That summer changed my life…literally. Living with this family gave me the opportunity to learn the REAL Hawaii. I learned to sing Hawaiian songs, learned to surf in the waves across the street. I learned to play the ukulele. Because horses were part of the family, I was able to accompany the eldest son on his tour guide treks to Waimea Falls. I attended rodeos, gained an appreciation for pidgin language, kiho’alu guitar and hula. When I think back to 50 years ago I realize how blessed I was. If I had been 18 and stayed in a hotel for a week or two in Waikiki, I would’ve loved the adventure, but I would have seen Hawai’i through the eyes of a tourist instead of a family member. I might have gone back home and never given Hawai’i another thought other than seeing the photo memories of a fun vacation. But, instead, I went back home and announced that I was leaving for Hawai’i as soon as I turned 18.
As providence would have it, pieces fell together to enable me to do just that. After a near death illness, my father retired and after hearing me talk about the islands for several months decided to sell our home, buy a sailboat and sail to Hawai’i. And, that in itself is another story.
Until that day I had never stepped foot on airport ground. Needless to say I had never been on an airplane. In those days there was no TSA, no taking off the shoes, no rifling through your belongings. It was a peaceful time. We were no longer practicing for an A-Bomb by diving under our school desks. Therefore there was also no separation of family at the front entrance. My family was allowed to go all the way to the gate to see me walk across the tarmac and board the long, steep steps to the plane’s opening. I was so excited to get aboard, I barely glanced back at my Mom, Dad and sister who were waving goodbye.
Then plane ride seemed to take forever! Seven hours of a steady hum from the four propellers put most of the passengers to sleep. I was far too anxious to sleep. And, everything was so new and so exhilarating. I even went so far as to get excited about the ice cold silverware that accompanied my meal.
Landing in Honolulu and deplaning was a feeling I am, still to this day, unable to explain. It was like waking up from one’s dream and finding the the dream had taken on a reality of its own. The sun was bright. The fragrance of the plumeria trees surrounding the airport, the incredible green of the mountains and the feel of the breezes on my face made all my senses come alive. But, the one thing that I was not expecting was the feeling that I was returning home. So, there I was, standing on my summer island in my straight skirt, Peter Pan-collared blouse and cardigan sweater looking certainly like a stranger in a strange land among all the people in colorful Hawaiian mu’umu’u and aloha shirts. I was easy to spot.
My new family was there waiting…mother, a very handsome 15 yr. old son and five younger boys. The father and a daughter waited at home. We crammed into the car with the smaller boys sitting on laps (no seatbelt rules then). Since the family lived on the other side of the island, a trip to Honolulu was considered to be a major outing. And, since this was not done often, the entire day was spent between going to points of interest for me and places of necessity for the family. We went to Hilo Hatties Hawaiian garment factory/store where I got to see where all that colorful attire was made and where Lani picked up huge bags of fabric scraps that would eventually be pieced together and sewn into skirts, jackets, shirts, shorts and quilts. We went through pineapple fields where we stopped for chunks of ice cold pineapple, through sugar cane fields, to statues and palaces, the day old bread store for what seemed like at least 10 loaves of bread and other assorted bakery goods. We drove up to the Pali where the winds blow upwards of 100 MPH and over the mountains to the windward side. The drive up and over the mountains was so different than going through the brown hills of San Diego county. So many colors of green that I felt as if my eyes were deceiving me. We drove past pristine beaches filled with sunbathers, surfers and boaters, past waterfalls, farms and orchards. Near the small town of Hau’ula we finally ended our trek.