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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 115-121
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Margaret K. Pai
from The Dreams of Two Yi-min
During the spring and summer the pink, gold, and rainbow shower trees came into bloom. These tall trees grew in the older residential sections of the city, especially in Makiki and Manoa. The golden showers, glistening in the sun, hung in clusters like yellow grapes. The pink shower trees were laden thick with blossoms; their branches resembled long carnation leis. And the rainbow showers took your breath away, for their masses of tiny peach and white and pink flowers crowded for a place in the sun, and their fulness even hid the green leaves of the tree.
Then there were the poinciana trees, which appeared in regal glory in the summer and lasted through fall. Many of them lined the streets in Makiki. The royal poinciana, as they were sometimes called, did not grow as large as the shower trees. But they stood proudly, spreading their branches like umbrellas decorated with fiery red and orange flowers.
One July afternoon my father came home and told us he had been strolling under poinciana trees on Wilder Avenue.
"You went walking on a hot day like this? Why?" my mother wondered. The temperature was near ninety degrees for the fourth day in a row and everybody complained of the humidity.
I recognized the odor of perspiration drying off his shirt and face—that "peculiar mansmell of your father" as my mother referred to it. When he was inspired he usually was oblivious to fatigue and heat.
"Today I found a name—a good name!" he announced.
Mother cried, "What name? What are you talking about?"
"Poinciana! That's what I'm going to call it!" He sat down at the round kitchen table, his hands folded in front of him. He moved his lips as if talking but made no audible sounds.
Busy preparing dinner, we ignored him. Mother placed a pan on the stove and poured oil into it. I stood by to help fry the fish.
Suddenly my father jumped up. "Yes, that's what I'm going to call it!"
"Call who—what?" I asked. The oil heating in the pan started to sizzle and spatter.
He spoke in a hushed voice, one hand outstretched, palm moving away. "Can't [End Page 115] you see it? p-o-i-n-c-i-a-n-a Bamboo Draperies. How do you like it?" His eyes were shining as if he'd seen a phantom.
Mother slid a whole fish into the hot pan and for a moment she was distracted by the sputtering contact of fish and oil. The word poinciana was foreign to her. She muttered, "I can't see anything good about that name."
But the word was registered legally as a trade name. Soon Poinciana caught on in households in Hawaii, and the mere mention of the word was associated with the popular type of window treatment using woven bamboo.
During the latter years of the 1930s there was a building boom. While the venetian blind dealers in town chopped prices lower and lower in the stiff competition for orders, D. Kwon & Co. sold the Poinciana Draperies at high enough prices to cover costs of production with a reasonable profit. People visiting our showroom fingered with longing the sample bamboo displays. But they shook their heads and said that ordinary venetian blinds combined with inexpensive side hangings of cloth were much cheaper for their windows.
Once a year D. Kwon & Co. held an anniversary sale. The response was amazing. I was attending college then but was able to help at the shop some afternoons and on Saturdays. I can still remember the first days of a sale when customers rushed into the store and lined up to place their orders. Housewives beseeched me to take the money in their hands as down payment for an order. Such clamoring of voices, each woman waving a wad of bills or a check, anxious to take advantage of the sale prices! Some of them recounted how long they...