“Dates” I Know by Heart
I first met Jim in 1969, on our way to Hawaii for Peace Corps training, where our living was communal but our attraction was mutual and in search of a little bit of privacy now and then.
One day we took a walk together from our training grounds on Molokai and got caught in a rainstorm, which could have been the height of romance. In high school I'd seen a movie, not quite as romantic as an MGM musical but nonetheless romantic, in which Nancy Kwan and Pat Boone get caught in an avalanche and wind up in a little cottage with a fireplace and a featherbed and a long flannel nightgown for her to wear. I thought the rainstorm was romantic because we'd find shelter in each other's arms, but Jim acted as if he wished it weren't raining. Instead of comforting me, he kept complaining that he was cold. He had a sweatshirt, which he didn't immediately take off and offer to me. But he did put his arms around me, and that felt good.
We found a deserted house, which turned out not to be deserted, and the owner of the house gave us steaming coffee and towels to mop ourselves up with. He also gave me his Molokai sweatshirt.
"I hope this doesn't shame you or make you feel guilty," I told Jim, to bring it to his attention that he should feel ashamed and guilty by the male-female standards of that era.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I hope you don't feel bad that this nice man gave me his sweatshirt before you had a chance to give me yours."
"No," Jim assured me, "I don't feel bad about that."
"I was hoping you wouldn't."
We stayed with the nice man for about an hour, and then the rain stopped and we made a dash for it. A dash wasn't fast enough to beat the second cloudburst. We ran from tree to tree, shed to shed, and we finally wound up in a barn with horses and hay without the hayride. I always thought hay rides were so romantic--getting in the back with a boy and a bundle of straw and being driven through the night. But this was a barn, and the horse had his behind to us, and pretty soon the horse had to relieve himself, unceremoniously, right there in front of us.
"I never imagined," Jim said, "that we'd wind up in a stable."
That of course prompted me to say, "For there was no room for us in the inn."
If this was not like an MGM musical, I thought, at least it could be of Biblical proportions.
The rain never stopped--and the horse never seemed to either--so we decided that we'd just run back to camp in the rain. Along the way, we stopped for shelter in someone's carport, and as we were holding each other to keep warm, a man with an umbrella approached us.
"We saw you from our window," the kind Filipino-American man said. "We'd like to invite you into our house."
"We'd like to accept!" Jim and I said, nearly in unison.
His wife gave us dry clothes to wear while she was spinning our soaked ones in the dryer. We spent the evening talking with them and playing with their children. I saw that Jim was really good with children. In those days I rarely looked at a guy without wondering what kind of husband and father he would make, and I saw that Jim would make a good father.
We all had dinner together and they invited us back. Now, I thought, we were a couple!
"Happy ending!" I said when they dropped us off back at camp.
"Tina," Jim said, "why don't we get married and settle down right here on Molokai and have some beautiful Filipino children like theirs?"
But instead of getting married, settling down, and having some beautiful Filipino children, we went right on—single—with—the training program until we'd taken our oath of service and had what I call “An Important Date in Peace Corps History.”
Since our life on Molokai had not been romantic, even by Jim's standards, he said he was going to make up for it by taking me out for Mai Tais and dinner in Honolulu, where our Peace Corps training group was going before leaving the United States for Tonga. To make it more romantic, he said we wouldn't go Dutch but he'd pay with his Peace Corps living allowance.
First we took a walk in a beautiful park, where he read to me from a book he loved, A Separate Peace. As he read, he'd kiss me between paragraphs or sentences or words, and then we'd really kiss, even though in a public park we knew it was bad manners.
From time to time, as we were kissing, someone would walk by and give us a disapproving look. Once Jim looked back at a disapproving onlooker, and said, "Because we don't have another place to do it." Then he lowered his voice and explained to me, "That's in answer to their unspoken question 'Why can't you kids do that somewhere else?'"
Then we had dinner, and after we had eaten, and while I was drinking my third Mai Tai and Jim's second, he told me “The Story of His Life,” and I fell asleep in his arms. I had never before had a chance to fall asleep in his arms and now, in my intoxicated state, I thought it was romantic. However, Jim thought my falling asleep was a reflection on the quality of his life story.
"Just wait, Tina," he said. "My life story will be a lot more interesting after a few weeks in Tonga."
During our three days in Honolulu, we saw Cactus Flower, Hello, Dolly, Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice, and we even saw Closely Watched Trains at the University of Hawaii because Jim told me it was his favorite recent movie.
We also slept on the beach—yes, really slept—and when we woke up we'd made a complete circle in the sand.
But finally our extended weekend was over, and we had to go back to our group. The next morning we got red leis and boarded Pan Am for Fiji, where we had breakfast before boarding Fiji Airlines for Tonga, where we landed just before lunch in a little grass field. When we got off the plane, we were given fresh leis, and our Tongan experience began.
Jim and I held hands as we went by bus through the island's villages to Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital. Along the way we saw coconut and banana trees, coconut leaf huts, blue sky and smoke rising from underground ovens.
"It looks," I whispered to Jim, "the way you think it's not going to look because things never look the way you expect them to look."
"Yeah," he said.
"You always expect foreign countries to look strange and exotic, but they always wind up looking like Los Angeles or Greenville, South Carolina. But this really looks strange and exotic."
"Yeah," Jim said.
"Jim, we forgot to get married and settle down on Molokai and have beautiful Filipino children."
But Jim was in culture shock and didn't speak again until we were at a communal lunch at the Way In Motel in Nuku'alofa. There he leaned across the papaya to deliver an important message:
"Tina, you're the best date I've ever had," he said. "Dinner in Hawaii, breakfast in Fiji, and lunch in Tonga."
"We should do this more often," I said.
But it was just about time for us to separate. He was going to an outer island, and I was staying on Tongatapu.
"Most people live on a lonely island," I sang to him. And I decided to write whole new lyrics to South Pacific.
A few days later I saw Jim off at the wharf, after he'd treated me to several gin and tonics, which I'd drunk alternately with his. We kissed, and he boarded the Just David, the boat that would take him to his island, Nomuka.
I waved goodbye and shouted, "Don't feel bad about deserting me!"
"Okay!" he shouted back.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Before Tina Martin retired in 2014 from City College of San Francisco, where she taught for thirty-two years, she taught and/or trained teachers on five continents: Tonga (Oceana), Spain (Europe), Algeria (Africa), Mexico (North America), and Japan (Asia). She has a son, Jonathan, soon to turn forty, with whom she founded the JoMama Book Club in 2007. They have a written chat once a month for three hours on the book they've chosen to read and discuss together. She is writing a memoir, Everything I Should Have Learned I Could Have Learned in Tonga. Three nonfiction pieces she wrote appear in anthologies and two others are online.
Other works in this issue:
A Fifteen-Minute Sanity Test