Ox to Tiger and Two Grammas: 709 words

I nevah met a language I nevah like. So I wen weave English, Pidgin, and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi into this piece. So much going on dis month. Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Language Month), Makahiki Hou Pākē (Chinese New Year), and our usual recognition of ʻŌlelo Paʻi ʻAi (Pidgin) as vehicles of spoken and written expression. Sounds like da ingredients for one ʻono chop suey, heaping with fresh ingredients, aroma, noodles glistening in sesame oil, spilling over the edge of the inviting plate, fresh green onion on da top. Oh, dis is taking me back to McCully Chop Suey, auē, da memories!

My two grammas will take us from da Year of da Ox, to da Year of da Tiger. Both grammas wove proverbs from their own kūpuna into a lesson they were discreetly trying to teach me, hoping one day it would sink in, like foamy ocean water through sand. They both knew I loved animals, so da moa animals get in da proverb, da closer I listen. Dey were always a few steps ahead of me.

My Mohican gramma would say “the lazy ox drinks dirty water”, whenever she wanted me to clean my room. To dis day, I still think about da ox and da watah.

I think about my first summer job at da local supermarket in Mōʻiliʻili. While my friends would brag about da big waves dey surfed dat day, I would trade stories about da shelves I had to stock, choke cardboard boxes to open, empty, den fold neatly, da way da boss liked em. Auē!

One day, I told gramma I was going work, I couldn’t pass up da big swell coming to da South Shore. I would nevah forgive myself if I couldn’t paddle out wit da bruddahs.

So I called da boss and told him I wen get cut in da foot from da box cutter. “I stay limping bad”, I told him. He was kinda nuha, displeased, as my teacher might say. I gotta say, I played dat card a few times on him, trust me, it was an awesome summer for surf.

But guess what? At da end of da summer, he nevah ask me to work weekends like before. So was dis da “dirty water” in Mohican gramma’s proverb? And guess what? I nevah make enough kālā for buy one car for go surf North Shore in da winter, and I needed one new board. I was moving up fast, starting to surf wit da big boys and growing out of da old board. You know what? I think I was drinking dirty watah. Took me time to figga dis one out.

So out wit da ox and in wit da tigah. Dis is where Popo, my Pākē gramma enters da scene. “He who rides the tiger can never dismount.” She would share this wise thought from ancient times, from her ʻāina, where her kūpuna lie buried. Then, she would remain quiet the rest of the day, folding old Chinese newspapers. “Good for wrapping fresh fish at Mauna Kea Street”, she would sometimes say. “Remembah, never waste, bumbye big pilikia.”

But she would always leave me pondering, staring out the window as the geckos had a face off during mating season on da big picture-window ledge, me and Bruddah Ito called it da moʻo dance.

Eh, what she meant by “ride a tiger”? How you find one tiger and den mount it? I always loved her proverbs, the way she said it, so slowly, like she was making it up as she went along, keeping you hanging until she finally released da last word, da big punch.

My tigah came one wild day at Banzai. From da night befoa, I felt today might be my big day. And there it was, one bambucha wave racing at me. I knew I couldn’t go back, I could only jump on dat big boy, da tigah. Dat tigah was taller den one high rise in Waikiki. No joke. Sea spray spitting at me, loud hollow roar, da whole body was coming at me. And I heard Popo’s quiet voice, telling me about how “can never dismount”. She was right, bumbye pilikia.


Can provide translation for Hawaiian if needed. No pilikia.

Talk story

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