Harley and I meet outside the laundromat. I sit on a bench near where her dad’s minivan is backed in reading my book about mothers and children. She marches right up to me in her tee shirt, flops and leggings. She is missing her two front teeth. The bottom two are fresh and new and jaggedy, and her bangs are pinned up and back from her smooth, tanned face with a barrette. Children are so beautiful.
She sits down beside me on the bench and shows me her Addition Practice worksheet, her name HARLEY written in enchanting child script. I look over to her father who is smoking in the open back hatch door, we smile at each other, and Harley becomes my laundry buddy. “Auntie,” she says, “what is 4 plus 5?”
I flush, flattered to be addressed in this lovely, inclusive Hawaiian way, even if this blonde child clearly isn’t native. She is a keiki (kay kee), though, Hawaiian for child, and she tells me she’s 6 years old and has lived in Hawaii for 2 years, so Hawaii is her home. All keiki call adult friends Auntie and Uncle. This is a first for me, and I love it. I close my book.
Of course I know the answer, but I make her count my fingers, which she wants to do anyway.
We talk for a bit. Her mommy is inside the laundromat doing 7 loads. My husband is inside the hardware store looking for some tool. Our clothes are in 3 washers. Harley lost her two front teeth just yesterday. She has a cat and two dogs and lots of chickens. “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” she crows and laughs. She is out of clean clothes and says I must be, too, because I seem to be wearing my jammies – which I am not.
I’m wearing a long blousy sleeveless top over tie-dyed gauzy pants which the Bearded One saw at a little shop in Pahoa called Puna Style, so we splurged. This is my best outfit! Harley would like for me to read to her. She hands me THE GOODNIGHT GECKO.
Back in the 1980s, I wrote and published six children’s novels. Part of that life was speaking in schools, and I did as much of it as I could.
All three of our kids endured me talking to their classes. “Why do they want you to write your name in their books?” our oldest daughter asked. I’ll always remember that. No answer I gave really satisfied. A genuine stumper. I remember that life, so long ago. I could be Harley’s grandmother.
As I’m adding numbers with her, the Bearded One appears. He is a natural with children and suggests to Harley that she might not know what 1 plus 0 is. Her eyes fly open, she says, “I’ve know that one for years!”
She helps us check our washers, rotate the heavy clothes into two dryers, and then she wants to play the twinkling 50 cent game machines against the wall. “Do your parents give you money for them?” I ask. “No,” she says. “Let’s do more sums,” I suggest. I’d love to give this child some small gift, but not money.
She is restless and runs back and forth from us to her mom, who waves from two corner dryers she’s been folding clothes at forever.
“Auntie! It’s done!” she shouts to me across the room to let me know my dryer load has stopped.
“Thanks, Harley!” I give a thumbs up.
As the Bearded One brings over piles of hot dry laundry and I begin to sort them on the table, two bright orange bullets of foam roll out. Harley is mesmerized. Her eyes are huge.
“Earplugs!” I say. “I must have left them in my pocket.” I show her how they work. “I wear them when I mow, and when the big generator is on.” Our friend Tom was at the house putting in the third upstairs window, and his generator rocks the house.
“We have 5 generators!” says Harley.
“Well then, you can use these,” I say and offer them to her, contingent on her mother’s approval. Harley is thrilled. She asks me to put them in her ears, very gently.
The Bearded One walks over and pretends to speak directly to Harley but makes no noise at all as his mouth moves. Harley howls with laughter.
Then she dashes to show her mom. I shout that they are just cleaned, and her young, ponytailed mom smiles and says thanks. Harley races back to give me a big hug. Her sheer delight at the small gift is energizing. I’m thinking Auntie got the best gift here.