The next morning was Sunday, and Sunday brunch is a treat. When Stan and I were married, Sunday brunch was the one luxury we allowed ourselves. We made a big deal of baking different kinds of rolls, cooking omelets and tryng different kinds of sausages and other meats. Every now and then, we even had champagne. After the divorce, there were no special days, and I used Sunday mornings to catch up on my office reading.
When my mom and dad moved in, I rekindled the tradition. It wasn’t quite the same. My parents woke up at 5 AM everyday, a rhythm established in their plantation days. They ate leftovers with coffee and puttered around the house until I woke up.
Sundays were no exception. They assured me that they didn’t mind brunch, since they were ready to eat another meal by 11:00 anyway.
On that Sunday, mom was in the kitchen making another pot of coffee for our “second breakfast,” as she called it. I was thinking of making blueberry waffles, maybe some sausage and poached eggs
“Morning, mom. How are you this morning?” I kissed her cheek.
“Fine, Trina. Dad told me you were upset about last night. That’s why I didn’t wake you when I got home. Don’t get mad so much. You want some juice?”
“Mom, why do you babysit? You’ve babysat for almost every house on the entire block. It’s embarrassing. The neighbors must think you’re doing it for money. This is so crazy. In this neighborhood, babysitting is for high school girls so that they can earn makeup money.”
Mom looked hurt. I must have gone too far. “I’m sorry, mom. I just hate to see you get used this way. Those people should know better. They wouldn’t let this happen to their own mothers. They must think they can get away with it just because you’re Filipino.”
After a brief silence, she said, “You’re Filipino, too, Trina.”
More silence. Then only the sound of spoons in our coffee mugs.
“Where’s dad?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“He said he was going to Dr. Allbright’s house. He’ll be right back.”
“What’s he doing?”
No answer. She must have still been hurt, maybe angry.
“Mom,” I persisted, “what’s dad doing there?”
She relented. “He said not to tell you. You’ll get mad again.”
“Wait a minute. Did he go there to work on Allbright’s yard? He’s helping that old codger cut some branches off that stupid tree, isn’t he? That guy is a retired doctor, mom. He has a Mercedes! He can afford a weekly yard crew, for heaven’s sake!”
My mother kept stirring her coffee and avoided looking at me. I stomped to the door. I think I had it in mind to confront this situation. As I slipped into my Birkenstocks, my father walked in.
“Hi, Trina. I was just out taking a walk,” he said cheerily.
I could barely control my temper. “Dad, did you help Allbright trim his tree?” I bore into him, daring him to lie. “You did, didn’t you? You climbed that rickety old ladder and cut some branches. You could’ve gotten hurt. And what did you do with that machete? Hide it in the garage? Why couldn’t you just say no?” As I ranted, mom quietly entered the living room and watched us.
Dad replied sternly, “Trina, Dr. Allbright needed help. He’s an old man. It wasn’t too hard. I know what I’m doing. I enjoy this kind of stuff. I don’t mind helping.”
“And what would he have done if you got hurt? Would he have treated you? Or would that be beneath him?”
Dad looked at me confused. “What are you talking about?”
I suddenly became very tired. Tired of seeing my parents feeling so defensive with me. Tired of being a bitch with them. We’ve had these discussions so many times since they moved in.
I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I guess I just get mad when our neighbors take advantage of you and mom.” I gave him a little hug and we all went into the kitchen and proceeded with our cooking.
The next Sunday, I made popovers and eggs. As we sat down at the table, dad said, “Trina, your mom and I want to talk to you.” He and mom looked uneasily at each other.
Mom started. “We want to move to an apartment in town. We want to go back on our own. Your dad and I are still strong. We’ll be okay.”
Dad quickly added, “Don’t get us wrong. We love you very much, Trina. We appreciate everything you do for us. In fact, you do too much. But we fight all the time. You’re always telling us ‘Don’t help him. Don’t talk like that to her.’ You want us to be different. This is who we are. We’re too old to change. We can’t help it. We just want to be ourselves.”
I was indignant at first. “Move? You’ve been living here for three months. What’s wrong with this place? It’s a good neighborhood. Hell, Lanikai is one of the classiest places in Hawaii! Most people don’t even dream about living here!”
Then I felt hurt. Confused. I felt like crying. “I just want you both to be happy. I want you to be treated well. I don’t like seeing you being treated like servants. I worked really hard to buy this house. I finally make the kind of money we need to live in a place like this. I don’t understand it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
“Trina, listen to me,” my mother said as she patted my hand. “We can’t just retire and do nothing. We’re not the kind of people who go the beach to sit and read books. When we go to the beach, we like to fish and pick limu (seaweed). You don’t see anybody fishing in Lanikai, do you? Dad doesn’t golf. I don’t belong to clubs. We’re working people. If we move back to town, at least we’ll be around our own kind of people. They’ll understand us better.”
I couldn’t look at her. Maybe she was right. “I know we’re different from our neighbors,” mom continued. “They’re not our people. Most of them are haole (white). The ones who aren’t haole are like you – educated, smart. You believe you’re equal and you fit in well. But we’re not equal. We don’t fit in.”
My dad said quietly, “Trina, I know how they look at us. I see it in their eyes. They only respect us because of you. If it weren’t for you, they wouldn’t give us the time of day. I know that. Let us go where we want.”