Pearl Harbor, pineapple & Winnie

What were some ideas you had about beauty when you were in your 20s?

We worked a lot on our hair, setting our hair, trying to get the style. We didn’t color. We just worked on styles of the hair. We kept our hair clean because you know, Hawaii’s warm and you perspire, so you had to wash your hair more often.

We wore Mu-mus. Once my brother loaned his car to borrow a motorcycle. I wanted to ride the motorcycle with him. I had on a Mother Bear hat and a long dress with ruffles all the way down and Bobby socks. That was the style at the time. And I rode the motorcycle. I must have been about 14 or 15 years old. I always think of that Mother Bear hat.

I moved to San Francisco (from Hawaii) when I was 34. I’m 93 now. In Hawaii growing up, we dressed like everybody else did – the mainland people. We wore shorts when we went to the beach. Otherwise we wore clothes like you do today. No slacks. When we got to the beach, we put on our bathing suits. We wore hats to go to mass, and if we didn’t have a hat, we put a handkerchief on our head. We wore the same kind of clothes they wore anywhere. But we couldn’t afford the nice clothes. I guess we were poorer.

We had a dairy, but before the dairy, my dad worked in a stable. He was like a veterinarian, in charge of the animals. If they were sick, he took care of them. He made sure the men took care of the horses and mules. They worked in the pineapple and sugarcane fields. Dad was in charge of the stables and the animals. He didn’t make much.

People came from Spain, Portugal and different places to Hawaii to work in the plantations. There are all kinds of people, but not very many Italians. There were a lot of Irish, Germans, England. And then there were the missionaries. The missionaries got the property and the Hawaiians got the Bible. (laughs)

A formal Hula performance

My grandparents were originally from Portugal, but my mother and father were both born in Hawaii. I lived on Maui. I didn’t go to the beach too often because I never learned to swim. Mama couldn’t swim. She’d take my sister and I to the beach on Sundays. She loved the beach. She would put her feet in the water, with me on one side and my sister on the other. She would pull us back if we went too far in the water. We never learned to swim. Terrible. On Sundays, the beach was our big thing.

We had big families and families were always together. Seven brothers and sisters grew up. My mother had a lot of stillborns.We couldn’t wear make-up as young women because we were too young. I was 15 years old when my oldest sister, who was married, came from Honolulu to Maui. I was going to school. She said to me, “Put some lipstick on.” And I said, “No, I can’t. Mama’s gonna get mad.” Anyway, she put a little lipstick on me and my father saw. He didn’t say anything, but he told Mama. Mama called me. She looked at me and said, “Go wash your face.”

My father was so nice. He didn’t hit us, but if anything went wrong, he told Mama. But we weren’t afraid of Mama, even though she was the one who would punish us. But when she said, “I’m going to tell your father,” then we worried. And he never did anything (laughs).

I was 20 when I got married. I wore make-up when I was older before I was married. Mostly I wore Ponds and Max Factor…lipstick, powder. We didn’t use too much cream. We used a lot of Vaseline, like you use your creams. We used it at night, but also if we went in the sun, we’d put on Vaseline. Even if you got sunburned, you’d put Vaseline. We didn’t have money to buy other stuff.

Winnie's "Pearl Harbor" Mu-mu

I didn’t get married with a veil. I got married in a white dress with a gardenia lei. I wore white shoes, a hat with a veil and gloves. My sister got married with a veil. I had more money to buy clothes because I went to work in a pineapple cannery.

When I was 12 years old, I worked In a cannery in Maui. We got $.10 an hour. We’d work at a table, young girls on both sides. The pineapple core would be coming down the belt and we would take out the rubbish…the old or sick ones. The good ones would go on down the belt. A boy on the end would put them in big gallon cans. And I’ll tell you, Julia, I was terrible. The poor boy would be down there and I would take the pineapple juice and I would splash him (laughs). I remember that.

