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COMING HOME TO A PLACE I'D NEVER BEEN BEFORE
20 August 2006
I've heard the names for years Cubby Steinwasher, Bosco Wongham, Bum-Bum, Doodle Bug, the Panfilios, Mona, The Cowboy, Butchie Diekman and little Dougie MacArthur (the other one).
I knew about throwing rocks off the roof of the supermarket at cars, while waiting for newspapers to be delivered, ready to be folded and delivered, in the pre-dawn hours.
I knew about Kailua and Lanikai and Aina Hina and Hind Drive and "The Sykes whistle," and all sorts of things, even if I had never been there before.
Walt's family is famous for sitting around and telling stories about their experiences in Hawaii like they haven't thought about them in years. But they actually tell the same stories almost every time they get together. Maybe not so much now that Walt's mother is more feeble. I'm not sure about that.
But I've heard the stories so often I know them. I know the punch lines. I know the people involved. Occasionally they will "forget" a detail and I'm usually able to supply the forgotten incident, or the name of the person who was involved. It's like I grew up in the same family.
Heck, by now I suspect my kids could fill in the blanks, if necessary.
Walt had, by all accounts, an idyllic childhood. Who wouldn't like to grow up in Hawaii in the post-war decade?
His family moved to Oahu when he was 7 and he lived there until he was 15, when they returned to the mainland and where he finished high school in Berkeley.
But the stories painted are straight out of Leave it to Beaver the soapbox derby races down "the steep hill," getting lectured by the police for throwing rocks at cars from the supermarket roof, the Little League games.
Classic suburban America, with palm trees.
In 1992, our friend Mike was living on Oahu, working for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), keeping the world safe from tsunamis. Marta's mother and stepfather had built a house on The Big Island, and Marta and Ned were about to be married.
The time seemed right to go to Hawaii. I was there once in 1960, when Waikiki was still an island paradise and not an expensive strip mall with sand.
We stayed with Mike for the first part of the trip and did some sightseeing around the island, alone and with Mike & Char. The second part of the trip, we flew over to The Big Island of Hawaii and spent a few days with Marta's parents.
I had forgotten how much fun that trip was until I came across the videotape the other day and transferred it to DVD. I've made several short videos, which I will post over the coming (days? weeks?).
One of my big plans for the trip was to see all those places I'd heard about for so long and to film them so the kids could see where their father grew up.
It really was fun driving around and finally being able to put all those stories in context, to see the house where they grew up (now behind a big stone wall), though we didn't exactly act like "tourists" when we were there! (Who goes to Hawaii to check out the Little League field?)
We spent a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center with Char, her daughter and granddaughter (then a toddler, now a teenager), which was fun a different sort of theme park, to be sure.
When we flew to The Big Island, I have to admit I was surprised. You think of Hawaii (the collection of islands) as being tropical, forgetting that they were formed by volcanic eruptions. The ride from the airport to the soon-to-be-in-laws' house was a real shock at how desolate the area was. There was more vegetation in Nevada than I found here! There are areas of The Big Island where it is lush, but where we were it was not. However, you began to get a sense of a different kind of beauty in the black sand beaches, the stretches of hardened lava on which they have built homes (I'd like to see it now--this was, after all 14 years ago). Visiting the volcano national park was interesting...again, different, watching plumes of steam rising out of the rock everywhere making you understand how fragile this earth is and how quickly it could all erupt.
But the best experience was whale watching. Not out in a boat. Marta's mother and stepfather took us to South Point, the southernmost point in the United States, and didn't tell us that we might see whales.
The wind was blowing a gale and so it was difficult to film, but there was a pod of whales cavorting, especially one mother and baby. We watched them for awhile. Fins slapping the water, bodies leaping out...all the things that you dream of seeing.
I have a habit of watching life around me through the lens of a camera, but I decided that I was NOT going to miss the opportunity to watch the whales "live," as it were. But I also wanted to have a record of the event, so I took film holding the camera off to the side while I watched. That combined with the high wind gives an even more shaky look to the film, but I'm so glad that I have it. I've been whale watching three times and this was by far the best, as far as actual whale sightings.
I don't know when/if we will return to Hawaii.
It's not really my kind of place. I'm not a beach person and though I've
enjoyed a lot of what I've seen, I don't know that I need to see more of it. But I
sure did enjoy my initial trip in 1960 and my two subsequent trips, in 1992 and 1997.
PHOTO OF THE DAY