Gwen Gouveia’s earliest childhood memories are of light bulbs darkened with shoe polish, lowered green window shades and the cold dampness of the dirt floor of a bomb shelter. Gouveia — the name is Portuguese — was 15 months old and in her high chair when the Japanese surprised her hometown on that Sunday morning in 1941.
She still dreams about the bombing, though she has no distinct memories of it. Her family lived in a house on King Street in Honolulu down the hill from the Punchbowl Cemetery where midshipmen killed in the attack were buried beneath wooden crosses. Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle is there, too.
Gouvenia’s maternal grandfather was among the wave of immigrants who migrated to these lush islands to harvest sugar cane. She remembers Chinese, Japanese and Samoans living on her street when she was a girl. Fluent in English and Portuguese, she speaks a smattering of Chinese and Japanese and can sing Hawaiian.
“People think I’m from Louisiana,” she says.
In 1964 Gouvenia married Billy Livingston, a good looking serviceman from Columbus, Miss. After making the rounds his military career required, they settled here, had three sons and eventually divorced. Gouvenia has been a remedial reading teacher in the city schools, an adult care giver and raised Arabian horses.
I ran into Gouvenia Saturday morning at the Hitching Lot. When you write a once-a-week column in the local newspaper, people walk up to you and say stuff like, “My mother thought I’d broken my arm when my high chair fell over during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.”
At the time I was taking a picture of Pat Wheeler and her grandson Wyatt warming their hands by Fred Haley’s fire pit made from a wheelbarrow. We were in front of Nash Grocery where Haley and Eddy Greene sell one-of-a-kind collectibles.
Haley invented his mobile fire pit at Camp Pratt where he has been camper, counselor and director.
On the north side of the store Terry Wilson and Rachel Harrison were selling coffee, made-from-scratch beignets, pepper jelly and sweet potato-jalapeno biscuits.
A shadowy figure with large sunglasses, a black T-shirt and goatee was leaning against a nearby tree playing a guitar. The musician was Wilson’s brother, Kenny Savage, who happens to be a Savannah-based children’s book illustrator (“The Other Side of Yore”), sculptor and multipurpose musician.
Terry works as a chef supervisor in the Severstal cafe where she has introduced her Russian bosses to the mysteries and delights of Cajun food. Rachel is the sister of Pat Morris, chef extraordinaire, who pulled a short but memorable stint at the Market Street Grocery (now Huck’s) when it belonged to Chuck Nickoles.
I wish someone would suggest to Terry, Rachel, Eddy and Fred that they open the Nash Grocery Cafe specializing in Cajun breakfasts.
On the way home I tuned in to Felder Rushing’s gardening show. Felder and MSU landscape architecture prof Bob Brzuszek were talking about gardening. Brzuszek, who grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Mich., allowed he was 12 years old the first time he went into the woods.
How could that be, I wondered? As a kid growing up building forts, climbing trees and playing kick the can, the woods were the first playground for me, my siblings and playmates. I never thought much about kids not having access to the outdoors.
Bob’s remark reminded me of something Fred Haley said earlier about how kids no longer want to overnight at Camp Pratt.
“Video games,” Haley explained. “And none of them will give up their cell phones.”
I’m afraid our information overload is exacting a toll, making us smarter but not wiser. I vote for less texting and more conversations standing around campfires. Even if they happen to be in wheelbarrows.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.