4. Friendships and a Conch Shell 🐚 Lamp

Oh you can imagine my joy and Stéphane must’ve seen that all across my young brown face.  He invited me to join him for some refreshments in the officer’s lounge and well I certainly was up for that; what a privilege this would be!  I recall he spoke briefly into an intercom.

About 20 minutes had passed, I was completely relaxed and absorbed into my surroundings when a knock came upon the door.  It was a steward.  He wheeled in a cart laden with delicious looking cakes, sweet treats, sandwiches, fruits and soft drinks.  Oh you know I was in heaven; what pure delight for this young man that I once was.

Stéphane and I spoke of many things.  I asked him so many questions yet he remained patient with me, answering all that he could.  A delightful friendship was indeed born and from then on whenever he returned on his ship to Suva, he brought gifts for me and occasionally for my family members as well.

He brought for me shirts, tins of nuts, a colorful beaded belt from Hawaii, tee shirts, socks, a few muumuus for my mother and my sister-in-law and a pair of American sandals I remember well.  He treated me just like a little brother.

I brought Stéphane home a few times for visits and always a delicious meal with the family.  When I first met him, he was single.  He eventually married and permanently resided to Hawaii.  He remained a family friend for years.

My nephew years later, would stay with Stéphane and his family many times whenever he went to Hawaii.  Monsieur Vieuxmaire, a wonderful soul indeed!  I had felt it before and it proved to be a good lesson in trusting my first instinct.

In the meantime my brother although employed full time at the local watchmaker and jeweler’s shop, would make Tortoise shell buttons, watch bands, cuff links and combs on his time off away from the shop.  He had set up a specific crafting area for this in our home.  He also made the most beautiful Conch shell lamps with shells he’d find along the shore.

I’d sell these by way of a mobile cart, which also housed a glass case, made particularly to display the jewelry and special items.  At the end of each worked day I’d leave my cart inside my brother-in-law’s business garage, the one that’s near to the docks at the Port of Suva, remember I mentioned it earlier?

One Sunday morning as the day passengers disembarked from the ship to visit Suva, a nice couple approached my cart.  This in of itself was nothing different than usual but they were taken in a good way, with all I had on display in my cart.  After a few moments of eyeing the goods they told me they’d revisit me on the way back to the ship, later in the afternoon.

Thinking nothing different, I went about my vending.  The day ships had a five o’clock evening sailing time.  It was sometime after 3 in the afternoon when I spotted that same couple and I could see them heading in my direction.  Along their stroll back to the ship they stopped to visit some of the other vendors.

At last they arrived at my cart.  They looked over the remaining items in my case and then the gentleman asked me, how much did I want for everything on my cart.  I opened my mouth to respond but no words fell out.  To be honest, I had no idea what to say either.  I finally managed a reply, ‘Everything?’

He responded, “Yes, how much for all of it?” Again not sure of exactly what I should say, out came $350.00 and that’s when he smiled, reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of American dollars.  He began counting each bill into my hand; one, two, three, four and I’m thinking now, ‘what to do?!’

I realize I cannot break a one hundred dollar bill and as I looked into his eyes, I’m sure he saw my slight distress.  After placing one more bill on the stack in my hand, he assured me that the $500 is the final price he’ll pay for the entire contents of my cart.

I know I don’t have to translate to you just how much money that was in those days!  I happily wrapped all the goods in the newspaper that I kept just for this purpose -still a bit of disbelief going on here- and they lovingly placed the items into their bags.  They even got the last Conch shell lamp and I have to say here, this was the best treasure of all the things that my brother crafted!

In parting the gentleman handed me his card and said, “Keep in touch ma’boy!” His voice was soothing, warm and sincere and I could feel it.  They walked away towards the ship and of course I immediately closed up my mobile shop.

Even after the fact, I am still unbelieving the recent stroke of fortune!  I wheel my cart over to the garage and was immediately questioned by my brother-in-law as to my completely empty cart.

I proudly told him that I sold everything today!  He smiled, “Very good.”  I then caught the bus to go home.  Later that evening when I saw my brother, I gave him all the money.  As I’m sure you can imagine, he was completely surprised.  He then gave me some pocket money and well, it was a good day for us all!

I had kept a box; you know a safe place for my collectibles, personal treasures and whatever.  Well in that box I had placed the card that gentleman gave me.  It must’ve been about 1950 when I pulled that card out of this box and as I looked it over, I asked myself, ‘What is this J.C. Penny anyhow?’  It was near instant that I realized there was one person who would know for sure.

So the next time Stéphane was back in Suva I asked him about it.  He informed me J.C. Penny is a chain of department stores in America.  Wow!  My mind was blown.  I shared the story of that day with him.  He said that person could have been any one of the store’s many corporate level employees by the sound of my description.

Stéphane also told me he loved knowing that he had a really wonderful friend and welcoming family to visit in the lovely Fiji Islands.

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Hello.  Thanks everyone for your patience this evening.  It took a while to get this post up due to technically challenged equipment but next weekend’s timing should be back just fine.  I hope everyone had a perfect Thanksgiving.  Until next Sunday evening then, take care!

