Friday, July 15, 2011

My other Dad

Lemeki Fakalata Muo'mua 
Born February 6, 1940
Died June 14, 2011
I didn't know how much this man meant to me until he died.  I cried.  A lot.  In fact I was at piano sitting on the couch while my kids did their lessons, and I couldn't hold back the tears (I had just heard that morning) and Sister Mink turned around and astonished asked, what the matter was.  I, kind of laughing said, I didn't know.  My step-dad, Lemeki, died and I'm really sad about it, was all I could say.

See, this man had a bad side.  He would get drunk, and scare us.  He once came home with a machete cut across the top of his head from a fight he'd been in when he used to work at Black Angus as a dishwasher.  (I remember he used to bring home the uneaten brown bread for us.)  He'd play rugby and those Tongans were so rough.  Once he got his foot broken in a rugby game, and I could see the bones on top sticking up, but would he go see a doctor?  No.  He preferred to take care of it himself.  A lot of shocking things happened during the years he lived with us- stuff I won't ever share.  I felt sad that he used to be mean to Jeremy.  When Jeremy cried, he'd laugh at him and say he was laughing.  I think that was just his way of toughening him up, and perhaps it worked, but it was still mean.  Lemeki worked construction usually painting or roofing, and I remember the smell of the tar, and how horrible his hands looked.  Those poor hands sure went through a lot.  But we were poor, at times on welfare, and when my mom got a job finally, he didn't feel the need to work anymore, so that was lame.  Growing up we were perpetually poor.  And when he and my mom separated, I remember that I had to go live with my friend Jennifer C. for two weeks for my mom to safely get him out of the house.  And then for years afterward, he threatened to kidnap Stephanie, my then 3 year old little sister, so they would do custody visits at the mall, and we'd have to alert all the security guards first about the possibility of him trying to kidnap her.  I loved my little sister so much (still do) I was like her second mother since I was so much older than her, and I stressed heavily about the situation and had nightmares.  I hated him during those times.

But there were good memories too.  Here's some of mine with him:  Someone once gave us a huge above ground pool, and he dug out the dirt about 1 foot deep in a circle 24 feet in diameter to fit the pool and it was PERFECTLY flat with sloped sides.   I loved watching him do that, and I can remember not wanting to go to school, because I wanted to stay and help him work. Also he built a shed for us out of wood, and it even had a real roof and windows and we used it as a playhouse.  I thought it was a real talent to be able to build something so sturdy.

He had a horse when he was a kid growing up in Tonga who was his good friend and protected him on several occasions.  My mom says that he was in orchestra one day and he played a wrong note and the teacher hit him with a stick, and he grabbed it from his teacher and broke it.

He drank Lipton tea, and grew Taro in our back yard and ate all sorts of weird things, that in time weren't weird to us anymore.  Like how he'd just eat garlic cloves raw.  He'd always eat a huge stack of toast in the morning with hot chocolate, and dip the toast in the hot chocolate, and soon we were all eating the same thing.  Once for Steph's year old birthday, we had a huge lu'au, (Tongans are related to everyone) and we even raised three pigs in our back yard, and then he killed them and hung them up in our shed to drip dry of blood and then dug a huge pit to cook them.  I still remember helping my mom boil the water to scald their skin and scrape off the hair from it.

I remember being so poor that for a while we lived off of really old canned food storage in the garage, and one night my mom tried to make us a treat, and was able to make a cookie for each of us, though I don't know what was in that cookie, because it was a weird color, and looked really weird.  It tasted weird too, and Jeremy wouldn't eat it, but I did, and my dad was really proud of me.  I think because he knew it made my mom happy.  He and I used to sit in the kitchen, and with box cutter knives and for hours we'd strip the plastic off the old copper wires he'd brought home from jobs, and then when he had a good amount of wires folded up nicely and compactly in a box, he'd turn it in for money. 

I remember too when he came to live with us.  I don't know how my mom started dating him or whatever, but we went to visit him in his apartment once, and it was near our house, but in a worse area, and he had cockroaches scurrying everywhere (which hitched a ride with his stuff to our house), and the neighbor's dog bit me, and my mom was scared that I could have gotten rabies since it broke the skin.

I think they got married in Vegas, and I remember we all had matching outfits and he was young with kind of an afro.  I got a new last name.  Muomua.  And I guess because of child support issues with my real dad, he adopted us?  I don't know for sure, but I remember getting talked into that, and one day seeing his name on my birth certificate as the birth father which was shocking and made me mad because it just wasn't true.  Shortly after he moved in with us, his kids came over from Tonga to live with us too.  I remember borrowing an old van from the other Tongans, and there were no seats after the front seats, so we just sat on the floor for the ride to San Francisco, and I still remember their luggage was not like anyone else's.  They had boxes wrapped in leaves and tapa cloths.  It is a really cool memory.  There was Sii, Pelinda, and Mavae.  I guess the boys Sii and Mavae roomed with my brother and Pelinda moved in with me, but they were so much older that Sii and Pelinda moved out soon.  To where?  I don't know.  Mavae stayed for several years though, and he was my real and true brother.  We had a lot of fun in that pool.  I don't see him at all now though.  But I'm happy that at least he's friends with Stephanie.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table Jeremy, Mavae, and I all doing our homework together, but he seemed so much older since he was at Burbank highschool, and I was just in elementary school and junior high. 

I used to remember some of the Tongan they spoke, but now the only thing I remember my dad saying is "shook".  At least that's what it sounded like, and for all I know it's a cuss word. (?)

We used to go to lu'au's or big family/feasting/gatherings with everyone, and the ladies just loved me because I liked all the food.  I think we all did.  The house we ate at was a regular house just like ours, but there wasn't a chair or piece of furniture in the room.  Instead they covered the walls and floor with white butcher paper and then layed out mats on which they placed the many dishes of food.  I loved it, and miss it so much.  I was so happy when Stephanie got married, that Lemeki and Mavae, and all the brothers took it upon themselves to make all the food.  It was great.  I especially loved the spinach(or maybe taro?) and corned beef in foil, called Lu'pulu.

Toward the end of his life, Lemeki moved in with Stephanie and her husband T.  I was glad that on one visit home to see our families, that we decided to stay with her.  Lemeki and I never talked much.  He never spoke English very well, but we understood each other and I could feel that again as we lived under the same roof again for a couple days, and I also felt he really liked me and was proud of me.   I don't know if I could have taken him on like Steph did, but I hope it was good getting to know each other better.  I think it happened for a reason, and I hope she knows that she has 10x the patience that I would have.

Steph felt after a while that he needed to move out, and I think it was to spare her.   Soon after moving locations, he went to bed early one night, not feeling well, and the people he was living with found him in the morning.   I hope he died in his sleep, peacefully.  I think he had a hard life, and I wish he had found the gospel, but no matter what, wherever he is, he is resting from his labors, and I hope he knows that he is loved.   I wish my kids could have known him more, and I'm glad he at least met them.  He's not my dad, but for some years he was, and he was a big part of my life.  I grew up in an area that had lots of Tongans, and I miss that.  I love the people from the islands.  They are dear to me.

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