When we got older, we trimmed the pineapple. The pineapple went through a machine, and it came out whole, no skin and no core. Another machine sliced it. So it came out, and we’d take out the first 3 or 4 pieces. The middle? That’s first-class. Otherwise, we’d let the pineapple go down. The next girl would take out more. I think there were about 10 girls on one side of each table. The pineapple cannery is still in Maui in Haikuweka…they’ve turned it into a mall now.

I took out the best, most expensive part. We called it #1. When it came down the belt, we’d put it in the cans, which would go to the next girl. She would do something . If I worked on #1s,I would take only #1s. Other girls would take out other grades. I was 12 when I started at the cannery, but when I was really working, I was 15. After I got married, I made $.25 an hour. I was packing and every now and then, they put us in a warehouse to stack cans. Those cans were empty- used to pack pineapple. We wore an apron over our clothes and a cap, so our hair wouldn’t fall in. The cannery was called Haiku Fruit.

I was working in the cannery when the War started in 1941. During the War, I was married and living in Honolulu. I worked in a cannery there, making $.25 an hour. It was a big deal. And somebody came by and said, “What in the hell are you doing here? Go to Pearl Harbor and you’ll make a $1 an hour.” Boy, we all rushed to Pearl Harbor (laughs). I worked on the supply depot after the War started. The War took all the men, so they needed us (women).

I was living in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was bombed. It was a Sunday morning and we’d been having practice air raids. So we paid no attention. My husband and I got up and had breakfast. We heard the bombings and airplanes and sirens, but paid no attention. It was like a practice. I got dressed and went to mass. When I went down the street, I saw the military trucks running right over wooden roadblocks.

A policeman blew his whistle. A sailor was going into a bakery and the policeman said, “Report to your base immediately!” I still didn’t know we were at war, or why he was sending the sailor to his base. I got on the bus and could see all the black smoke at Pearl Harbor. You could see the smoke and hear the planes, but I still didn’t know. When I got off the bus on 7th street, a man came up to us and said, “Those are Jap planes bombing Pearl Harbor.” I could hear the planes but couldn’t see them.

Mother told us “When you go to church, never turn back. Always go to church.” So I went to church. I didn’t know what a war was. The priest didn’t know, but I remember some men came in and they were taking all the men out. But the priest still didn’t mention anything. We could hear the planes above the church. Mass ended. I came out and was standing on the street.

A policeman came by and ordered me off the street. He said, “Lady, there’s no transportation. We’re at war. You walk home.” The policeman could’ve taken me home. I started to cry. Why didn’t my husband come and get me? I had high-heeled shoes and walked up the hills. When I got home, all my family and friends were at the fence waiting for me. I was the only person in the 7 unit court that was gone. People were waiting for me to come home. They were worried and couldn’t go out.

We were the only civilians in that 7 unit apartments. The rest were Navy personnel. One of them was on a submarine which they said on Sunday was bombed. We figured he was gone. He came home the following Friday. Our doors were across the hall, and I saw a  figure pass and arms go around him and this cry. His wife was so happy that he came home. They thought he was dead. He had sent word through someone else that he was okay (because he couldn’t call), but his wife hadn’t believed it.

We lived in a black-out. No lights on at all. All windows were covered. All of us would come stay in one unit because there weren’t many windows. We made it. My aunt worked in a hospital and said it was bad. But I didn’t see anything.

Mu-mu detail

I worked in Pearl Harbor, driving a forklift. There was no men so they trained us. We packed supplies for the ships. When they bombed Guam, I was working that day in Pearl Harbor and they told us we couldn’t go home. Nobody was leaving the base. So the ladies that had children cried. But I didn’t have anyone except my husband. They said to take shelter if we heard the sirens because it was the Real McCoy. They were bombing Guam.

My husband worked in a bakery. He delivered food to Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, which was military. So he was needed. He was safe. My brother had a chicken farm. The eggs and the chickens were needed, so they didn’t take him. None of our family went.

In Pearl Harbor during the War, they put the Japanese in a camp. They could not go out. They had to stay. We weren’t mean to them. But we were told that it was Japanese boys that came to the University of Hawaii to school and then returned to bomb us.

