As a young child on a tiny plantation island in the Pacific, Kaua'i, half Native Hawaiian Bill Fernandez led a magical life of barefoot adventures during the 1930s-1940s. Few people had money but there were few places to spend it, so he and his friends were very creative in their play. A discarded tin roof became a tippy canoe to ride the surf, fence wire turned into a fishing spear, an old wooden ironing board became his surfboard, and poi was handy for pasting kites together.
The author grew up in the tiny town of Kapa'a, one of the few places where sugar and pineapple plantations did not rule their lives but set amidst them. As sugar cane trains rolled past their homes they ran alongside and pulled cane to suck the sweet juice.
In Part I, readers will chuckle when he describes his first ten years as he explored the ocean near his home, made tin canoes, picked seaweed and opihi from the rocks and surf, tried to find Santa Claus in the mountains, slid down waterfalls, and played Cowboys and Indians for endless days with no concern for tomorrow. His hukilau description brings the excitement to life when the community captures a large school of fish with a net surround and then enjoys a party on the beach. When Bill developed asthma, his half-Hawaiian mother brought him to a kahuna (shaman) and Chinese herbalist. In this town settled by immigrants who came to work on the plantations, Bill's family, friends, and neighbors were Chinese, Okinawan, Phillippino, Japanese, German, Portugese, French, Irish, Russian, Native Hawaiians, and others who created a sharing society, all struggling, all helping each other. Buddhist temples sat next to Christian churches. Bill's parents built the largest movie theater in the islands, Roxy, in 1939. He told its story in Rainbows Over Kapa'a. Kaua'i Kids is a perfect companion to that book and is also filled with photos.
Part II begins when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor a hundred miles away on a beautiful December morning. Radios went silent. A Japanese plane landed on a nearby island. Fear of invasion by Japan gripped defenseless Kaua'i and life was no longer carefree. Blackouts, shelling by Japanese, gas masks, a sense of being very much alone and unprotected dominated life. One morning he awoke to find hundreds of GIs camped on a church lawn. The Fighting 69th had arrived and with it, antagonism toward the Asian-Americans who were friends and family. Bill discovered the profits to be made buying cigarettes, cokes, and candy for the GIs, even delivering them after dark to the machine gun nest near his ocean side home. Soon he started shining shoes. He learned a lot about life from the men and watching the action in town. The hard work of pineapple picking replaced his lazy days with friends. But the ocean, source of food for islanders to supplement meager rationed food, was off-limits and barb-wired. Boats and fishing were banned. The easy-living island became a big prison under military control. These experiences with military occupation were unique in America and Bill tells it through the eyes of a child. Bill's education took a major turn in 1944 when he was sent to Honolulu to Kamehameha School for children of Native Hawaiian ancestry. The book ends as Bill flies there, realizing his life would not be the same.
266 pagesBill FernandezPrinted in the United States