Memoires 20

Off to Hawaii:

At some point during my sophomore year my father, who was ecstatic that I was on track for graduation and maintaining a decent grade point average, decided to reward me. He had discovered that BYU had just purchased a campus in Hawaii. The cost of a semester at the Church College of Hawaii, as it was then called (the name was later changed to BYU Pacific) was about the same as the cost of a semester in Provo so it was decided that I would attend my junior year in the sunny climes of Hawaii. The year was 1962 and as the spring semester wore down I met a girl named Beryl who was also planning to attend the Church College of Hawaii in the fall.


Unbeknownst to me, Beryl’s father was a high official at the college. Further unbeknownst to me was that the Church College of Hawaii was expanding their athletic programs, particularly tennis and basketball. During our dates I had regaled Beryl with tales of my alleged tennis prowess. I had simply used the Sandy’s stories (he was a scholarship player on the BYU tennis team) and substituted my name for his in my tales of adventure, aces, lobs, and tennis victories. I even used one of Sandy’s favorite expressions to indicate a job well done, “Game, set, match!”


My tales of tennis superiority so impressed Beryl that she wrote her father to tell him of this wonderful tennis player she had met and who was planning to come to CCH in the fall. One day I received a letter in the mail from the CCH tennis coach offering me a partial scholarship if I would play on their tennis team.


I raced back to the dorm, letter in hand and showed it to Sandy. I asked if he thought I could pull it off and he suggested we go out on the courts and he would assess my actual tennis prowess. It took fewer than 30 minutes (but it seemed like hours to me – all that running and heavy breathing) before he said, “You won’t fool anybody. You’re hopeless as a tennis player.” Still I was flattered at the scholarship offer, and was even more excited about the possibility of being a varsity athlete than having a partial scholarship. I mean, how many people in Hawaii could play tennis competitively anyhow? Don’t they just sail around in those funny canoes eating at luaus and watching hula-girls? How hard could it be to fool them? Thus I decided to try to fake it and wrote the coach a letter accepting his offer.


By this time Geno had announced his marriage plans and I had given him my interest in the Packard as a wedding present. I finished my final exams early and bought a bus ticket home to Pennsylvania to see my parents before going to Hawaii but only briefly. I spent just a week or so with them before heading back to Provo to work for the summer and take a class or two, then planned to go on to Seattle to see the World’s Fair of 1962 (the Space Needle was the main attraction), and finally, off to Hawaii. I’d found a very cheap ticket on a propeller plane that went from Oakland (near San Francisco) to Burbank (near Los Angeles) and then to Hawaii. The Burbank to Honolulu portion took eight hours as opposed to four hours on a jet.


During the bus trip from Utah to Pennsylvania I sat behind two middle-aged women. They spoke only Spanish and seemed to be frightened, as this was apparently their first trip in the U.S. and they were not sure how to get to their destination, New York. Since I had been practicing my Spanish with Sandy, I asked, in Spanish, if I could help and they told me they knew nothing of the U.S. but handed me their itinerary... they had gotten on the bus in Denver, and were to change buses in Chicago and Pittsburgh. I told them I would help them and we chatted all the way to Pittsburgh.


When we got off the bus in Pittsburgh my parents were at the bus station waiting to drive me to Clairton. I brought my two new friends over and introduced them. My parents were both bi-lingual, fluent in English as well as Serbo-Croatian, but knew not a word of Spanish, and the two women from the bus spoke only Spanish. So as they rattled on in Spanish about what a nice son they had, my mother turned ashen. I got them to their bus and only then, as we drove to Clairton did she tell me that she thought from listening to their conversation which she did not understand and watching their gestures, that I had married one of them. We had a good laugh and she retold that story for the next 40 years.


Before I left Clairton my mother told me that my paternal grandfather had phoned and wanted me to stop by and see him before I left. I had rarely seen my paternal grandfather as he and my father did not get along. My grandmother was bedridden and nearly blind with cataracts and spoke no English. My grandfather spoke very little. Their house always had a distinctive smell of the ethnic foods they prepared – always heavy on the garlic.


My grandfather, whom we called “Big Diedo” stood about 6’2” and was built like Adonis, even in his sixties. He was very self sufficient and his house had a cellar where he baked breads and made cheeses and nearby was an enclosed area where he smoked meat and a barn that boasted certificates from the state that he proudly displayed, attesting to his fine animals which showed some sort of evidence of prize goats that he’d raised. He made other cheese products, grew vegetables, cured tobacco and was a very self-sufficient man. He’d have made a good Mountain Man had he settled in Colorado instead of Clairton.


In his broken English he said, “You go college overseas. You good boy. No chase girls like your cousins (if he only knew). I want give you cheese for have food when you go overseas.” I’m sure he envisioned me traveling steerage as he had done aboard a smelly ship in 1907 when he immigrated to America. Then he said “Chekai,” the Slavic equivalent of “Jusy a minute.” He disappeared and returned with five crisp $20 bills in his hand. “You no tell Daddy or Mama. This for have good time in college overseas.”


I was stunned. A hundred dollars was more than my plane ticket to Hawaii had cost. It was about the cost of a semester’s tuition. Not knowing what to say, I said, in his language, “Hvala Bogo,” the equivalent of “Thank God.”  It was a frequently used expression in his culture. He smiled and winked and said, “No hvala Bogo, hvala Diedo.” In other words, this was a gift from him, not any Deity.


Upon my return to Provo I worked full time in the campus library and made every effort to save money for Hawaii. I discovered the dorms were being rehabilitated during the summer due to water damage so during the day while the workers stripped and repainted and repaired, I sneaked into one of the rooms and left the ground floor window unlocked. After the work day I’d sneak into the room through the unlocked window and stay the night. When the sun rose I’d freshen up and take all my belongings and clear out before the workmen came. That saved me the price of an apartment for the summer. Ever the frugal student.


I had been dating a girl named Kathy Jones who lived in nearby Orem. She had a 1956 Rambler and would often let me take it for the day. In the evenings she worked at the snack bar at the Scera (where do they find these names???) Movie Theater in Orem. I’d hang out with her at work. One of her perks was free food at the refreshment stand so my food bill was next to nothing that summer. As students left for the summer they often sold their cars. I bought a couple “beaters” (beats walking), replaced missing chrome, shined them up, and resold them. My earnings were part of my cache for Hawaii. By summer's end I was ready to go to the Seattle World Fair for a few days then off to Aloha land.

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  1. Dori_Grey

    Grin Further adventures from a roguish young man. I am continuing to enjoy reading these.

    November 27, 2010
  2. Memoires

    It seems like only yesterday.

    November 27, 2010