Hawaii (or you can go back)

I was gifted with the experience of living in Hawaii for three years.  I was 7 when we moved there and 10 when we left.  I did not then realize what I had been given.  I guess I thought everyone lived in paradise, but simultaneously I also knew I had lived somewhere special. 

We left on January 10, 1970.  It’s funny that I remember that date.  Our last act in Hawaii was to go to the bank and withdraw all our money.  While at the bank, my brother and I got on one another’s nerves.  I poked him.  He kicked me.  And tore a hole in the lace of my very “gourmet” dress.  I was incensed.  I was quite the fan of the Galloping Gourmet, a television cooking show hosted by Graham Kerr who was more often than not drunk.  Gourmet was the highest praise I could give anything. 

Hawaii was gourmet.

We arrived in San Francisco a week later via ocean liner.  The crossing had been rocky and my mother was inflicted with horrific sea sickness.  My brother and I had been left to our own devices for the most part and had the run of the ship.  I remember bits and pieces of that sailing, but the memories are not vivid like some of my memories of Hawaii. My mother describes disembarking in San Francisco as being like the Wizard of Oz in reverse.  We went from technicolor to black and white. 

I always vowed to go back, but not until I could do so with grace and style.  Hawaii is horrifically expensive if one isn’t lucky enough to live in military housing with access to the commissary – the military’s grocery store.

As I got older and older, I began to dream of taking my mother there for Mother’s Day. 

The year after my father died was the right time.  I raided my retirement account of a significant amount of money and planned two glorious weeks in Hawaii.  One week on Oahu in Honolulu and one week on Maui near Lahaina. 

Everyone told me that Honolulu would break my heart.  That it was nothing but concrete and homeless and panhandlers and filth.  Hence the week in Maui.  I was assured Maui would be the Hawaii I remembered.

Honolulu was wonderful.

We arrived around midnight. 

The airport was different.  When we had lived there before, we often went to the airport to say goodbye to someone or to greet someone.  I clocked some hours there.  It was open air with koi ponds and vegetation.  All of that gone in these days of heightened security. 

We collected our luggage and walked outside to catch the shuttle to the rental car lot.  I was greeted with that smell that is Hawaii.  It defies description.  And it was different.  Something was missing but it took me a while to figure out what. 

But Hawaii smells like soft, moist air, coconut suntan oil (and now sunscreen), and fertile soil.  It smells earthy and damp from all the vegetation.  What was missing was the flowers.  When we lived there, lei vendors filled the airport and surrounding grounds with hundreds of thousands of flowers – many of them plumeria also known as frangipani.  It’s the sweetest most glorious scent.  Gourmet.  I have a bottle of plumeria essential oil here that I open and sniff when I need to visit the island.

Evidently, leis are not as popular with tourists as they once were.  The overwhelming scent of flowers was not there.

We found our car, hooked up the GPS, and headed for our hotel through the almost quiet streets of early morning Honolulu.  We were staying at Hale Koa which is a hedonistic resort reserved for the military.  Because of my dad’s service and disability, we were allowed to stay there. 

The Hale Koa was magnificent.  Gourmet.  Everyone should stay at a hotel resort like that once in their life.  Acres and acres fronting some of the most valuable real estate on Waikiki.  The ocean was right there.  The lobby was open-air.  There were banyan trees and plumeria and hibiscus.  The hotel smelled like old Hawaii. 

I was instantly in love.  I never wanted to leave.  I knew that before I checked in.

We checked in to find that we had a glorious view of the ocean from our lanai.  You might call it a balcony.  In Hawaii, it’s a lanai – the outdoor living room. I clocked some early morning and late evening hours on that lanai. 

Though exhausted from nearly 24 hours in airports, we were keyed up and went to find the ocean.  I stood at the water’s edge of Waikiki and breathed it all in at o’dark thirty.  Honolulu was not breaking my heart. 

It was mending it.  I was still mourning my father.  And though he hated Hawaii because it reminded him of Vietnam, his presence there was strong.  I felt him at every turn. 

The next day we headed for Marine Corps Base Hawaii which had been Kaneohe Air Station when we lived there.  I was anxious to see our old house and my school.

The school was there and largely untouched after 47 years.  I couldn’t believe it.  The only thing that was different was the playground – it was fenced, and I don’t remember that being the case.

Our house was gone.  All of the old housing replaced with new.  I was so disappointed.  The neighborhood didn’t come close to what I remembered.

We didn’t even get out of the car but continued driving up the road that led to the beach.  The beach I spent hours on alone as a child exploring.

The beach was unchanged.  My 10-year-old memories surfaced, and I was exploring tide pools and looking for seed pods to make a necklace.  I found a piece of driftwood and in violation of about a thousand rules, regulations, and laws brought it home with me.  It sits here on my desk.

I sat on the lava rock and breathed in the fragrance of Hawaii oceanside.  Salt and heat and moisture and mold and fish and vegetation and and and.


That whole week on Oahu was gourmet.  It was worth every penny it cost. 

We were torn to leave for Maui – a place we’d never been.  Turns out, we were disappointed by Maui.  We should have spent the second week in Honolulu as well. Maui is gorgeous and lush, but it lacks that tropical urban vibe that is Honolulu and Waikiki.

But you can go back, and I did.  I hope to go again someday.

2 thoughts on “Hawaii (or you can go back)

  1. my son and daughter in law are making plans to take all three of us to Hawaii. I want to go back to Hickam and see my old school, house the tree I climbed and read all my books..find Keoke beach..sigh* my fear is it will be sooo different it will break my heart..but I’m going any how.

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