As often happens when you believe your life couldn’t get any worse and it will stay that way forever, life, without warning, changes for the better. And remarkably, this improvement in Meg’s life came in the guise of yet, another move.
This change happened the spring before Meg’s senior year of high school. We sold our home, a tiny house smaller than some apartments we rented when newly married. At the time, it was a sellers market, and we weren’t sure how long that would last. Taking this action over a year before we left Oahu saved us the stress of trying to sell a house while also trying to move back to the mainland. And this time, we had the added concern of getting Meg to college — hopefully. To our great relief, our house sold quickly, and we made a terrific profit which doesn’t often happen since, in most cases, the military, not the market, determines when you sell. So for the remainder of our tour, we were free from financial constraints.
Honestly, we had many financial concerns while living in Hawaii paying for Kae’s private university and saving for Meg’s college. And owning a home on Oahu is unbelievably expensive, but Joe insisted it was a great investment, and he was right. With the profit from the sale of our house, we paid off our debts. We financed Kae’s move to another state and assumed her college loans so she could accept a low-paying job that was a necessary step in her career. When we got back to the mainland, we’d have enough money for a down payment on a new car (they rust out in Hawaii) and on another house. Being optimistic, since the colleges Meg applied to had not yet replied, we even had enough for her first year of college. So living in our tiny house where my body was covered with bruises from banging into our twenty-three years of belongings was all worth it. We could breathe again. For the rest of our tour we moved into base housing on an Air Force Base near by.
Now moving hasn’t always worked out well for us, but this move was an exception. The base housing was fantastic. Built in the thirties in the Mission or California style, this house had extremely thick stone walls and curved orange roof tiles that kept the house cool. With terrazzo floors, a copper hooded fireplace flanked by French doors, built-in bookshelves, high ceilings, tall windows, and huge rooms, every woman, lucky enough to live in one of these houses, wanted to bring it back to the mainland with her. To say the least, Mom was very happy.
And as it turned out, so was Meg. She made friends with Kris, the girl across the street, and they became inseparable. That summer, the girls decided, on their own, to get into shape for their last year of high school. They were constantly at the Air Force gym taking aerobics classes and using the weight machines; then after dinner, sometimes they fast-walked round the base. But to my surprise, this time Meg’s weight loss was accompanied by an interest in healthy eating.
The first time Meg asked for spinach salad at the dinner table I didn’t say a word, but I knew what her sister would have said, “Quick, Mom, get the camera.” This simple request for more spinach salad signaled the end of my life-long battle with Meg to eat her vegetables starting in the highchair; the first time she spit her creamed spinach in my face. Kris’s mom and I were relieved that our daughters were finally trying to be healthy. Meg’s depression lifted. Having a best friend and adopting a healthy lifestyle made a big difference. Her self-confidence increased. But something else happened that really put her confidence over the top.
You see, dear-old Dad bought Meg a used-red Mazda RX-7, an oil eater, but it was her oil eater. And she deserved it after what she went through to get her license. You see, while the girls were studying for their drivers test, they were told by friends that the administrators of the driving tests had a policy of never passing Haoles (foreigners or Caucasians) the first time they take the test. I told them not to believe it, that their friends were just trying to make them nervous, that it was just a myth that gets repeated so often people believe it. Now Meg and Kris were smart kids especially when they applied themselves, and believe me, they were motivated to get their licenses and start driving. Well, Meg failed the drivers test twice — just what she needed — and Kris failed three times. Kris’s failure made Meg feel it wasn’t just her.
So this was no myth: it was their reality. I should have believed it since another “myth” declares that the last day of school at Mililani High and all other public schools in Hawaii is called “Kill Haole Day” (Meg never had to go). “Kill Haole Day” often ended with black eyes and bloody noses and sometimes worse no matter how hard the school tried to prevent fights. And that’s the truth even though some politicians deny it. I understand that Haole kids were suffering for the “sins of the fathers” who took Hawaii away from the Hawaiian people. But a freshman, like Meg was, just arriving from the mainland doesn’t understand this. Children should never have to worry about their safety at school, but really it’s not much different from mainland high schools. The violence just has a different excuse.
