with me, as he made his way from bar stool to bar stool to bar stool, until he was sitting right alongside me. The sizzles went right through me! I’m certain I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight, and I know I must’ve been grinning from ear to ear. I had only thought to make him comfortable when we first met, with my unflinching gift for blah, blah, blah. Well it seems I charmed the pants off my future husband from the get-go. And the rest is history, as they say.

Who would’ve thought that Nancy Reagan and I were sisters beneath the skin? Or in matters of the heart? Even as it applied to outsiders who seemed intent upon coming between her and her man. While we dated, and throughout our marriage, women seemed attracted to my husband. I could only wonder when a realtor asked me how it was he married me, or when a friend let me know that she was next in line for him, or when a sister-in-law teased that if she’d met him first, my husband would’ve married her. Then there were the sales women who lined up to kiss him on his birthday when he was in his early 20s, and a woman who offered her phone number should he ever visit her hometown, Chicago.

While in the White House, Nancy Reagan was unattractively depicted as being overly protective of the President. At the time I was probably swayed by the media to agree. But in light of what I’ve read, I give her credit for having the confidence and obvious self-esteem to stand up to the criticism, or ignore it altogether. I had neither, and so I felt like a doormat as women left their off-putting remarks and actions imprinted upon my fragile psyche. But like the Reagans, my husband and I have weathered the years like 2 buoys bobbing up and down in rough seas, or like 2 seagulls sitting atop the glassy surface of calm waters.

Of course none of us are saints, even though I called my husband one during one of our first arguments as a married couple.  With tears still glistening in his eyes he told me how hurt he felt when I had yelled “Do you know how hard it is living with a saint?” I promised never to say such a thing again. But I’m sure I failed to honor my word, at least once or twice thereafter. Any woman who’s lived with an ex-seminarian knows what I mean. When we’d argue, I’d be on both sides of the fence. I’d be just as vociferous about his inability to comprehend my woman’s needs, as I was about fighting for my rights as an equal partner. The nuns did a great job instilling guilt into my moral fiber. I’m still picking off the leftover lint to this day.

It came as no surprise that the Reagans were like other married folk. They didn’t always sail the ocean blue without so much as a white cap.

Like any other couple, we didn’t agree on everything, of course. But we never really argued. We worked on things. And I think that’s why, beyond our love for each other, our marriage has always been so happy. What we felt was right out there, just as it is the letters.

In response to a letter from a bride asking for tips towards succeeding in her marriage, Nancy wrote:

I’ve been very lucky. However, I don’t ever remember once sitting down and mapping out a blueprint. It just became “we” instead of “I” very naturally and easily. And you live as you never have before, despite problems, separations and conflicts. I suppose mainly you have to be willing to want to give.

It’s not always 50-50. Sometimes one partner gives 90 percent but then sometimes the other one does, so it all evens out. It’s not always easy, it’s something you have to work at, and I don’t think many young people realize that today. But the rewards are great. I can’t remember what my life was like before, and I can’t imagine not being married to Ronnie. When two people really love each other they help each other stay alive and grow. There’s nothing more fulfilling than to become a complete person for the first time. I suppose it boils down to being willing to try to understand, to give of yourself, to be supportive and not to let the sun go down on an argument.

I hope that yours will be a happy road ahead. I’m afraid I’ve rambled a bit, and of course, I can only speak for myself. However, when I married, my life took on an added meaning and depth and truly began. I’m sure yours will too.

I couldn’t have said it more eloquently myself. And like Nancy to this day I dread my husband’s business trips. In my 20s I would cry the entire week before he left. I no longer succumb to youthful self-pity, but I miss my husband’s presence. He likewise confesses to being unable to sleep when he’s not nestled comfortably in his own bed, with me by his side.

When Ronnie traveled now, I missed the little things most of all–the ways he loved and cared for me, how he would cover my shoulder with the blanket every night before we went to sleep, how we always slept on the same sides of the bed–him on the left, and me on the right–how we had breakfast on trays in bed together on weekends, which we started doing in our new house in the Palisades. I hated it even more then, when he went away. No matter how necessary it was for his work and the family, I never got used to it.

And then there’s Alzheimer’s. Those of you who’ve been reading hugmamma’s mind, body, and soul since the beginning of time, know that I’m proactive in my efforts to battle the disease which had my mom in its iron grips for nearly a decade before she died. Knowing of the Reagan’s devotion to one another over the course of 50 some years, I have great empathy for the loss she suffered when Alzheimer’s made off with her husband. All who have become one in body and spirit with their partner, would feel similarly. But thanks to Ronald Reagan’s propensity for writing, his presence lingered on in his love letters to Nancy.

