Honolulu, Hawaii to Summit, Illinois: 1937-1938. Envelopes or Covers. Eleven, variously sized, letters sent by a Honolulu high school girl to her junior high pen-pal in Chicago. Together the letters contain about 35 pages of manuscript text. A couple of the letters have drawings of girls’ faces. Three are enclosed in their original mailing envelopes postmarked Honolulu, Hawaii. The letters are in nice shape; the envelopes show postal and opening wear.
Gladys Sen and her family lived on North Kukui Street on the border between Chinatown and downtown Honolulu. Connie Serpe lived in Summit, Illinois, at the time a Cook County agricultural village about ten miles southwest of Chicago.
The letters shed light upon the elements of popular culture that appealed to teenage girls in the late 1930s, and they contain considerable small talk about
favorite magazine (Look, Click, Famous Funnies),
favorite movie stars (Robert Colman, Nelson Eddy, Deanna Durbin, Bobby Breen), favorite movies (“Did you see the picture ‘The Three Ritz Brothers of the Kentucky Moonshine.’ I did. . .. I went to see it in the Hawaii Theatre. Oh boy! Oh boy! It was swell!”),
favorite sports (basketball, swimming, tennis, badminton, hiking),
favorite hobbies (collecting fashion illustrations, sewing, drawing, letter writing),
unfounded fears (airship and passenger liner disasters), and
appearance concerns (““I’m too goofy in my picture . . . ugly like a rat [and] Yes, I have taken a permanent wave. . .. Notice Special!!! My brother Mannfried saw your picture and he’s trying to express his view points about you. ‘Quote he,’ Connie is very gorgeous and carries a sweetest smile . . . with glittering brown eyes which tends to attract her personal admirers. Her herald’s hair glistened like the rays of the sun. . .. ”
However, they also contain a good bit of information about life as a Chinese-American (probably) teenager in Hawaii as Gladys describes Honolulu life to “Palsy Walsy” Connie:
“I’m so glad you are studying about the Hawaiian Islands or Honolulu in school. I hope it will give you an idea about us. . .. What are you plan to do during the summer vacation. I think I’m to go to a summer school. . .. I may try to go all the parties, picnics, hikings, swimmings . . . at the Waikiki Beach. . ..
“This is my daily class program . . . House Planning & Decorating . . . Weaving . . . Physical Education . . . Block Printing . . . Study Hall . . . Core Studies . . . Core Studies. . .. The worst class I go to is Core Studies because the girls and boys look so tough. ‘A bunch of roughnecks’ . . . I can foresee the future of my 12 year grade will be an unsuccessful one [however] I’ve been very busy taking charge of our school carnival . . . our third Annual ‘Merry go-round’ Carnival. . .. All indications paint to a bigger and better one than ever before with fun, prizes, food and shows galore . . . a queen reigning [and] this year, a king will share her throne. . .. We have sideshows, food, country stores, music, rummage sales, concessions and other entertainments. . .. There’s ice cream, hot dogs, soda water, hamburgers and other ‘ono kau kau’ which meant ‘good eats for hungry people.’ The side shows will include a minstrel, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Hawaiian Hula Dances, Filipino, Frankie and Johnnie. . .. We have been very busy. . ..
"I always hiked with . . . a group of 12 kids. Oh boy! Whatta fun we had climbing up the mountains, picking guavas, . . . mountain apples or gingers flowers. ‘Them days are gone forever.' . .. picking mountain apples is quite difficult, because it is very slopy. But picking ginger flowers it is very easy, because our garden is just flooded with them. They have two kinds of colors, the white and the yellow. But the white gingers have the sweetest odor than the yellow ones. It has four petals. I’ll try to send you a press one. . ..
"On New Year’s midnight all over the town- the people celebrated with firecrackers for over an hour. They were lots of noisemakers enjoying themselves, nothing but firecrackers sound or echo all around . . . if you were not used to noise you can’t possibly sleep the whole night huh? . .. I did enjoyed this day very much making whoopees with my brother. All the way downtown you can see the boys and girls wearing the finest clothes going to a dance etc. . ..
“I was rather surprised to hear that your teacher wishes to have a letter from Honolulu. Nevertheless, I . . . hope my letter will be of interest to the class. . . . It here fleet of Islands none other than three thousand miles south of California, even farther from you native state of Illinois. It’s just sunset time in the Paradise. I could just imagine myself from the bright Island of Oahu. Someday I may venture [from] the sandy corals and cocoanut palms. The soft waves of the blue seas calmly dashed across the sandy shores. Day light with glittering blue skies, gradually disappeared, was a deep purple now. A mile down the sea shore, the harbor lights twinkle out on the distant shore. The shadows cast by the tall cocoanut palms lengthened and deepened. Hence the light of the setting sun flamed on the Diamond Head and tinted with gold sweeping in the coral reefs. For this was the ‘Paradise of Pacific’, the crossroad of the seven seas. . .. With the aid of my poetic brother I was able to write the ‘Hawaiian Sunset’ No books to work with (not boasting or bragging eh.). . ... Very good. Item #009663
An unusual and uncommon record of a teenage girl’s life in Honolulu during the late 1930s. At the time of listing, nothing similar is for sale in the trade, and there are no auction records for similar items listed by Worthpoint or the Rare Book Hub. OCLC shows nothing similar held by any institution.