>Tortoise shell items: We want you to know as knowledge comes into daily practice and with age we can hope, wisdom comes along; neither of us support harming animals.

3. Dreams Are Visible Over the Horizon

I am a teenager now.   My curiosity is wildly stimulated not only by my own vivid imagination but seeing those cargo ships coming in near every week and the urbane passenger luxury ships calling to port -at the rate of four to five per month- left sparsely an idle moment in this youth’s fanciful thoughts.

Convenient for me I had a friend who worked for the only travel agency in Suva.  This fellow very much enjoyed the food from my house and so for a few favors I exchanged roti and curries.  Jackpot!

I was now supplied with travel brochures, posters, schedules and best of all, passes to go on board the ships -passenger or cargo- as a visitor, yes passes!  These items were extremely valuable to me and if you’ve read up to this point from the beginning, you know this.

Wherever I would be wandering in my town and for whatever purpose that day, I’d keep my watchful eyes fixed on the Pacific Ocean.  Never mind the Harbor Master being the first to bring in the ships; for me it was my appreciation in what those vessels at port represented and that is how I (metaphorically) brought the ships in to the Port of Suva.

🚢Some of the ships I recall were the U S Flagships, SS Mariposa and the SS Monterey.  The P&O Liners were a constant to the Fiji Islands.  And you can be certain if there was a ship headed this way and I was at all able, I’d make a bee-line straight down to the docks!

Even if it was a cargo ship on a brief overnight stop for supplies on its way to Hawaii, New Zealand or Australia just for example, I could almost guarantee myself a meet with some of the crew.  I’d arrive at port with overflowing eagerness and full of enquiries.

Usually only some of the troupe came ashore.  I was there to greet and be helpful; perhaps recommending a comfortable spot for a perfect meal, steer them to a decent tailor, an honest souvenir trader or perhaps even to the watchmaker-jeweler’s shop where my brother worked!

If I had enough free time in the morning, I’d use my pass to go aboard.  Otherwise I could wait –barely- till the early afternoon.  On the day-only ships, I’d have to off board an hour prior to their 5 o’clock evening sailing time.  That’s all right because I knew another ship was soon to dock within the week!

If these people hadn’t been here before, they’d ask me something about my island and after providing the best answer I could, then I felt it was my turn so I’d ask questions about where they came from.

I’d ask them to describe for me some of what they have witnessed in their travels and well you can imagine how this continued to fuel my dreams!  The majority of these people were only too glad to converse with me; maybe it was my dashing good looks?!

As every day came and went I soon realized this hunger was indeed a zealous fire; one in which I simply had to explore the world surrounding me, no turning back, in order to find any contentment with my life, ever!

My spirited resolve having given birth to a ceaseless passion, I knew I could write my own destiny; at least I’d give it my best shot.  Oh how I coveted a life beyond what I thought was my best dream!

Looking out to the horizon and catching sight of a ship -which looked like a small toy- moved me in such a way that I realized nothing could hold me back from aspiring to my full height.  These lofty dreams were going to carry me out to sea.

For the most part I am now stepping into a different circle from that of my recent boyhood island life.  I find myself making many friends from all over and this gained for me quite a few pen pals as well.  They were mostly from New Zealand, Australia and America.

I had gone aboard the SS Mariposa one morning and I remember an especially kind gentleman; I first saw him standing on deck, uniformed and talking with some fellow officers of the ship.  It must’ve been the way he carried himself I guess, and I remember thinking how important and impressive he appeared, daring to believe he’d make a great friend!

Carefree as I was and not at all shy, I approached them.  They all greeted me and the light communications began.  I recall feeling joy at the fact they made time to speak with me, a young starry-eyed boy.  I continually made eye contact with him as we all spoke, which led to our one-on-one conversation and he introduced himself as *Stéphane Vieuxmaire.   I almost immediately and confidently told him that I knew I could work on this ship someday.

“Of course you could!” he enthusiastically said to this eager heart and with a warming smile to be sure.  This wonderful man eventually became a close friend to the family.  Stéphane was of French descent and he was the 1st Mate, Chief Officer.  With his encouraging reply, I could see myself standing beside them on deck, uniformed and all!

And you know this vision stayed within me for many years: if not as an officer then for sure a world traveling passenger!

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Thanks again for coming around for another dose.  We wish for you all a wonderful gathering in thanks with all your loved ones and at least one delicious meal shared.

And if you cannot be together at this time, please send the LOVE out there to them, to all!  Here’s to my loved one currently deployed: away for his birthday, thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years – come home safely my dearest, all of you!

Until next Sunday night, after the stuffing and cranberry has run out, tune in again for the continuing chronicles!  And I look forward to your comments 😉

*Stéphane Vieuxmaire is a fictitious name to protect the privacy of the very real person in this life history.

2. 🏊🏽 the Sweet Water Pool and a Marconi – part 2 (from the Cinema)

My brother-in-law had a business where they built buses on to prebuilt motorized bases (something like a big-rig cab minus the trailer) which they bought from elsewhere.  At this garage they also tended to some cargo trucks, did general auto repair work, and the city taxis would sleep there every night.