President Ronald Reagan cutting in on Nancy Re...

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When Ronnie and I were married, on March 4, 1952, I had of course no idea what the future would hold for us. I only knew that I loved Ronald Reagan, and being his wife was then, as it is today, the most important thing in the world for me. “My life really began when I met Ronald Reagan,” I said some years ago, and I also said, “I can’t imagine life without Ronnie.” Those statements, for which I was criticized back then are just as true for me today as they were five decades ago–despite Alzheimer’s, aging, and all the things that have happened to us. As the years have gone by and Alzheimer’s has taken away Ronnie’s ability to share our happy memories with me, his letters have come to mean even more. In fact, they are a kind of lifeline–preserving the past, Ronnie’s wonderful voice and humor, his character, and his special way of seeing things and expressing himself. As they bring back Ronnie in his own words they help me go on into the future. Many people have said to me after reading I Love You, Ronnie , “I had no idea Ronald Reagan was like that.” But I of course always knew, and I treasure these letters especially because they bring back the Ronnie I have always loved.

The inevitable, final parting awaits all of us. Perhaps it need not be without its own happy ending, “a la” Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

…as I reflect some more on the life Ronnie and I have shared, I would add that saying how much you love each other–to each other and also in letters that can be saved, read, and reread over the years–is a wonderful way to stay close. It is especially important in our busy lives to keep alive what really matters most: love, caring for each other, finding concrete ways to say it and show it, every day and in every way you can. It’s what endures, after all, and what we retain and hold on to, especially in our hearts.

…Ronnie’s letters move me to this day. They are his gift to me across the years, and throughout the decades of love.

Former President Ronald Reagan and First Lady ...

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…an uncommon love affair that continues to endure…

…like mine…hugmamma.

 

 

 

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sleep, “ever catch up?”

12-hour digital clock radio

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I envy those who regularly fall into bed at 10 p.m. or earlier. I’ve not done that in many, many years. I’ve always been the proverbial “night owl.” Bedtime for me is midnight, 1 or even 2 a.m. And every night before I close my eyes, I murmur to myself “Gotta get to bed earlier, 10:00, tomorrow night, 10:00.” It’s become more like a prayer, than a resolution.

Downtown Honolulu, HI, view from Punch Bowl.

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I can recall when we were first married, and were renting a nice 2 bedroom apartment in Honolulu. We could afford a larger unit because my husband worked odd jobs around the complex, in exchange for the discounted rent of $125 a month. Can you believe that? An unheard of amount in a major metropolitan city these days, but especially in Honolulu.

University of Hawaii

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My husband had just graduated from a private Catholic college; I was finishing up my last year at the University of HawaiiBetween trying to be the good, little wife, and the good, little student, I was “burning the midnight oil.” I was also interning as a 4th grade teacher as a requirement for the 5th-year teaching certificate towards which I was studying. Oftentimes, I’d take a break from all-night cramming, and do a little household cleaning. I’d even run the vacuum. I was 20 when I married, so what did I know about the right time to do chores? I did them when I could. Funny, the neighbors never complained. But my husband did. He had to get up early for work.

Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

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While my penchant for cleaning late at night has dissipated, my desire to hang onto the last moments of a waning day have not. No matter where I’ve lived or what course my life has taken, there never seem to be enough hours in the day to do all that I want. That’s not to say I make the most of every minute. No. I dawdle…a lot. I stop to read parts of the newspaper. I crouch down beside Mocha to tell her I love her and nuzzle my face into hers. I catch parts of Ellenor Oprah.” I munch…munch…munch. I pick up Sitka. Oh, and of course, I blog. Those of you who subscribe, or are regular readers, know that I blog. Can’t help myself. Love to write.

Chatting with my husband when he arrives home from work and interminttently throughout the evening,  prepping dinner, dinner itself, cleaning up afterwards, more blogging, a little reading before switching off the light, and before long the clock reads midnight, or later.  Where does the time go? And it doesn’t help that Dr. Oz, and a myriad of others, continually advises that 7 0r 8 hours of sleep a night is mandtory for good health. I resolve to do better…in my next life. Promise. Meanwhile…

A Westclox Big Ben Clock

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Are you an early bird, or a night owl like me, or both? God bless you if you’re both. I’d be napping all day.

know where i can borrow some hours?…hugmamma.

