Alda St. James Biography
My maiden name is Alda Marian Longo, and I am 98% Italian. My father, Savino, arrived at Ellis Island in 1919, a 16 year old who knew no English. He struggled at first but he found his way, eventually becoming an avid rare book and art collector. As a craftsman, artist, and poet, I feel very connected with my dad, since he bequeathed to me a rich appreciation for the arts. And it was he who chose my Italian name, Alda, which means “richly blessed.”
After receiving a Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University, I began my own business as a master goldsmith. Soon after, my husband Jim, joined me in the business, earning his GIA, certified Gemologist degree. For many years, we owned and operated successful retail jewelry stores in California and Colorado. Some time later, we adopted a malnourished, 2 year old girl from Mexico. When we ran into trouble raising our adopted daughter, I decided to return to college to earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Education. This decision sent me on a whole new career path.
My first, post-graduate position was as an elementary school counselor on Molokai, an island in Maui County, Hawaii. Since Jim liked to surf, this radical decision was a no brainer for both of us. Although entering an entirely foreign culture, we adapted well and the Hawaiian community embraced us. It was not long before children from school started coming to our home for snacks and fun activities. That’s when we decided to get involved in foster care.
As foster parents, we worked directly with abused and neglected children, and we quickly learned the painful reality of what happens to these children who are often caught in the system. Despite the challenges, we decided to adopt two boys. Make no mistake, there were some very rough years ahead raising our three adopted children, and that is clearly reflected in the poems I wrote at the time. Nevertheless, this work became our new passion, eventually landing us a full-time, shared position to recruit, train, and license foster parents for Maui County. In 1995, we were selected Hawaii’s “Family of the Year.” In Honolulu, a gala event was held in our honor. Our family got to ride in a limousine and do a TV interview. We all sang, “We are Family” on stage.
Our experience as foster and adoptive parents, and as foster parent trainers, eventually led us to start, in 2005, a non-profit on Maui called Keiki Kokua. In Hawaiian this translates as, “Help the Children.” At Keiki Kokua, we operated a Thrift Store which employed foster and former foster youth. We put on special events designed to give foster and adopted children happy memories. Keiki Kokua’s mission was to do something to mitigate the negative effects of these children’s past, to help heal the painful memories which are lodged so deeply in their hearts. This was gratifying work, and we loved doing it! It is worth noting that Jim and I were true soul mates. We were born on the same day and year, 12 hours apart. And we did everything together. So you can imagine the shock we felt when in 2017, we learned that Jim had prostate cancer, a most aggressive kind, the same kind that had killed his father. We spent the rest of our time together doing everything we could to arrest the disease, from laser ablation and immunotherapy, to radiation and chemotherapy. We implemented a strict Keto diet and I began juicing vegetables.
We also prayed continuously for Jim’s healing and we asked many others to do the same. We had started a healing ministry at our church which began, coincidently, just before we received the cancer diagnosis, and so we doubled down, continuing to meet weekly and committing ourselves to prayer with a small, dedicated group. Ultimately, COVID-19 put an end to that. Gradually, I found myself becoming a full-time caregiver. I embraced this new role with joy; it was a privilege to serve Jim, who was indeed, my other half (he always said I was his better half). Despite everything we did, the disease progressed unabated. Jim’s last week on earth was spent at the Hale at Hospice Maui. Hale is simply the Hawaiian word for house. The care he received there was exceptional. The staff treated us like Ohana, a word often used here to honor caring people who, although not part of your own family, treat you as kindly as if they were. The season of Lent had ended and it was the beginning of Holy Week when Jim entered Hospice. After 47 years in a loving marriage, he died peacefully in his sleep in the early morning hours of Holy Saturday, April 11, 2020. I believe Jim spent Easter Sunday rejoicing in heaven!
At about the same time, COVID-19 had arrived in earnest in Hawaii. Hospice closed its doors to all visitors immediately. This meant that the following Monday, I would not have been able to visit Jim any longer. How blessed we were to be able to be together to the very end!
Today I am making a new life for myself. It hasn’t been easy. After Jim’s passing, I suddenly had more free time than ever before, and I pondered what to do with it. Because of the pandemic, volunteering was off limits.
For a while, I floundered, doing busy work just to keep myself shielded from the pain. Still, when the invitation came to publish my poetry, it caught me by surprise since my poems had always been a private thing, something I did just for myself, my family, and a few friends. Then something extraordinary happened: after I decided to publish, I immediately began writing again, almost non-stop! It soon became obvious that this was to be my new calling. And now, a book of poetry is almost complete and on its way to publication!
The collection is called, LISTEN TO LOVE: Reflective Poems For All Seasons. In it, I describe life’s journey poetically. Although we travel many different paths, I believe there is a common thread that weaves its way throughout our lives. In LISTEN TO LOVE, I capture this thread by illuminating the breath and scope of the human condition. For as surely as the Seasons change, we may all experience times of emotional extremes, from profound distress to unbridled happiness. Using vivid poetic imagery, I depict a season of heart-break, of suffering, of loneliness and rejection. But in jubilant poetic verse, I also describe a season of joy which proclaims the ultimate, triumphant victory of love!
My poems never fail to deliver a message, as each one navigates a tiny section of the immense, eternal mysteries of pain and sorrow, of beauty and unexpected grace, of abiding faith and final transcendence. I offer these poems as a source of healing. No matter what sorrow or pain has occurred in your life, there can always be a new springtime of comfort and hope.
With this book, I want to celebrate my renewed passion as an artist. I have created simple illustrations for many of the poetry chapters, and for the first time ever, I am making my debut as a crafter of words. My wish is that you will find meaning, purpose, and peace within the pages of LISTEN TO LOVE. May this book instill compassion and a sense of belonging, remembering that we participate in the turning of the Seasons altogether, as one human family.