Mary's Library

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hawaiian Statehood Day

Hawaii became the 50th State of the Union on August 21, 1959. But today, the third Friday in August, is the day on which Hawaii observes Statehood Day. Happy Birthday Hawaii.

I am a bit notorious for being a conservative dresser. I once told Mary that she could knit me a cap in gray wool, as long as "it is not too loud a shade of gray." Nonetheless, I got hooked on Hawaiian shirts a few years back. I don't recall how it happened, but it did.

I soon became quite picky about my Hawaiian shirts. They had to be (1) made in Hawaii, (2) made of 100% rayon (as were the originals back in the 1920s), and (3) had to have coconut or bamboo buttons. With these standards in place, Banana Jack quickly became my favorite on-line purveyor of Hawaiian shirts. I proceeded to put together a small collection of these shirts. There is nothing else quite like them on a hot day.

And, whenever I think of Hawaiian shirts I recall an amusing book by one of my favorite humorists -- Waikiki Beachnik, by H. Allen Smith (1960). Smith was a successful humorist in the Forties and Fifties, with books such as Life in a Putty Knife Factory (1943), Low Man on a Totem Pole (1944), and Lost in Horse Latitudes (1948). Waikiki Beachnik was one of his later books. Essentially, it is a collection of stories about a winter vacation in Hawaii that he and his wife took. I haven't read the book in years, but can still imprecisely recall some of my favorite passages.

While in Hawaii, Smith encountered James Michener, who was then living in Hawaii while doing research for his novel Hawaii (1959). Michener's novels, of course, were all lengthy historical epics, starting somewhere before the dawn of time. Smith's books were light humor. When discussing their respective writing projects, Michener noted that his book starts out 10 million years ago. Smith responded that his book starts out last October 22nd. That may not be the exact date, but you get the idea.

Smith has quite a discussion of Hawaiian shirts. He observes how you have to start out gently, but eventually can find yourself wearing some so loud that "it would make a cow throw up." While shopping for a shirt, he came across a simple one that had something on it that resembled the number 4. The shop proprietor informed him that this was the symbol for taosand. After struggling a bit, Smith figured out that this was the symbol for a thousand. That seemed odd. Could it mean a thousand broken arms, or what? The proprietor assured him that the symbol is lucky and stands for only a thousand good things. A thousand dollars, a thousand gulls. When later explaining all of this to his wife, he wondered whether the proprietor was trying to say a thousand girls. Mrs. Smith, the literalist, insisted that the shopkeeper meant what he said -- a thousand gulls, a thousand sea gulls -- and that Smith shouldn't get his hopes up. But, then what on earth would be so lucky about a thousand sea gulls?


At 8:30 AM PDT , Anonymous frances crawley said...

Thanks for so much information on those wonderful Hawaiian shirts; I never imagined there was that much history behind them. I do miss Bill Drew's shirts around here on Fridays (our dress-down day); they were so nice to see. However, I find it somewhat comforting that David House and Ben King have taken to wearing Hawaiian shirts. Smiles.


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