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Photo courtesy Keala Sikahama
Keala Sikahema and Gladys Kalama.

At least once a week I think of something I learned in my fifth grade class at Kahuku Elementary School in Kahuku, Hawaii. Mrs. Gladys Kalama greeted us with a smile and a cheerful, “Good morning,” each day. I had a sense she was genuinely happy to be there and was excited to see us. She taught “The History and Culture of Hawaii” and used fun and creative methods to do so. She saw to it that each student in her class was provided with a ukulele and taught us all to play. We learned to tune it and learned a few basic chords, which was all we needed to play several songs and establish quite a repertoire of numbers that we performed for the other classes.

I remember how especially patient she was as we were trying to master the right volume to strum, and syncing the timing so it sounded like there was only one person strumming, not 25. And then there was the occasional overzealous student that broke a string. She never got upset, but instead showed us how to repair it.

It was her idea to take a field trip to the Big Island of Hawaii to visit historical sites and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In preparation for the trip we were given booklets that contained facts and questions we were to answer as we visited each site. We didn’t fully appreciate at the time what a huge undertaking making the trip was. Planning, budgeting and organizing was an arduous task. But she would not be deterred. I believe the trip was taken once every three years so that everyone had an opportunity to take the trip in their “upper elementary” years. As far as I know, she continued with the trips until she retired.

I recall one day when we had a test in her class. I studied and prepared the best I could, and I felt ready. As the tests were handed out, I looked at the questions on the page and began to answer them confidently. So confidently, in fact, that I whizzed right through them and finished rather quickly. I didn’t bother checking over my answers because I wanted to be the first one to turn in my test and show my classmates that, “I knew my stuff.” She gave me a polite nod and a smile as I turned it in.

She corrected my test right away because she had time to do so while she waited for the other students to turn theirs in. Much to my dismay, I got two answers wrong. They were so simple and I knew them, but I was so caught up in being the first one finished, I got them wrong. She called me back up to her desk and handed me my test back, with a couple of prominent red markings on it. The smile she gave me when I turned my test in had turned down slightly. “Be more careful,” was all she said. When I looked at my paper, she had written the words “haste makes waste” at the top. I understood. But I felt I had disappointed her and I didn’t want to ever do that.

I knew she had confidence in me because she told me so. She was always telling me what great potential I had. I wanted to please her because I knew she was rooting for me. And I knew she loved me. My fifth grade teacher loved me. There is such power in that knowledge.

I have never forgotten that simple “haste makes waste” experience. Nor have I ever rushed through another test. Ever. I was 10 years old then and I think of Mrs. Kalama just about every time I take a test. I also think of her when I play the ukulele, and when I hear certain Hawaiian songs.

Many years have passed. I have taught many classes in Primary, Young Women and Relief Society. I am teaching early morning seminary. When I prepare my lessons, what I want most for my students is for them to feel the Spirit, learn the doctrine and know that I love them.

I am reminded of the hymn, “Each Life that Touches Ours for Good,” and the line, “What greater gift dost thou bestow, what greater goodness can we know, than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways strengthen our faith, enrich our days.” Mrs. Kalama did just that — she strengthened my faith and enriched my days. For that I am forever grateful.

We have remained close over the years and as an adult, it is now acceptable, customary in Hawaiian culture and almost expected for me to affectionately and respectfully call Mrs. Kalama, “Aunty.”

I am thankful for my “Aunty” for having confidence in me and for teaching me so many lessons about Hawaiian culture and about life. And, most of all, I am thankful for her loving me.

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