The little girl held her father’s hand tightly as they boarded the ship for Maui. No pleasure ships had operated between the islands since Pearl Harbor. The vessel held supplies and a few business people. In 1945, a little girl properly dressed for travel wore a dress and pinafore, with hair perfectly curled into long dark ropes and a large pink bow fastened on top.
She knew her mother was gone. Suddenly sick and then gone forever. Cassandra couldn’t remember much about her even now except that she would call her over; drawing her so close that Cassandra could smell her rosewater.
“Keep your eyes and ears open – you never know what you are going to see.” Other times she would hold Cassandra tightly and whisper into her ear, “My dear girl, my dear Cassandra, think well of your mother, and help your father. Remember, nothing is ever what it appears to be.” None of it made much sense to five- year-old Cassandra, but her mother’s sweet smell lingered in her mind and she repeated her words often so that she would never forget. Even now as she thought of it, she swallowed a small sob.
The day her mother died, she stood in the dining room and watched silently as they took her still body out the front door. She didn’t cry, she simply observed it as if in a dream. Afterward, her father walked toward her, knelt down and looked into her face, right into her eyes. She stepped away from him; seeing him so close frightened
her. She saw no hint of softness, only his somber serious look, the large dark beard and those black eyes boring into hers. “Cassandra, your mother is gone now and I am afraid the timing couldn’t be worse. You know what the doctors said at Children’s Hospital, we have to do something quickly or you will never get better.” His stern voice didn’t invite a response, but Cassandra nodded her head the tiniest bit anyway. Yes, she remembered. “Cassandra, listen to me. I must send you away, to your grandparents’ home on Maui, where I grew up. When you recover, you can return home to Oahu. Do you understand?” He didn’t wait for her to answer; instead, he rose, turned and left the room. She stood there.
No, she didn’t understand at all, except that he wouldn’t be with her and he would leave her in Maui, alone. The next day her father accompanied her to the ship. This time he didn’t look her in the eyes, instead he towered over her, staring out at the ocean. “You must understand Cassandra; being in the mountain air will help you get better. You won’t be completely alone. Your nurse will be with you and Mr. and Mrs. Morimoto have lived there since I was a child. I cannot stay with you because I have my law practice to attend to.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, “But I will come see you as often as I can.”
She knew she shouldn’t cry and make him angry, but the hot tears escaping down her cheeks had a mind of their own. No more mother and her father would leave her in a strange place. Adopting her father’s austere manner, she stood up as tall as she could, wiped the tears from her cheeks and stoically looked forward.