Before the facts of health and nutrition wormed its way into my brain, there was Tomoe Ame. Breakfast of seven year old shy champions. That would be me in 1967. Sitting on a bench in downtown Honolulu waiting for the city bus to pick me up and take me to Ala Wai Elementary School for a treacherous day of second grade, under the auspices of Mrs. Chang. (Who, my former school-teacher- grandmother had pointed out, misused “then” for “than” while grading math papers. Duh, even I knew my teacher was stupid.) Before the bus stop I would spend the lunch quarter lounging in my pocket on a small box of Tomoe Ame at the dusty little snack store on Ala Wai Boulevard before the bus arrived.
What about lunch you ask? Later at school I’d claim I lost my lunch money, the office would give it to me and that afternoon when my mom picked me up in her blue Volvo, she had to dig into her purse and pay the school back.
Yeah of course I got into trouble. Especially from my grandmother when she found out. She even got me a shiny pink plastic, made-in-Japan coin purse on a chain to wear around my neck to keep my quarter safe. That slipped off my neck one morning and fell into the harbor while I was looking at the pencil-fish. Did I mention we lived on a sailboat? Yeah, we were a little unorthodox that way. I was bummed the day the purse fell to the fish, not only would there not be any Tomoe Ame, I’d still get into trouble for losing my lunch money AND the little coin purse. Grandmother’s wrath was more treacherous than my mom’s ––that soul-crushing scowl of hers.
Tomoi Ame for me, in addition to its novel, candy-from-rice theme and how-cool-it-is-to-eat-the-wrapper-too, signified a rare independence for me. Yeah, I know at seven years old I was taking the city bus to go to school and who does that anyway, but freedom to choose my own food is what drove me to this delectable and sly undertaking.
Food rules were big at Grandmother’s house: eat your lima beans, eat your peas, elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed, take your spoon out of your soup. And on the boat with mom, food coming out of the tepid little fridge and cooked in an electric skillet, well, it all kind of sucked.
And since I was one of those kids seven going on thirty, I had my own views on food. And Tomoe Ame was number one.
Breakfast of second grade champions.