“life’s flavor,” ethnicity

Father Edmunds, I’m almost certain that’s the name of the priest who regularly assists our pastor at saying a few Sunday Masses. Charismatic in a more soft-spoken manner, Father gave an interesting homily last weekend.

The Gospel’s message was that we, God‘s disciples, are the “salt of the earth,” and the “light of the world.” Father began his sermon telling of a book fest he’d attended where an acquaintance, a Muslim, was speaking to a predominantly Muslim audience. The man had authored many books based upon his life experiences.

Born in Egypt, the speaker was raised in Switzerland. Now living in the U.S., he’s very familiar with living in a society unlike his own. Initially he tried to fit in, setting aside his cultural idiosyncrasies. In time, with the advice of friends, he realized he should celebrate his Muslim heritage, sharing, rather than hiding it.

Father likened one’s ethnicity, to the salt used by Middle Easterners to heat their earth ovens. There, children set to work mixing together salt and the dung of camels and donkeys. The result is spread over the stones covering the bottom of the earth ovens. The salt acts as a catalyst in igniting the fire. As the flames burn, the catalytic quality in the salt is expended. The salt, its flavor intact, is then scattered on the ground outside the oven.

Just as salt flavors the food we eat, so too our individual differences bring a vibrancy to the world in which we live, explained Father Edmunds. He went on to say that God gifts us with our distinctive traits, as part of His greater plan to bring “light” to the world.

Moving to New York from Honolulu, where I’d graduated from the University of Hawaii, and gotten married, was like moving to a foreign country. Most New Yorkers I encountered didn’t look like me, nor did they share my mannerisms. Being of Chinese-Hawaiian descent qualifies me as a Pacific Islander with the census bureau, but my habits and attitudes are generally like those of the Asian population, and very unlike those of Caucasians. Living in the Big Apple compounded my dilemma, for its residents are unlike those in any of the other 50 states, or so I’m told.

It took me a while to develop a stiff upper lip, not to mention a spine. Orientals in Hawaii in the 50s and 60s, were “invisible.” We had no problem adhering to the golden rule, “children should be seen and not heard.” So finding myself among New Yorkers who were aggressive, ambitious, and often ill-mannered, left me feeling like a doormat. I tried to fit in, by setting aside my ill-equipped Asian mentality. I was like a scared chicken let out of its coop, left to flounder among long-time, cage-free residents.

Slowly, inevitably, I began owning my culture once again. I wore it like a badge of honor, telling everyone within earshot, “I’m from Hawaii, born and raised on the island of Maui.” As whites and blacks warmed up to me, I wore my pride and humility equally. I came to love The Big Apple. Visiting relatives commented that I was becoming a New Yorker, exhibiting more confidence and “hutzpah.” Working in New York City for 10 years, my personality underwent changes in order to survive. I even joked that the stork must have made an error, delivering me to Pacific Islanders. It seemed I should’ve been “dropped” on the island of Manhattan, alongside the Hudson River.

Of course I’d never relinquish my unique heritage. It embellished my experiences in the Big Apple, and being Hawaiian continues to flavor life’s journey wherever I go.

savor one’s heritage…life’s salt, life’s “flavor”…hugmamma.

not for the “faint of heart,” halloween

The bewitching hour is fast approaching when vampires will arise, walking among us, like leaches hungry for blood; when ghouls will leave off robbing graves, to scare live victims to death; and hobgoblins will run amuck, causing their usual evil mischief. Old black and white horror movies like “Frankenstein,” and “The Mummy,” both with Boris Karloff, and “The Werewolf” with Lon Chaney, and “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi, convinced me that Halloween was NOT  child’s play, or just an occasion to ask for treats to fill my tummy. 

It took me a long time to realize that evil creatures weren’t lurking around every bend, as I played “hide-n-seek,” “chase master,” or “blind man’s bluff,” with my best friend and her male cousins in the neighborhood around the Chinese restaurant owned by their family. Playing under pitch-black skies, intermittently  glimpsing the white sheets we all wore, as we ran between parked cars and around corners of buildings, gave me the “creeps,” or as we kids use to say, “the heejeebeejees.”

When my daughter was very young, 5 or 6 years old, several of us moms, tots in tow, would drive to neighborhoods, park, and wander from house to house. My daughter reminded me that the tradition always seemed to include rain. One year, the medieval princess dress she wore, dripped little, water puddles. Another year her wet, cellophane, hula skirt clung to her tights. Of course I feared she might catch cold, but she was oblivious, only concerned that she kept up with her friends, getting her share of candy.