It was located in Suva near the wharf where the big ships docked which was an especially perfect location as far as I was concerned; more on that later.

Every time his company completed the building of a new bus, a celebration was in order!  This consisted of taking the entire immediate family up to a beautiful place called 17 Mile Rubber Plantation for an outing devoted to a delicious picnic and play.  🌿 Think along the lines of ribbon-cutting ceremony and gratitude given in prayers, all rolled into a jovial time for all.  Oh the fun we would have there!

💧There was a natural fresh water pool, which was fed directly by the cascading waters from the above mountaintop.  This body of refreshing water, which we lovingly referred to as the sweet water pool was conveniently located center stage of the very tall rubber trees.

These wonderful giants (to me) provided excellent shade and the dappled sunlight called forth a leisurely spent afternoon.  Another highlight for me was the proximity of this picnic spot to the ocean allowing me to continuously hear the surf crashing on to the sand.

The family all together at various intervals sitting around the pool, the younger girls and boys either hiking around the area or in the pool splashing around happily, such joyful memories!  We would enjoy cool refreshing drinks savoring the likes of guava and coconut juice and there was always an inexhaustible supply of deep red 🍒 to snack on!

I remember the ladies always brought a deck of cards to play the favorite game of trump; one could say it was a part of our tradition, this game.

Meal production time and it was most often the men who would get busy cooking our picnic meal and it went something like this:  everyone had their place on the meal prep *assembly; someone to prepare the ingredients, another is adding said ingredients to the giant pots, one is standing by as the fire & pot watcher, stirring the mix, and another is the taster and contributing whatever else needs doing.

Synchronized like clockwork but a lot more fun. The menu was usually our favorites like curried chicken and veggies, roti and rice of course, and the must have tomato chutney.

After indulgence of a once-again perfect meal, ** we’d rest in the shade for a bit before heading out for a swim or more exploring.  Several of us would climb atop the giant rocks there to jump into the cool waters.

This particular time -as I had not previously attempted this maneuver- I wanted to share in the fun the rest of my family was having so I climbed up and jumped right in.  Well I guess I should’ve taken the time to think it over.

I really wasn’t an experienced swimmer by any stretch of my imagination and so I began to take in water.  A lot of water!  I was now drowning.  I surfaced two or three times, clearly struggling.  As my stars had planned, it wasn’t my time.

Luckily there was a scouting troop at the watering hole also enjoying the beauty of the day.  And so I am told, one of the young men, a Gujarati fellow noticed me and without a second thought I’m certain, jumped right in to save me!  The water was a bit murky and as I went under again, he had to search but he then felt my flailing hand touch his leg.  I had been found …and saved.

📻 I can remember when my brother brought home a Marconi shortwave radio.  🎶 I liked the music I was hearing and not until later did I realize it was country western music.  There were nice shows everybody enjoyed listening to; ‘Voice of America’ and ‘All India Radio’ to name a couple and these programs generally came in the early morning hours starting about five.  Good way to start my day as far as I was concerned.

This radio ran on batteries along with a couple of bamboo sticks & wire for reception.  My friends and I put together an antennae consisting of what we knew to be ‘special’ wire which we strung on to said bamboo sticks.  We then hoisted these sticks up, pounding them into the ground and running one of the wire streams into the house.

Listening to the radio programs further whet my appetite for adventures waiting to be had and I felt absolutely packed to the gills with such fervor; it was alive and ready to erupt inside of me like a volcano!  I knew that part of me needed to come out and explore, at the very least.

I may be incorrect in thought here but I felt there was no one else as interested in such foreign things as I was.  A display of overwhelming curiosity was oozing from every inch of me and I just had to find the answers to all of my questions.  The family seemed to be content with the way things were but I always wanted so much more.

At one point we also acquired a phonograph player and yes we played those old 78 rpm records and yes, I was fascinated by the picture of the dog attentively listening to … His Master’s Voice and I used to watch the little dog go round and around.

There was a once-removed uncle that at some point had looked at my palm, and told my mother something like, ‘…this guy can’t be held back, he’ll always be traveling the world.’  My mother loved me so much and she desperately tried to keep me safe at home with her.  Even that love didn’t stop me from breaking my security I had on my island home.

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* The picnic meal was always as fresh as can be.  At the Plantation there were fire pits ready to receive sticks and wood for the cooking fire.  Today the family still does things this way at the large get-togethers and many of our homes have 2nd kitchens, even if it is out back or in a garage due to snow and rain!  At any rate our meals were –and still are- top notch!

** In taking a retrospective look, I have realized, in the very act of being outdoors in the greatness of nature, how greatly my appetite is increased, how much better I feel –even if under the weather- and how divine a nap underneath a tree can be!

These days I go to my (very comfortable) bed and sometimes it takes most of the night to fall asleep, in fact, I usually don’t get into a deep sleep till the wee hours of the morning.  Yet camped on the beach or in the woods, sleep comes so easy and so soundly.

Nature – the way we were meant to be!