Granny was born in Puerto Rico, in about 1900 along with a twin sister, Amelia. Her mother died shortly after her birth, leaving her father to care for two small babies by himself. He applied for work on the pineapple plantations in Maui and boarded a passenger ship with his two young daughters in about 1904. Overworked, desperately poor, and unable to care for the twins, he eventually took them to the Salvation Army Home, a local orphanage on the island. The girls and their father spoke no English and the women at the orphanage spoke no Spanish, so they estimated the girls ages. One of the women was kind enough to give them her own birthdate since they had no birth certificates or records with original dates. The girls spent the majority of their childhood in that little orphanage.
Granny and Amelia were fraternal twins. My grandmother had very dark skin and Amelia was fair skinned, and unfortunately the prevailing thoughts of the era allowed only Amelia to receive a formal education. I often heard stories growing up about how my grandmother started working as a housekeeper at a very young age, while Amelia was able to stay in the home and learn to read, write and play an instrument. My grandmother learned to read late in her life and her writing skills were primarily her signature and a grocery list. Although my grandmother did not have the opportunities that her sister had, she never spoke with any resentment about her lot in life. She was only ever grateful for her sister's blessings, and compassionate with the limited understanding of the people in Hawaii in the early 1900s. She placed a very high value on education, though, and made sure that my mother only attended the best private schools in Hawaii, no matter the cost or sacrifice.
I was supremely blessed and fortunate to have grown up with my grandmother. Granny lived with my parents their entire married life, and so when they adopted me in 1970, she became my primary caregiver during the day while they worked. She was my link to my Hawaiian heritage, my trusted confidant, and my biggest fan. She celebrated even my most insignificant little victories and listened with interest to every detail of my days. She planted strawberries and blackberries along the hill below our house in California and picked them each summer and then magically turned them into jam. She made a lemon meringue pie that no one before or since has ever been able to recreate. She took me with her every summer to Hawaii because I couldn't bear to have her leave me for three whole months. And every time I came home from college about, $20 would mysteriously appear in my wallet. I'm sure there are countless other little things she did for me that I have no memory of.
I have fond memories of watching Another World after school every day, and then after I endured her "programs," she would endure The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch with me while she made dinner. I remember her drinking a glass of Thunderbird every night before bed, and playing Solitaire for hours. She sewed, cooked, mended, and cleaned. When she would get frustrated with me, she would slip into a combination of Spanish and Hawaiian that no one else could understand.
Granny was generous and wise and lived an entire lifetime before me that I only have small details of. I cannot imagine the depth of her trials and challenges. But I am so grateful that the road she traveled led her right to my parents' home and therefore right into the center of my life. I am so grateful to have had the treasure of growing up in a multi generational family. I think of her nearly everyday, and I wish she had lived long enough to know my children as teenagers and adults. I think she would be very proud of them.
Happy Birthday, Granny.