Dancing in Lahaina
The Christmas I was 13 years old, my father gave me a copy of James Mitcher’s book, Hawaii.
It was a big heavy grown-up book, more than 1000 pages long, filled with stories of the Polynesians, the Chinese, the Japanese, and the white missionaries that shaped the history of Hawaii.
I dove into it Christmas afternoon, and didn’t come up for air until several days later. My head was filled with those wonderful stories. I was determined to see Hawaii for myself.
Years later, my boyfriend’s Aunt Peggy was bemoaning the sorry state of our college education. Aunt Peggy came from the wealthy side of the family. She turned her nose up because Bob and I were living at home and taking the trolley every day to Boston State College.
“Too bad you couldn’t go to a good school like UMass,” she said, sniffing delicately.
Peggy knew perfectly well that no one could afford to send Bob or me to Amherst and we were lucky to be in college at all. She just liked to remind us that she had more money than we did. I never liked Aunt Peggy.
Bob took Peggy’s remarks as the insults they were intended to be.
“If I went away to school, I wouldn’t go to Amherst,” he said. “I’d go to... I’d go to the University of Hawaii.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Me too.”
Peggy laughed, but later that day Bob and I started writing away for catalogs. My head was already filled with stories from the book Hawaii, and Aunt Peggy had reminded me just how much I wanted to go there. A year later, Bob and I were in graduate school at the University of Hawaii.
But Honolulu wasn’t the “real” Hawaii. We wanted to see the other islands too. “Maui No Ka Oi,” the Hawaiians say. “Maui is the best,” so Bob, our friend John and I scraped together all the money we had and bought plane tickets to Maui for the weekend.
We had enough money to either rent a car or stay in a hotel. The car won out. The three of us slept in the car in a parking lot in Lahaina. Even now, it hurts my back to think of that long night in the bucket seat of that tiny little Datsun! When we uncurled our aching backs and staggered outside, Bob took my picture. I am backlit, sillouetted against the Maui sun, dancing in the street after the long night in the car.
That morning, we drove up to the top of Haleakala, a 10,000 foot dormant volcano. Haleakala means “house of the sun,” and when you drive up the mountain, you pass the horse farms and the jacaranda trees, heavy with purple flowers. You pass the timber line where the only vegetation is low scrubby plants, and drive through clouds until you break through the mist at the top where the sun is shining in an impossibly blue sky. The wind is blowing, it’s cold at that elevation, and above the clouds, you can see Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea over on the Big Island, 30 miles away. It’s breathtaking.
And the Haleakala crater! It’s 2,000 feet deep and big enough to hold the island of Manhattan. Rocks glow in shades of orange, red, purple and blue, and there are mountains inside the crater that are three times bigger than our own Great Blue Hill.
Bob and I spent a year in Hawaii, then returned to Massachusetts. We married, then divorced. I’ve been back to Hawaii twice in the past twelve years with my husband Ken and daughter Colleen. This month, Ken and I are going back to Maui to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. It will be the same and it will be different.
Now that I’m older, I won’t have to sleep in a rental car. We’ve booked a one bedroom condo with an ocean view. The house sitter is in place, the plants will be watered, it will be our first vacation alone together, empty nesters, free to come and go as we please with no kids in tow
I picture myself sitting on our lanai (balcony) with my morning coffee and fresh pineapple, watching the whales play in the channel between Maui and the island of Lanai. We’re going to snorkel, sit on the beach and we’re going drive up to the top of Halekala again.
Last week, a friend asked me why I’m so interested in telling stories. Doesn’t it keep you stuck in the past? she asked.
I told her I love stories because they’re fascinating, because remembering them brings people closer to their loved ones, because they give us a sense of continuity with those who came before us and those who will come after us.
But am I stuck in the past? No. This week, I’ve been living in the future, planning for our trip. The anticipation is electric. I have to keep reminding myself to breathe and stay grounded. For me, there’s a fine line between happy anticipation and frantic running around. Live today. Enjoy today. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.
We’re all a product of our pasts, of things we’ve dreamed and things we’ve done and those who came before us. We all live partially in the past and we all live in anticipation of the future too.
Hawaii was a dream from a book I read when I was 13, and a dare born from a youthful exchange with snotty Aunt Peggy. Now it’s the anticipation of a trip with my husband. Past and future intertwined, making the stories that are uniquely ours.
And when I come back, I’m going to have another whole bunch of stories to tell.