Kathy Giuffre is a professor of sociology at Colorado College and the author of a compelling memoir, ‘An Afternoon in Summer’. Here’s what this lovely lady had to say not only about her book but also about the place she once called home.
Pasifika Tales: You and your sons spent one year in the Cook Islands. How exactly did you end up there?
Kathy Giuffre: I have always had an interest in Polynesian culture, especially in the arts, and had travelled some in the South Pacific – although never to the Cooks. I’m a college professor and I had a sabbatical year coming up during which I had the opportunity to be paid for a year to go somewhere and do research. I specifically chose the Cook Islands because I had heard and read about the vibrant art world that exists there. I was interested in trying to understand why this community had such an exceptional outpouring of creativity. So I was really on the island as a researcher, but when you live on an island with fewer than 10,000 people for a whole year (especially if you have kids with you and you are living in a house with a local resident) it is impossible not to become part of the community.
PT: What is your biggest memory of that place?
KG: There are so many – but one thing I remember very vividly is sitting in a chair in the workroom of our house one night, talking on the telephone long distance to my friend in Switzerland and holding the receiver of the phone out so that he could hear the incredible sound of the enormous tropical storm that was pounding down on our roof. I loved the wildness of the storms – especially when everyone was snug and safe inside the house.
PT: . Your life changed quite a bit during that ‘Pasifika year’. How do you recall that time?
KG: I think I really came into my own during that year – even though I was 39 years old when I arrived. I still try to treat the world in the ‘Polynesian Way’ even though I am now back in the United States. I try not to lose sight of how to live a life that is concerned with generosity, kindness, and human relationships rather than thinking about ‘getting ahead’ or getting material objects.
PT: What did you like most about the islands?
KG: The people I met are people whom I love and whose friendship I treasure. I really feel that I was taken in and taken care of at a time that was pretty difficult for me as a single mother with two small children and when I was really not at my best emotionally.
PT: And what did you like least?
KG: Spiders! Enormous hairy spiders!
PT: What were your sons’ impressions of that ‘tropical paradise’?
KG: It was an enormously happy year for my children, which is interesting because we lived all together in one small room of the house and they had basically not a single toy. No TV, no computer or computer games, none of the stuff that we think kids need to be happy and entertained. They spent their time climbing trees, playing in the garden or on the beach, using their imaginations – it was great for them. When we came back to the US we got rid of our TV and have never regretted it – life is better without all the possessions that I once would have thought we needed to be happy.
PT: Did you learn anything from the Islanders?
KG: Absolutely – I learned, most importantly, how to embrace the ‘Pacific Way’ of life. I still try every day to be a little more Polynesian, to take things at a slower pace, for instance, and to think about being generous as a really important value.
PT: What, or who, inspired you to pen down your memories and write a book?
KG: Every now and then, I would send a group email to my friends back in the United States. And a couple of my friends thought the emails were really funny and could be turned into a book. Those and my journal were the basis for the finished book. But really the reason that I wrote it was that my children were so young when we went that I was worried that they might forget what this year in paradise had been like, how wonderful our life was then. So I wrote the book for them, as truthfully as I could, so that they would always have something to help them remember.
PT: Have you had a chance to come back to the Cook Islands? If not, would you like to? Maybe you could write a sequel.
KG: Yes, we all went back about five years ago to see Emily again and so I could show my husband all the places that he had heard so much about and to have him meet all the people I had loved so much. We were only there for a couple of weeks, though – not enough time to do more than basically say hello to everyone – not enough time for a sequel, for sure!
PT: If someone offered you a chance to move to Pasifika, would you agree? Do you think you could actually live there? Or was it only a one-time adventure?
KG: I talk with my husband all the time about moving back – especially when it is bitterly cold and snowing here in Colorado. But if we do go back, I think we would not go back to Rarotonga – we would head elsewhere, probably. Not because Rarotonga is not wonderful, but because the year that I spent there was so magical to me, so perfect, so much exactly what I needed that nothing could ever live up to its memory. Better to keep that memory intact and head out for new adventures someplace we have never been.