Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oh, the stories they could tell. . .

A college journalism professor once cautioned my class of ‘Pulitzer-prize-winning- wanna-be’s’ that we’d likely begin our newsroom careers writing obituaries. For that reason, we were  to both read and write them as classroom assignments.

When the resulting collective groan clearly indicated the task sounded worse than death itself, he added:

“That obituary is likely the last story that will ever be written about that person – it might be the only story. . .and everyone’s story is important, so write it well!”


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Decades later, I still regularly read obituaries – everywhere we go.  And to illustrate my journalism professor’s point, today I want to introduce you to some of the folks I’ve ‘met’ in the obituaries during our stay in Hawaii.

If only I’d have met them in person . . . oh,the stories they could tell: 

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A couple weeks ago, we tried for the first time, Honolulu’s Liliha Bakery’s famous coco puffs. Back in 1987 the baker there was assigned the task of creating a new cream puff; he filled the shell with chocolate filling and topped the creation with Chantilly frosting. The bakery that had sold a couple dozen puffs daily back then now sells hundreds of these gems daily.  Kame Ikemura, 80, was the baker who created the morsels, I learned from his obituary which appeared not long after we’d tried the pastry.

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Returning from a day-trip to Maui on Sunday our flight followed the coastline of Molokai,.You can’t see Molokai and not remember the stories of  it’s Leper Colony and famous Father Damien. Sister Richard Marie Toal served those leprosy patients as well on Kalaupapa for more than 40 years – even for five years after she retired; until a stroke hindered her ability to do so. She died on Sunday, age 96.

Others I’ve ‘met’ didn’t have large write ups but their stories were likely just as interesting. . .

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“age 101, retired Dole Plantation worker. Born Philippines”  

“age 80, retired Del Monte Company papaya packer. Born Hilo.”

“age 87, retired candy maker for former Hawaiian Holiday Macademia Nut Company and field worker for fomer Manakua Sugar Company. Born Kukuihaele, Hawaii”

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“age 92, retired lei maker. Born Honolulu.”

“age 93, retired master lau hala* weaver and teacher. Born and died in Kuakini Medical Center, Honolulu.” *(tree leaves woven into baskets and/or mats)

“age 103, homemaker. Born Honolulu.”

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“age 89, retired Royal Hawaiian Hotel bellman. Born, Maui.”

“age 87, retired assistant bell captain Kona Hilton Hotel and coffee farmer. Born, Hawaii.”

‘age 84, retired jewelry saleswoman at several Kaanapali Beach hotels. Born Tokyo, Japan.”

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“age 85, retired Hawaiian Airlines crew scheduler, Born, Hawaii.”

“age 83, retired Pearl Harbor Navel Shipyard boilermaker and Korean War Veteran. Born, Honolulu.”

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“age 83, retired surfer and surf board maker. Eva, O’ahu.”

“age 88, former noodle factory worker. Born Honolulu.”

“age 96, Territory of Hawaii Board of Health employee. Born Honolulu.

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Nearly all of these folks were born and died in Hawaii. Some lived a full century here, others almost that  long. They were part of a generation born:
 
*  Shortly after Hawaii became a U.S. Territory in 1900. 

* After the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole) was established in 1901 and the first pineapple was planted  by James Drummond Dole in the Wahiawa countryside.

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They would have been children or teens when:

* Earl Derr Biggers wrote his Charlie Chan book, “House Without A Key” in 1925, giving life to Honolulu’s famous fictitious detective.

*When the Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened in 1927. 

*When the first inter-island flight took off in 1929.”

They would have been young adults when the Japanese bombed Pearl harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  And heading towards middle age when Hawaii became a state on August 21, 1959.

Everyone does have a story – and that’s what makes travel so interesting ~  the people and their stories.

(And you know what? My professor was right about those obituaries!)

And that’s it for Travel Photo Thursday. Stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair-by-photo-travel.

