SNOWFLAKE/TAYLOR — For Deborah Cox, who left her native Hawaii three years ago to move to the mainland, Hawaii was much more than a vacation spot. The Hawaiian culture was part of her, and when she left, she left part of her there.
Cox’s husband had worked for Time Warner for 22 years, and after an injury, some hard choices had to be made. When his parents moved to the Valley in 2007, Cox and her husband followed in 2012 with the intent of embracing a more affordable lifestyle in Arizona.
Moving from an island lead to culture shock, especially for Deborah. Having lived a life steeped in island tradition, and with her daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren still there, along with her dad and stepmother, Cox did her best to let go and adopt her new lifestyle in Gilbert.
Each time she would return for a visit, she found herself longing for what had been her comfort zone.
In Gilbert Cox found a job as a principal’s assistant at a charter school and with two kids in school tried to get involved in the community.
After her in-laws moved to the Snowflake/Taylor area, it seemed only natural that Cox and her family would follow. In May, the Cox family moved to Taylor. With a 13- and 17-year-old enrolled in school, Cox began working on letting go and accepting her new way of life.
Psychologists say that one of the most stressful things a person can go through is a move, and it is necessary to grieve every loss experienced.
After the move, Cox found herself slipping into isolation but recognized it and knew she had to do something about it. She wanted to move forward with her new life but felt she did not fit in.
One of her gifts is making Hawaiian jewelry. She also sculpts mermaids, using polymer clay, which it turned out, aided in the healing process. Cox set up a booth at the local flea market to sell her creations, but no one stopped by, leading her to depression.
Like most Hawaiians, Cox dances the hula and other Polynesian dances and also taught dance for 25 years. She started dancing at age 4. She also speaks the Hawaiian language. In 1980 she choreographed and danced the whole line of Polynesian dancing. The last place she did dance was at her church in Hawaii. She used her gift of dance as a worship ministry. She taught kids ages 4 and up to teens and adults.
“Hula,” Cox said, “is like synchronized swimming.”
A dance accompanied by chant and song, hula always tells a story. Feeling like a fish out of water, Cox needed to tell her story in order to move forward to the next chapter of her life.
In July, Cox started writing a little book, “Myra the Mermaid and her Jar of Hope.”
Having collected shells and other gems from her native land, Cox incorporated those into her story. She always loved mermaids, so metaphorically she used Myrna, her Hawaiian name being “Myrna Oe,” as the main character in her story.
“I needed to get her out of me,” Cox said.
The story line is about a mermaid who collects treasures for her jar of hope. The story reflects Cox’s own journey, from leaving Hawaii and venturing out to new turf and learning to have faith and trust in God.
Cox finished her book in November. The book was therapeutic and now Cox has taken things a few steps farther.
Having felt peace about leaving Hawaii on her last visit, she has truly found a home in Taylor.
“Home is where the heart is,” Cox said. “This to me means a place where family, friends and community members reach out to one another in times of need. A place where traditions continue and new cultures are accepted. A place where there are great attitudes, positive mentors and future focused educators that live and thrive to make home an even better place.”
Cox ventured out in her new area at the recent Snowflake-Taylor Chamber of Commerce Christmas Market with her books and her mermaid sculptures. There, with her little mermaid Christmas ornaments on a Christmas tree, she displayed her books and her mermaid sculptures.
The first day she looked around and saw the other displays and thought maybe she was in the wrong place. By the second day, she had attracted many onlookers and happily left with most of her merchandise gone and had made new friends.
Myrna the Mermaid, aka Deborah, had found acceptance in the White Mountain community, and she didn’t stop there. Asked by Community Counseling Centers to share her personal story of hope, goals and dreams at its annual Christmas luncheon, Cox followed it up with an interpretive hula dance.
“Shortly after, a tall elderly man with a worn out cowboy hat came up to me and said that he could tell that I danced from my heart and that he was touched and that words could not express what he felt,” Cox said.
“This meant more to me than anything in the world, because I know personally he was touched and that he unconditionally embraced my culture.”
Cox has her own blog where she offers others encouragement and hope. She also sells her book in Books N Treasures in Show Low.
Cox, now comfortable in her new surroundings, is “all in.” She begins teaching the dance of the Polynesian Islands and the language of Hawaii, at the Northland Pioneer College Silver Creek Campus in Snowflake in January. It is an eight week course, followed by a special performance.
“I also incorporate modern and interpretive dance to achieve a higher level of discipline for my students,” Cox explained.
“Aloha” means hello and goodbye. In the case of Deborah Cox and her move to Taylor, “aloha” is definitely “hello.”
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