In 1950, we came to California to live. And this is the place to live. I got a job at a paper factory and made a good salary. I worked two weeks days and two weeks nights. Then the factory moved down to Burlingame. And after the night shift, we were on the street at twelve o’clock at night looking for transportation. I said I wasn’t going to do that. I wrote to unemployment, and they said no because the company still wanted me to work. They hadn’t fired me. So my letter to them said “No respectable woman would be on the roads at midnight waiting for transportation.” I got my money (laughs).

In Hawaii, we dressed like ladies, but in plainer clothes. We only wore mu-mus when we went to the beach. In San Francisco, I went to work for the Furniture Mart. I worked there for 36 years. We had to dress with a hat, coat, high heels shoes…we had to dress like ladies. That was really expensive, but I got paid well. In my work in Honolulu, I learned to use the address-o-gram. So in San Francisco, I worked it as well. It’s a machine with small plates which you operate with your foot. The envelopes are stacked up and stamped with the addresses.

What does beauty mean to you now?

My hair is thin. If I could have my hair styled in the back, it’d be okay. But I don’t have too much. Otherwise I wear a wig. I don’t go out with the white hair. I wear the same kind of clothes, only I don’t go out dressed up much because where am I going? When my husband was alive, we went different places. But with him gone, no. To get another man to take me out, no. I’d invite someone over. I’ll cook, we´ll have a drink. But to get another man to marry, no. Nobody will be my boss again. I´ll take care of myself. And I’m happy now. It’s only hard when I’m sick.

Now I use a cream I order from New York. I wash my face and put this cream on. Then I put my make-up on. At night I put on Oil of Olay Night Cream. I use lipstick. I use Revlon powder. I put a little lipstick on my cheeks. I want to paint my eyebrows but I can’t see good. So one goes up and one goes down. I went to Macy’s the other day. I paid $25, and she said they would do my eyebrows. I asked her if I could wash my face. She said yes. So I came home and took a bath, and there went my eyebrows. So I threw away $25. (laughs)

You just try to be proud of yourself.

Winnie, 93

San Francisco


Brenda Starr, ace reporter

Brenda & Basil Dance in Diablo Canyon (crop) - by Mary Lou

Actually my idea of beauty was formed during my teenage years by movies, movie magazines and the daily cartoons in the newspaper. I followed the adventures of Brenda Starr, ace reporter, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Oh she seemed to live a more exciting life than my mother and aunts! Brenda was tall with flaming red hair, feisty and bright. She was a reporter who traveled the world and had many handsome men falling in love with her. One man whom she deeply loved was the mystery man, Basil St. John, who always sent her rare black orchids. This type of romantic life appealed to me more than raising a family, scrubbing floors, washing and drying dishes, etc., which was my job as I grew up in a large family with seven children.

When I was 22 years old I left Pittsburgh for Santa Monica, California with a girl friend. The expression at that time was that it was like “ leaving black and white for technicolor.” I left a city of steel mills and soot for a new world–Los Angeles and Hollywood. Santa Monica was a true paradise with its sunny beaches and palm trees. It was also a frequent hangout for many of the Hollywood stars. It was here that I found most people were interested in healthy foods and physical beauty. This was so different from my life in Pittsburgh.

I married when I was 24 years old and within two years moved down to San Diego. I studied figure drawing and painting. Many of the models were female nudes–mostly slender and beautiful. In order to learn more about makeup and fashion, I signed up for a charm course. I wore a long blonde fall (hairpiece) and tied a red,white and blue sash around my head. I wore a navy blouse and miniskirt, a long white vest and white go-go boots. What a costume!

What Does Beauty Mean to You Now?

Today I still value physical beauty because I certainly try to keep in good shape, eat healthy foods and exercise. I try to balance my life by taking care of myself and at the same time continue to draw and paint and learn how to play the piano.