27 comments:

  1. He certainly was right! But so often they are not the best stories told about a person. However, your post is so interesting and I would be interested to read the obituary of the baker who concocted those gorgeous cream puffs!

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    1. The baker's story actually ended up being a news story in the paper and on radio around here. You could probably find it on-line at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday Jan. 21, 2013.

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  2. A great angle - Obituaries in our papers do not give such detail. These folks had great longevity. Hawaii must be a great place to live.

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    1. That's always fascinated me about the obituaries here. People - like those who worked in the fields did some major hard work and yet they've lived for nearly a century. Perhaps the old phrase, "diet and exercise" is true. . .

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  3. Interesting idea this. I'm especially curious about the 83-year-old surfer. Also interesting to see how differently obituaries are written around the world.

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    1. It is amazing to me that someone could spend their whole life as a surfer and maker of surf boards. . .but isn't that the epitome of living your dream?

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  4. I used to read them but haven't done so in a while...maybe because when I do get to the papers, it's online. But you're right, Jackie, some are written so well they make you wish you'd met the person while they were alive.
    I'm sure these people you've featured here have passed on their crafts so they will live on for a long time.

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    1. I still cling to my old paper version of the paper; you turn the page and there are the obits - easy to find and no excuse not to read them. I've only read on line versions of someone I know and go and look for it specifically - you made an interesting point about print and on line versions of media, Marcia.

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  5. Obituaries are similar to the eulogies told at funerals. As sad as the occasion is, it is often interesting to learn some small details about their life that you may not have known. I wonder what they'll say about me...could be very boring!!

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    1. I had that same thought Jenny! Hopefully not. . .for either one of us!

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  6. Wow, I think I need to give obituaries more respect! And more attention. Really loved this post! PS I think your professor was right too.

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  7. Great angle, Jackie--and a good excuse to highlight the diversity of Hawaii. I like the way you've picked people who represent all the major threads of Hawaiian life and business.
    There was a book of well-written obituaries that came out in the last couple of years--now I'm off to see if I can discover its name...
    I'm back. One is called The Dead Beat, and then there's the best obits from the NYT from 2012 and from 2013. You should love those!

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    1. I tried to emphasize the diverse nature of this place and glad you picked up on it. I've considered The Dead Beat before - I think I may have to get a copy. . .thanks for visiting today.

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  8. I enjoy reading obituaries and love it when there's an obvious sense of humour behind them. Interesting to see how they're written in different countries. Some include photos, some don't. And some seem to have left out more than they put in. I think I want a say in mine - but not for a very long time.

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    1. Yes, I did think about mine but hope I have a lot of years to add a bit more to it!

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  9. Wonderful post Jackie and your professor was right on the money. Not only does everyone have a story, but sometimes it only ever gets told in an obituary. Thanks so much for this. Since moving to Asia, I don't read the obits as regularly as I used to. They're online, so I must start doing so again!

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    1. It is interesting to think about the difference between the print paper and the on-line version - not sure I would read them if on-line was my only source. . .so why do I 'have time' to do it with paper in hand but not when they are a click away?

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  10. This an interesting perspective and tip on writing. What a great way to feature Hawaii. There must also be something in those Hawaiian waters for a lot of these people to live long lives. Maybe I need to start reading obits.

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    1. I was just thinking that I felt younger while here. . .maybe it is a state-of-mind (and body)!

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  11. I used to love reading obits back when I still had a newspaper. There was one I read that so joyfully celebrated the person's life that I was quite sad she was gone, even though I had never met her. I really like how you tied these people in with Hawaii's history.

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    1. I really did enjoy these obits and wondered what it would have been like to see the lives behind those words.

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  12. Good advice from your journalism professor - a well-written one will almost always bring me to tears. Interesting to see what you can learn about Hawaii by reading obits.

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    1. They certainly put a human face on history, don't they?

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    2. After having read this, I will never pass on an orbituary.

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