Wong, Alexander Kaleipapanuionamoku

Author: 
Kainoa Ching

 

Photo: courtesy of Kalehua Lima

Alexander Kaleipapanuionamoku Wong, right, with his wife, Katherine.

O John Kim Chong Wong ko‘u kupunakāne kualua
‘O Ku‘ualoha Spencer ko‘u kupunahine kualua
Noho pū lāua a hānau ‘ia ‘o Kai‘a Wong
‘O Kai‘a Wong ko‘u kupunakāne kuakahi
‘O Kapo‘ulaokinau Hilina‘i ko‘u kupunahine kuakahi
Noho pū lāua a hānau ‘ia ‘o Kaleipapanuionamoku Wong
‘O Kaleipapanuionamoku Wong ko‘u kupunakāne
‘O Katherine Lum ko‘u kupunahine
Noho pū lāua a hānau ‘ia ‘o Iwalani Wong
‘O Robert Ching ko‘u makuakāne
‘O Iwalani Wong ko‘u makuahine
Noho pū lāua a hānau ‘ia ‘o Kainoa a ‘o Pomaika‘i
‘O wau ‘o Christopher Michael Kainoa Ching ka hiapo
E ola ka hāloa o ku‘u ‘ohana

 

"E ‘ōpū ali‘i," which means "Have the kindness, generosity, and even temper like the heart of a chief" (‘Ōlelo No‘eau 369). This is the way that all of my relatives have described my maternal kupunakāne. Born on Hawaiian homestead land on May 3, 1926 in Papakōlea, O‘ahu, Alexander Wong was the oldest son of nine siblings, although only seven survived beyond their first year. His mother, Kapo‘ulaokinau Hilina‘i, was pure Hawaiian, while his father, Kai‘a Wong, was half-Hawaiian. Raised during the times where the great cruise ships of the Matson Line, such as the Lurline, cruised across the Pacific Ocean, my grandfather remembers his mother taking him down to the docks when the ships came in to sell flower leis to the visiting tourists. This, of course, was something that embarrassed him, and he hoped that none of his friends would catch him there.

Despite being in the left-handed minority, in his youth, Gung Gung (Chinese for grandfather) was very athletic and loved playing baseball and softball and lifting weights. He completed elementary and middle school at Maryknoll, then transferred to McKinley High School. But like many in his generation, he was caught up by the events of World War II. Both he and my Popo (Chinese for grandmother) can remember seeing the smoke billowing out of Pearl Harbor after the bombing. Along with the other members of his class, he would catch the train after school to work at the harbor, the place where he would eventually meet his future wife, Katherine Lum.

After graduating from high school, Gung Gung became involved in the Navy in the still-emerging computer department and was sent around the country to learn how to operate the room-sized devices! By this time, he had married my Popo and had started a family of three daughters and one son. My mother and her sisters remember that he was often gone to these schools for long periods of time, oftentimes going to Washington D.C. -- he even met President Kennedy there. When he was home, my mother and her siblings remember that he was very handy around the house and enjoyed woodworking. As my mother said, "he had just about every tool known to man." I personally remember him standing in the garage with his drill and socket wrenches working on some new piece of furniture. On his desk was a small sign that said: "Think." The sign was from IBM because he was one of the few people from Hawai‘i to learn IBM computers. He was hired by Mayor Neil Blaisdell and his department developed the computerized library system, the computerized license plate database, and the policy databases.

Despite his athleticism, he unfortunately smoked for about twenty years, although he quit suddenly and entirely after my uncle started trying to steal cigarettes from him. He was always a good role model, making sure that his children had everything they needed, even if he didn’t. One night my auntie was having trouble with a major project about the Revolutionary War spy, Nathan Hale, which she had to turn in the following morning.  To help her, my grandfather made her a drawing on several layers of construction paper and put a small rope noose around his neck for her to take to school. He never drank, and was also very good at all manner of card games. But once while lifting weights, he dislocated his shoulder and further aggravated the injury by continuing to play baseball. He had surgery and eventually took up golf as a partial replacement hobby.  After retirement, Gung Gung and Popo frequently traveled to Las Vegas, where he loved to shoot craps in the casino while she played the slot machines.

I remember Gung Gung as a very down-to-earth person. He was honest and, as his children said, genuine. I remember him taking me outside with him and smashing aluminum cans in his rubber boots for recycling. I was not yet heavy enough to smash them with my foot and instead used one of his rubber mallets to smash them flat. They also had a lychee tree in their backyard and, despite his advancing age, he would bring out his tall extending ladder and his bucket and climb about twenty feet into the air to pick the fruit when it bloomed every other year. Eventually, he built a scaffold under the tree to make it easier to pick and bring down the lychee. Gung Gung was a very easygoing and happy person, and I admired him for his efforts. He strived to teach his children and grandchildren the value of hard work and perseverance.