Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hawaii 1981

Honolulu View of Diamond Head

Hawaii was a place that I had known in my imagination long before I arrived there. During WWII, both my father and my uncle were stationed in the Hawaiian Islands. While my father returned to Massachusetts after completing his service, his brother settled in Honolulu, married a lovely Filipina and raised a family there. Over the years we received pictures of my cousins playing on beaches framed by palm trees, gift packages of tropical food items and colorful flower arrangements of sweet-smelling plumeria and bird of paradise.

In the years before statehood, Hawaii seemed more like a distant foreign land than part of the United States. It wasn't often that we heard from the Hawaiian side of our family as phone calls were too expensive and letters would take a week or so to arrive. In those days before commercial jetliners and budget travel, the idea of visiting our Hawaiian relatives hardly seemed possible.

It was not until the spring of 1981 that, together with my wife and son, I finally got to Hawaii during a short leave taken while we were relocating from Indonesia to Cameroon. After so many years of seeing their photos and hearing about them, I was finally able to meet my aunt and my cousins. As my uncle had passed away some years before, my aunt had struggled to raise their three boys on her own. She soon remarried and the family now included a daughter. My cousin Mackie and his wife Annie picked us up at the airport and gave us a traditional Hawaiian welcome with garlands of fragrant leis. The few days we were able to spend with them were memorable. Mackie and Annie and their three children had a home in Wahiawa which was near where Mackie worked at Schofield Barracks. Like my father, Mackie was a carpenter. Also like my father, his building projects made his house a "work in progress." So I felt right at home.

Annie showed us around Oahu. Although we soon found it was possible to make a circuit of the island within a few hours, our trips around Oahu always took longer. Everywhere we went there was something new to see and experience—from looking over fields of ripening pineapples alongside the Kamehameha Highway, to enjoying shave ice with sweet azuki beans at a roadside stand in Haleiwa, to swimming in the cool, clear water at Waimea Bay, to standing on the Pali Overlook where we could lean against the wind while viewing the valley below and the ocean in the distance. While we did visit some tourist destinations, we found the daily pleasures of "talking story" and making family outings to local markets, parks and quiet beaches far from Waikiki much more enjoyable.

All too soon it was time to leave but we knew we would be returning again. In Hawaii, my wife and I found a multi-cultural lifestyle rich in Asian tradition where we felt at home. Within a couple years we became Hawaiian residents and before the decade was out we had bought our first home there.

Hanauma Bay

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