During her elementary school years, the costumed student body paraded around the circular driveway in front of the school building. One Halloween my daughter was Jasmine, another year she was Belle, and yet another she was Morticia. I sewed all 3 costumes. I must admit, she was always one of the best costumed. Remember, I’m obsessed with an  ATTENTION TO DETAIL!

Later in the evening, we would join several other families, including one whose parents were vets who would bring their horse along to lead our troupe of trick-or-treaters. We would always return to a particularly large cul- de-sac of homes, where one homeowner welcomed us inside for cider and cookies. Another homeowner even treated the horse to a carrot, which he polished off in minutes. I’m not sure the children were as grateful to receive the toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss, given them by the father, a dentist.

During the same time frame, I can remember that the school ran a haunted house, where different families created vignettes in each classroom. It was awesome to see what their imaginations and resourcefulness could concoct. The event was always fabulous! The Girl Scout Troop in which my daughter was a member, took the girls on haunted hay rides through pumpkin patches. One in particular scared the “bejesus” out of us, children and grownups alike. Run by a family, the ride was complete with farm hands bearing scythes and pitchforks, who tried to stop our wagon as it passed them by, or a witch in an outhouse who would scare us as we passed. I don’t think I was as keen as others about that hayride, so we only went the one time.

When I was at the University of Hawaii in the late ’60s, I lived in the dormitory. In my freshman year, the men’s dorm created a frightfully, amazing haunted maze in their basement. It was amateurish compared to others I’ve been through in later years, on the mainland. Constructed entirely of cardboard, the maze still managed to scare us girls out of our wits.

The first thing we had to pass as we made our way through the narrow passages, was a huge, butchered pig’s head. Of course we tried to time it so that we wouldn’t get hit by the head as it swung side to side. I think I crawled past it on my hands and knees. Unfortunately, hands would grab at us through holes cut in the cardboard walls. There was a lot of screaming, some of it coming from me. One girl was so petrified, she ran as though her life depended upon it, wreaking havoc with the maze, knocking it down completely. It had to be closed down, so that the cardboard walls could be reconstructed. For me, once was enough. Talk about an adrenalin rush!

Since living on the mainland, I’ve been through 2 other “professionally” staged haunted mazes. One in California was set up in a vacated supermarket. I was in my late 20’s when I went with my sister-in-law Pat, and her daughter, Selina. Unfortunately for Pat, I used her as a battering ram to forge my way through what would otherwise have been the death of me. Constantly screaming,  sometimes giggling nervously, and always on the verge of crying, I wasn’t sure what my feelings were as I braced myself against the unexpected. I only knew I couldn’t get out fast enough. Poor Pat, I’m sure I was a literal pain in her backside. 

Years later, I did the same thing to my husband when a couple of his sisters and a nephew were visiting from Hawaii. We all went through a haunted house at Hershey Park, Pennsylvania. I followed my husband, the first to enter, and hid my face in his back as I shoved him forward. Our relatives followed close on our heels. Since we were finding our way in the dark, we weren’t prepared for the wall that loomed directly in front of us. Of course my husband ran smack into it, as we all ran into him. Somehow we managed to get out without any further mishaps. Since then my husband has sworn off going through haunted houses.  That was probably 20 years or so ago. I’m certain he’s not changed his mind.

These days, we enjoy driving through neighborhoods where houses are decorated in full Halloween regalia. We get into the spirit ourselves, some years more than others. Last year Frankenstein’s head rested atop his grave, his huge green hands nestled on either side, a huge toothless grin on his purplish, green face. Nearby skeletons dangled from an overturned, rusted, blue wagon.

Tonight my husband and daughter resurrected a tradition from her childhood. They carved pumpkins to look like scary jack-o-lanterns, my daughter’s sporting the most intricate set of jagged teeth imaginable. Setting them out on the back deck, the pumpkins will illuminate the path as trick-or-treaters come knocking on the door. We’ll be ready… unless we eat all the candy before then.

bygone days…great memories, hugs for…hugmamma.

preservation of a people

Prominently featured alongside “Google Agonizes on Privacy As Ad World Vaults Ahead,” is another article, “In Alaska, a Frenchman Fights to Revive the Eyak’s Dead Tongue.” It’s undeniable that the internet giant Google is more relevant to millions worldwide. But for me, the struggle to keep a native people from disappearing altogether is of greater significance to humankind. Obviously the editors of the Wall Street Journal feel both Google and the Eyak’s deserve equal attention by deciding to feature both on today’s front page. Kudos to the Journal!

