Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Mother is an Elk

She became one about 3-4 years ago when she realized that joining the Elks meant she could get relatively free parking at the beach with a shady place to sit and sip iced coffee while grandchildren played in the pool and waves crashed against the sea wall.

"Do you have to wear funny hats with antlers?" asked my husband.


"Do you have to do secret ceremonies and give your allegiance to Satan?"

"No!  You have to believe in God to join."

"What is the mission of the Elks then?" I asked.  After all, what else could they be about if it isn't wearing antlers and worshiping the devil?

"I don't know!  I think it's being patriotic or something like that. They care a lot about veterans."

This feels ironic because my parents are almost the least patriotic people I know.  Mama often comments on how great American freedoms are, and is especially moved by how generous the American people can be, especially to other nations.

"Zi shao men qian xue," she's quoted throughout our lives, "The Chinese saying is 'You sweep the snow only in front of your own door,' but America's always pouring out money for disasters and to help people.  It's a wonderful thing about this country."

But let's face it, my parents both left China because of their parents--Baba because his father became a diplomat--Mama because her father was at the United Nations trying to get help for General Li's government.  When the Communists took over, they both lost their country.  They became Americans out of necessity and convenience.

Until Mama informed us she was joining the Elks, I'd never even heard of the Honolulu Elks Club.  Turns out it's right next to the Outrigger Canoe Club which is perceived to be one of the most exclusive clubs on the island.  I don't know if it's true, but the scuttlebutt growing up was that only Haoles (Whites) and Hawaiians were allowed to join the club.  The few times I visited with a friend from church, it sure looked like the rumor was true, but it was fun to watch Tom Selleck play 2 on 2 volleyball in the sand nevertheless.

In Hawaii, we experience an amazing mix of cultures with just about every kind of Asian or Pacific Islander represented plus Haoles (about 30%).  The multi-cultural mix is truly wondrous.

But we're not so great on class.  And attending Punahou School as a physics professor's daughter sure made me aware of how I didn't fit the rarefied strata of my elite prep school.  All our expendable income went into Punahou tuition, and by high school, we only made it because Punahou gave scholarships to all four of us.

I was lounging where that white shirted guy sits
all afternoon today--yes, life is difficult sometimes
My siblings and I felt dubious when Mama decided to become an Elk, but walking into the club today I could see why folks come early and drink all day long at the bar (something Mama disapproves of heartily).

It's beautiful!  With the ocean, trade winds, sunshine, and open restaurant, I'd like nothing more than to laze there all day long, drink in hand.  They even had singers strumming guitars and singing soothing Hawaiian music in the lounge.  Even with my 2 parents and 3 kids clamoring for me to swim it was great.

It didn't take Mama much work or money to become an Elk.  She needed 3 recommendations and wrestled those up easily.  Walking into the club, I noticed Elks are much more ethnically diverse than Outrigger members.  And it turns out the Elk's Club actually owns the land on which the Outrigger Canoe Club sits.

Swimming in the ocean past the Outrigger Canoe Club with my kids today, I realized a truth about my identity.

Of course I never fit with the Outrigger crew--I've been the child of an Elk all along.


Tara Edelschick said...

my parents joined the elks club in virginia when they found out that they could eat cheap steak there on friday nights. there elks club is a bit humbler than yours. think dank, dark, lots of wood, lots of old people. no trade winds or pool. but very cheap hunks of cow meat.

Roland said...

Very cool.