Putting Percy in perspective

LIHU’E — David Penhallow’s garage is decorated with the remnants of a

wall-to-wall life that has overflowed into the garage from his Apapane Street

home. Odd pieces of vintage furniture are arranged tastefully in the two-car

space, and the unfinished walls are lined with shelves displaying books, teddy

bears, dishes, toys, glassware, knick-knacks, paintings and posters.

Percy

would have liked this snug hideaway. He would have felt right at home among the

relics of Penhallow’s life. The truth is, hes been there all along.

Of

course, anyone who has read Penhallow’s novel, “After the Ball,” will know that

Percy is a fictional character. He’s seven years old, a fat little sissy who is

madly in love with Best Foods mayonnaise and has a passionate desire to become

Alice Fayé.

Percy doesn’t become Alice Fayé, but he does

emerge a hero of sorts as he struggles to overcome the curse he believes has

befallen him.

This hauntingly honest, sometimes painful, sometimes comical

576-page book is set on O’ahu in the early 1940’s, a time when war came to

Hawai’i and the age of innocence in the Islands —and in Percy’s life — came

to an end.

“Percy is the fat little boy that I was — still am, says

Penhallow who at 67 has added the title of author to his already impressive

list of credits.

Penhallow shed his baby fat years ago, but he couldn’t

shed Percy. “The Percy in me had to come out,” he says. “He’s like my son

except he did things I never had the courage to do.”

So in 1997 when he

retired from his teaching position at Kauai Community College, Penhallow set

about bringing Percy to life as the lead character in his first novel. Since

Percy at seven is a lot like David at seven, he had somewhere to begin.

He

says most of the characters in the book are composites of people. “My mother is

in there and my father is in there, but they’re not them — like Marion is not

all Marigold, David is not all Percy.”

In the book, Marigold is Percy’s

snotty sister. In real life she is Marion Penhallow, a well-respected community

leader who recently retired from her position with Wilcox Hospital.

Where

was Penhallow when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor? Well, it should be no

surprise that he was living with his family on O’ahu. Just as it’s not hard to

figure out that the unidentified snapshot of a chubby little boy in tie and

coat pasted to the back of the book is the author as a child.

“I could

have had another little boy,” Penhallow says. “But I said no. I thought I’d

like to have that little boy there in his little suit that he might have worn

to his dad’s wedding.”

So how much of Percy is Penhallow at seven, and how

much has the author imagined? People write novels so they don’t have to answer

that question. But for Penhallow, it’s all real, one way or the other.

“It’s as real to me as if it actually happened,” he says. “I can go in my

mind and I can play that Christmas Eve scene. I can go in my mind and I can

play under the house. I see it. So it did happen in my mind.”

“After the

Ball” got off to a good start when in 1996 the working manuscript was named

Best Fiction at the Maui Writers Conference. It took Penhallow another three

years to finish and publish the book.

He chose to self-publish, an

investment of about $15,000. His print bill for 2,500 copies was $11,000. The

book, distributed by Booklines, is on sale in Hawai’i at Borders Books &

Music, Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks at $24.95 a copy.

“It’s a

business like any other business,” Penhallow says. “You’re in business and

you’ve just got to be out there.”

Sure, he says, there’s an element of

risk. “But I wouldn’t miss this experience for anything. It’s the control,” he

says with a grin. “I like the control.”

Percy’s love affair with Alice

Fayé may have been a figment of Penhallow’s imagination, but the

author’s love affair with show business occupied many years of his life.

When he was a sophomore at Punahou School on O’ahu, he lost 50 pounds in

one month. “I became slim,” he says, “but I was still fat in my mind.”

After attending Stanford University, he came back to Kaua’i and landed a

role in South Pacific. He was John Kerrs stand-in. “When you’re on stage,

you’re not you,” he says explaining how that little sissy kid gained enough

confidence to become an actor.

He worked for a time at a studio in Los

Angeles and then returned to Kaua’i again to work for Grace Guslander who

trained him to become a hotel manager. “I opened the Hanalei Plantation as the

general manager in 1961,” he says. He left in 1962 to teach at Kamehameha

School.

Then he returned to California to attend the University of

Southern California. He taught high school drama and speech in California and

later on Kaua’i, and managed the York Playhouse in New York City. In 1980, he

returned once again to Kaua’i.

Here his career took another twist when he

became the director of the Kaua’i Museum. That was followed by a stint in

former Mayor Tony Kunimura’s administration where he served as the director of

economic development and as Kunimura’s administrative assistant. From there, he

returned to his job at the museum, and in 1987 began teaching at Kauai

Community College.

When he retired three years ago, Percy was waiting.

“I had no choice but to write this book,” Penhallow says. “And I have no

choice but to write a sequel.”

The story was like a movie in his mind, he

says.

But it took him a long time to conceive what he calls the engine

that drives the reader through the book.

“The curse was always there,” he

says. “Percy indeed thought he was cursed. At the end of the book when he has

his catharsis, he is no longer feeling that way. That’s his hero’s journey.”

Penhallow’s personal journey has taught him that a curse is what we make

of it. “What I believe about curses is that we can make them so,” he says.

“I also believe that we celebrate each others differences, and I believe

that once we think one nationality, or one religion is better than another,

then we have wars. We should celebrate the differences and honor each other.

“If you learn that, you can learn to love. And you can let go. I hope

Percy learns that,” Penhallow says a bit wistfully.

Percy will have his

opportunity in the sequel to “After the Ball.”

The garage inspires one last

question. So much of Penhallow’s life is stuffed into this enchanting space. At

67, he is retired from a career as varied as the collection of stuff that

embroiders his walls.

What was the best for you? What were the best of

times?

“Today is the best time,” he says without hesitation. “It’s what I

have now.”

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