Twenty-one year old, French, college student Guillaume Leduey, proficient in French, English, German, Chinese and Georgian, and able to sing one Lithuanian song, has made it his mission to save the Alaskan Eyak language from extinction. “Mr. Leduey’s Eyak odyssey began at age 12, when he happened on the language while trolling through an online dictionary of languages in his hometown of Le Havre. By searching more online, he discovered Eyak appeared to have only one native speaker, Ms. Jones. ‘I was like, “Wow, one speaker left. I must do something to learn the language,” ‘ Mr. Leduey says. His parents were less than thrilled. ‘They don’t think it’s useful,’ he says.”

An aspiring sculptor, Leduey had never left Europe until June when he made the trip to Alaska to study with 75-year-old Michael Krauss, a linguistics professor at the University of Alaska who knows conversational Eyak. “While as many as 20 native dialects remain in Alaska, Mr. Krauss says Eyak is considered extinct because there are no fluent, native speakers.” Sequestered in a room together for 5 hours each day, they pored over Eyak documents. As a diversion, Leduey sang Eyak songs to the professor’s Norwich Terrier, Scamper.

Immersing himself into the culture, Leduey journeyed to Cordova, “where the Eyaks made their last stand against being swallowed up by civilization.” Rival Tlingits helped white settlers in the takeover of the Eyak territory. Some part-natives took Leduey to visit a demolished village site and Child’s Glacier, a natural attraction. There a harbor seal leapt out of the icy waters to which he exclaimed “Keeltaak,” the Eyak word for the animal. To complement his education, Leduey learned the tradition of cooking salmon in the ground. He dug a shallow pit in the front yard of an Eyak descendant, then tended a crackling fire in which 2 red salmon roasted in giant skunk cabbage leaves. Still raw after 90 minutes, however, the salmon were thrown into the oven to finish cooking.

Several have sought lessons from Leduey, like 50-year-old Mr. Lankard and 53-year-old Ms. Curry.  Her “…mother, Marie Smith Jones, was considered by Alaska historians the last native Eyak speaker when she died in 2008. Her descendants and others didn’t become fluent in the language because of a stigma around speaking anything other than English in Alaska’s native villages.” Curry, eyes brimming with tears, viewed a film in which her mother spoke in the Eyak tongue at a tribal ceremony. To understand the words, however, Curry turned to Leduey to translate. She thanked him saying that it was beautiful. To which he replied “It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you God. ” Curry feels that learning her native language, which had been passed down through storytelling,  is the right thing to do now in spite of the past stigma. “‘This will help keep my mom’s memory and spirit alive.”

The extinction of the Eyak language and potentially its culture, reminds me of my childhood growing up in Maui in the 50’s. My mom was a native who spoke Hawaiian fluently with her family and native friends. She did not, however, speak it with us, her children. Prominent, powerful landowners were lobbying to make Hawaii the 50th state, for obvious business reasons. To support these efforts speaking English and studying  American History were a mandatory part of school curriculums. Our native language and culture were virtually squelched.

As her friends passed away, my mom had fewer and fewer people with whom to speak Hawaiian. Long before she died, she had ceased speaking it, having lost much for lack of use. Not until long after my husband and I graduated from college and moved away from Hawaii, did a movement among the natives slowly bring about a resurgence in an appreciation for the language and the culture. Today they are taught in schools statewide, including at the University of Hawaii. Proud of their culture, islanders are more than happy to share their food, song and dance with new communities, when they relocate to other parts of the country.

While there is a strong comparison between the plight of the Eyaks and that of the Hawaiians, the latter did not face extinction. Westernization did not eradicate their culture. It was ingrained as much in the land, as it was in the people themselves. The gods of the earth, sky and sea would not relinquish their hold, nor would the natives abandon their attachment to the islands without bloodshed. That is the history of the Hawaiians. And it has been preserved through the ages by the monarchy, and following their demise, by natives and others  loyal to their memory. Kamehameha School has long been an institution dedicated to educating children of native descent, not only in the academics but in all aspects of Hawaiian heritage. It remains at the forefront of yielding young adults not only well versed in their own culture, but in the world-at-large.  And they confidently take their place in society, a credit to their native roots.

We should applaud the efforts of Guillaume Leduey for taking on the preservation of a culture almost singlehandedly. It seems when others ask “Why?” Leduey asks “Why not?”

a people depend upon it, that’s why…hugmamma.