Nevertheless, once Meg got her license and could drive her RX-7, what can I say? It was a great year for Meg. By the time school started, both girls looked great and became very popular. But Meg remembered the painful lessons she’d learned about guys in our beauty-obsessed culture. When boys showed up unannounced at our door, I could just hear Meg thinking: Oh, I’m okay now; now you want to talk to me, be seen with me.
I was very proud of her; she kept her head in the mists of all the attention and dated several guys, but preferred to go out in a group with friends. Believe it or not, Meg and Kris often stayed home studying math. Neither girl was a stellar student, but they wanted to try to improve their records before graduation and possibly obtain some scholarship money. They were really growing up. As parents you repeatedly try to teach your child to be mature, but then when it happens, you wonder who took over their body. Can it be that she was actually listening?
Meg, in her way, was mature. She still worked part time at yet another fast food restaurant: Burger King. But like “Cinderella,” her drudgery was about to end. In fact, it happened one day when Meg was shopping at the huge NEX (Navy Exchange, a department store) at Pearl Harbor. The manager of the NEX approached her and asked if she’d like a job working at the gift counter where mostly Navy and other military men purchase presents for their girlfriends and wives: perfume, jewelry and other trinkets. Meg was stunned when she asked about the hours and the pay. The manager told her she could have as many or as few hours as she wanted for much more pay than at Burger King. Of course she took the job. It was a great improvement over wearing a hairnet and paper hat, lifting 50 pound boxes of burgers and thirty pound jugs of iced tea, and always getting the worst hours. But after all she’d been through, the NEX manager wasn’t fooling Meg: She knew she was being used as bait to attract men and entice them to spend more money. But Meg, the little subversive, confided to me that she did just the opposite, showing the guys the least expensive items first. She really had become a beautiful young woman inside and out.
In truth, thirty pounds lighter, Meg’s natural beauty was revealed: green-grey eyes, long, thick, wavy, dark-brown hair with auburn highlights, about 5’ 8” and 126 pounds. She was our lovely Irish Colleen. We gave Meg a big eighteenth birthday party.
In preparation for the party, Mom sat mindlessly in front of the TV at night for weeks making huge black and red paper flowers and of course, cooking. But it was a great night; her Hawaiian, Asian, and Haole friends came together and had a wonderful time. Meg learned so much about other cultures and how to get along in this world while in Hawaii. Some of the boys at the party may have admired her most for her for appearance, but everyone loved her rye wit that could disarm even the most supercilious adult. Naturally, as in Virginia, now Meg didn’t want to leave Hawaii.
Towards the end of our tour, Meg asked if she could spend the night at a hotel in Waikiki with Kris for senior weekend. I rationalized that in a few months I would have no idea what she was up to, so we gave our permission. Around ten o’clock, the night Meg was supposed be having her last-big blast with her friends before we moved, I received a phone call. It was Meg: She just wanted to thank me for never calling her fat when she was overweight. What mother would do that? She said, “Mom, I was thinking in a few months, I wouldn’t be seeing you everyday.” Most days I thought she’d prefer it that way.
But it’s true, I was always there to fill in the gaps when she needed a friend or didn’t want to see the ones she had. We saw many movies together. She reminded me of Tom, the character in a Tennessee William’s play, “The Glass Menagerie.” Tom said, “I go to the movies….” And so did we, so many movies. Meg especially loved going to the Waikiki Theater 3, a Hollywood-style theater near the beach that had just one screen—imagine. It opened in 1936, and an organist entertained the audience before the show. We always felt like we were at a baseball game. It’s true: Meg and I would miss each other. We talked for about an hour until I told her she needed to go have some fun with her friends.
To our great relief, Meg graduated Cum Laude thanks to her hard work in her senior year and the wonderful teachers at Mililani High, especially Mr. Nanbu who never let her forget that she had potential. Kae even came for the celebration. Looking back, if only I could have frozen time right there, I would.
But that’s not how life works. Joe and I were being sent back to Virginia. And Meg would be going to college in Boston; she actually received a small scholarship. Kae went back to her job in New England several states away from Meg. It was comforting that both our families lived near Boston, so if Meg had a problem, she had a large pool of relatives to call on.
Mom breathed a huge sigh of relief. It’s hard to describe the elation Joe and I felt believing it was all worth it. Meg made it. She’s on her way. But we were wrong . . . absolutely wrong.