She was having a hard time going to sleep, maybe fear of the dark and all those kinds of trauma attendant to childhood. As the old man walked past her room she flagged him down.
“Yes, Leilani?” He popped his head in through the doorway. Her little Cookie Monster nightlight cast a tiny blue glow by her bedside.
“Grandpa, I can’t sleep. Can you tell me a story?”
This caught him quite by surprise. On those nights when he and his wife babysat their granddaughter, they played games that neither he nor his wife could recall at all from their own childhood. Not only did she teach them new-fangled games, she taught them the new songs her generation was learning.
Well, he thought, this would have to be something more compelling than “Snow White,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” or “The Princess and the Pea.”
He entered the room and pulled up a little chair beside her bed. Cramping himself into it, he puffed on his pipe, his mind grasping for some kind of story that might be welcome entertainment for someone her age.
Then he hit upon a strategy. “Leiliani,” he said, “I would love to tell you a story. Do you have any preference for what kind of story you’d like to hear?”
He watched her crinkle her brow and go through other facial antics all pointing in the direction of deep thought. Finally, “I know, Grandpa. Could you tell me a story about strong women.”
Definitely, this generation was grown up the moment they were potty trained.
“Strong, women, eh?” he said, thinking hard and puffing mightily on his pipe.
“Well I tell you, Leilani, you know nowadays, when you say a young woman is coming out, it often means something very different than it did when I was your age.”
She nodded. “In your day it didn’t mean anything about sexual identity, right, Grandpa?”
Wow. “Yes, that’s right, Leilani. Back in my day, there was this dumb idea in certain parts of society that young women were somehow only half-baked human beings when they were born.”
He puffed on his pipe, blew a smoke ring in the air above his granddaughter’s headboard.
“Yes, in all the so-called best families, labeled as best by all of their rich friends, these half-done girls had to be what they called finished. They had this silly name for these suffering girls once they were cooked. They called them debutantes.”
The little girl nodded.
“By finished, I don’t mean, you know, make* dead kine. I mean that they had to learn things that once mastered, meant that they were ready to be presented to society. Young girls were thought of as rare flowers. Like exotic orchids, they were raised in cozy hothouses where they learned to bloom from childhood to the complete flower of grown up young ladies. It was all a lotta shibai*. ”
“You mean like graduating from high school or from college?” the little girl asked.
The old man laughed. “Oh my no, Leilani, those are both very admirable pursuits. That kind of education is always worth the effort. No, I’m talking about learning things like how to walk in such a way that a book will remain balanced on your head, or knowing how to hold a cup properly when you’re drinking tea, which fork to use for eating salad, which spoon for the soup. Etiquette, diction, piano lessons, how to dress, how to sit.” He puffed and then, “Really,” he added, “it was all too dang much for an intelligent young girl to have to put up with.”
“Wow, Grandpa, that all sounds really weird.”
“Yes, yes, it was, Leilani. It was weird, and it was a real kinea waste time and energy deal. I mean, as long as we grow up to be polite, good natured, and willing to learn, all that other rigamarole’s completely unnecessary. Leilani, all girls, if given a chance, are strong enough to grow up well on their own, without having bizarre strictures of behavior forced upon them.”
The old man smiled. “Leilani, the story I’m trying to tell you is that all girls are strong girls who, if given a fair, fighting chance, grow into strong women.”
He coughed. “No, boys have to be taught every damn little thing growing up, otherwise they end up stupid, like me and your dad.”
The little girl laughed. “Oh Grandpa, you’re so funny.”
He tousled her hair.
She said, “It’s great that girls don’t have to go through all that anymore, huh?”
The old man sat back, tried to see inside the bowl of his pipe. “Well, I tell you,” he said puffing, his brow furrowing, “that is the craziness of it, Leilani. I mean, they still actually do carry on that weird tradition even now in so-called high society. It’s especially so in some of the southern states in the U.S.”
“You mean the Red States?”
The old man sat back and gave her a surprised look. “You know that term?”
“Oh yes,” said the little girl. “I watch a lot of CNN and MSNBC. Rachel Maddow and Erin Burnett are two of my heroes and role models.”
“Extraordinary,” said the old man. “Well yes, those states. Amazing, really, when you think about it. They finish their young white women, and they hang their young black men.”
He hadn’t meant to let that slip out. He looked at the little girl.
She did not seem fazed in the least.
“The Civil War isn’t really over, Grandpa, is it?”
The old man sat there in shock. Wow, kids surely did grow up so fast these days.
“No, I’m afraid it’s not, Leilani. But see what I mean? I was stupid to say that. That’s me being prejudiced. I want you to remember that the majority of people in those states are good people.”
“Even if they voted for Trump?”
He laughed. “Yes, even if they voted for Trump. Many people were swept up in his lies. It can happen. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people.”
“Like what Adolph Hitler did, huh, Grandpa?”
He stared at her. “Yes, Lei, yes, ah, like that.”
“Okay, Grandpa. So aren’t you glad that we live in Hawai‘i? It’s so much nicer here. I think people get along better here than they do over on the continent.”
“I hope you’re right, Leilani. But the main thing is that no matter where you live, all little girls grow into strong women, right?”
“Yes, Grandpa. I want to be Kamala Harris when I grow up.” She smiled.
He tousled her hair again. “Me too, Leilani, me too. I want to be Kamala Harris when I grow up.”
* * * * *
*make: Hawaiian for to die, dead.
*shibai: Japanese for bullshit.