There was no emphasis on physical beauty or education in my childhood. These are the values that seemed to be intrinsic to me alone. However I was fortunate to have a family with strong morals. For that I am thankful.

If Different, Why Have Your Ideas About Beauty Changed Over the Years?

My idea of “beauty” hasn’t changed so much as it has been “expanded.” I see great beauty in someone who is strong as she faces adversity. Or a person can also appear more beautiful if she has a fine sense of humor.

It was Brenda’s physical beauty that first attracted me as a teenager but in the long run, it was her intelligence, her values, her sense of adventure and personality that continues to attract me.

As an artist I have painted several large canvases with Brenda Starr and placed her in exotic environments depicting her romance and adventure with the mystery man. Brenda will always be my heroine …….my alter ego.

And she never got wrinkles!!!

Mary Lou, 72


“That’s what I want…”

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

I was very aware of my appearance, and I’ve been in theater. I grew up being an only child, and I was never happy with that. I spent hours in my bedroom creating situations. I had lots of clothes. I would dress up by the mirror, and I would be all these different people.

I was always very conscious of how I looked. I was very insecure as a young woman. I always wanted to be 6 feet tall, red hair and this svelte woman because I love design and clothing. Well, I’m this short, stumpy person, and some of the clothes are certainly not fitting. But my sense of that has always been with me, and I try to get as close to that as possible. A lot of my appearance in clothing were kind of tailored. I loved wool and tweeds. I came from Chicago where it was very cold. So I loved that clothing.

"Gigi" - Summer Stock Performance

The lipstick always had to match what I was wearing. I remember I had an American Beauty red coat, and I had that lipstick. At that time, that was a very popular shade, kind of a fuchsia. My rouge had to match. Everything had to match. One thing I remember was that you never wore a gold ring with silver earrings. You always matched. And then of course, I loved hats. And we always wore hats. No it’s kind of extinct. I still wear them, but not as much.

I came from the era when you wore the gloves and the shoes. It was a whole picture. A whole outfit, and I liked that.

I moved to California in 1976, and very funny, from the moment I moved here, I stopped wearing a girdle. And I haven’t worn a girdle since. I don’t even wear a bra. I haven’t worn one in years, which I think is funny because I used to wear a girdle. I was nothing there. I was flat. I wore zipped up garment. I haven’t worn anything since I’ve been here. So I don’t know if they call that laid back, but I’m much happier this way.

There were times when I felt pretty. And there were times when I didn’t feel pretty.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I have mixed feelings. I once saw a photograph of an old woman…just lines all over her face. And I looked at that and I thought, That’s probably one of the most beautiful pictures that I’ve ever seen. And yet I don’t want to look like that.

"The Miracle Worker" - Summer Stock Performance

But then there’s another part of me that will not go gray. And I am affected by the fact that I look older. Sometimes I feel good about that. But I think where it really matters is not really anymore in my physical presence as much as it is in my mind. It’s my thinking that’s much more important. And what I’ve learned and realized is that thinking in a youthful manner – and I think it’s my spirit – makes people think you’re younger than you are. It’s all mental. It has nothing to do with my physical appearance. But consequently, I think it does affect your physical appearance because you radiate what you are, what you feel.

Why have you had that change of focus (about your ideas of beauty)?

I think it’s necessary for the person that I am. I don’t think it could have been anything else because my uppermost important feature as a human being is to be healthy, mentally healthy. And I have striven for that. I haven’t always made it, but that’s my ultimate goal.

"The Happiest Millionaire" - Summer Stock Performance

I have three sons, and I’ve said to them, “I’m going to get older, and as I get older, I’m gonna get a little crazy. So you have to ignore me.” And they’re listening (she laughs).

I came from a very neurotic mother and sometimes the tendency for the neurosis does seep in. And I hear myself and think that’s the most frightening thing in the world because you don’t even realize what has seeped in and what you have to block. So you have to be very strong and really want to change and really want to grow. And that’s what I want.

Sarah, 80

San Francisco, October 2010

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