Seven hours, crammed in with T’s squiggling, wiggling 2 and 4 year old boys in a narrow, silver tube, flying across the 3000 miles stretch of treacherous open ocean with nowhere to go to escape. I thought I’d go mad.
Finally, Honolulu Airport. I was so ready to dash out the door and board the plane sitting nearby for the other flight — the one going back. But no, that would be a disaster.
It’s September 19, 1967. At the time, Honolulu Airport only had one small terminal. No busy crowds, no lines and lines of security checks, no expensive airport shops.
No passenger loading tubes — we had to climb, stiff-legged, down the outside stair and drag our exhausted bodies over to the smaller plane for Maui.
Hawaii had been a dream of mine since I was a young teen, after getting a beautiful yellow and gold muumuu from my Aunt Carol on vacation there. I was entranced with the thought that it was warm enough there to wear such a thing all year long, and looked Hawaii up in our enormous encyclopedia. Found out about balmy tropical air, scented with ginger, jasmine, gardenia and frangipani, read about the tropical fruits, mixed population, sublime, translucent turquoise and aqua waters of Waikiki…
Now at the Wailuku airport, we clamber down more stairs, kids on hips, carry-ons half-open with toys and t-shirts trailing along and flying astray in messy fragments. We stumble slowly over to the one 6′ long table sitting out under the sun, badly shaded by a flimsy palm leaf-covered roof. We collect our bags and walk off. No security, no checks on who got what bags.
The atmosphere hits me like a brick out of the blue — I stop in my tracks and smell the air. So sweet! It feels like Home. So fresh. The air has a yellow tone I’d never seen before anywhere else. Suddenly, I was in love with an island! Suddenly it didn’t matter that we were all thread-bare-frazzled, hungry and grumpy. This indeed was paradise!
T’s friend picks us up. We cram everything into his VW bug, and off we go to his house in LaHaina. My first reaction when we get inside is ooooh nooo, another flop house! But it’s OK, we have a room to ourselves.
Naps and snacks later, we’re sitting on the couch on the porch out front, dramatically relating our travel woes when suddenly a godzilla-size centipede falls off the underside of the porch roof right onto the very center of my lap. Had to have been 7 or 8 inches long. Its segments were so big I could see each armored plate, its legs sticking out like Roman soldiers’ spears. I was thankful I had had the unusual urge to wear a skirt — if I’d been wearing shorts it would have landed on bare skin. I froze, eyes bugged out to here, utterly helpless, not knowing what to do.
T reaches over, grasps the ugly thing by its middle, throws it out on the cement walkway and stomps the hell out of it. My belly falls through the floor in shock and surprise.
From then on, I had half my heart in my mouth with worry, always looking for other centipedes or Things That Bite, Shred, Maim or Kill. But I never did see any.
Eventually I relaxed and got used to the island charm.
I learned how to make rice in a rice cooker! I’d never seen one before. And discovered mango and papaya, soy sauce and saimin…
I found out you can eat sea urchin — a round, thorny critter lying on the ocean bottom. Wicked-looking stickers a good inch long. I was told that you can tell the edible ones by seeing if they had a small piece of seaweed, shell, or a small rock attached to the top of them. Like I’m going to pick one of those stabby things up! Not.
Since the host of the house was a diver, we were introduced to sea cucumber. Picture a giant slug, baked or pickled, sitting on your plate. After getting back from my abrupt spontaneous trip to the bathroom I just sat that one out. Pleagh. No thanks!
Turns out they are considered a staple in some places, a delicacy in others. That there are three edible types — prickly sea cucumber, bald sea cucumber, and white teat sea cucumber. Oh, thank you for letting me know! No thanks.
The Chinese guy staying there told us that he ate sea cucumbers all the time – raw, pickled, and fried – he loved them. (Picture me with my tongue hanging out, revolted.) They’re slippery and totally uninteresting tasting, so you usually cook them with various kinds of meat, and/or other, tastier kinds of seafood, and spices. He drowned them with liberal amounts of soy sauce and hot pepper sauces. Personally, I think if anything is that blah it doesn’t want to be eaten.
We stayed there a couple weeks, and finally headed for the hills. Literally — a friend told us we could stay at his hill property in Haiku, on the side of the volcano Haleakala.
We thought he meant there was a house or cabin there. We were so wrong. Nothing but scrub grass, scrub brush and scrub guava bushes. Not even a driveway.
We had very little money, but somehow got ourselves a big tent, some basic cookware, and a few other essentials. Including a 50-pound bag of rice. Which I had no clue how to cook, without electricity or rice cooker. T showed me how, over the little cook fire, so I just ‘let’ him do it from then on…so generous of me. We ate so many guava that if I never see another one, it will be centuries too soon.
There was a fabulous little waterfall on a stream a few minutes from our tent. Just big enough T and I could stand under it and be curtained by the falls. The kids and I played there every day.
You probably wonder why I haven’t mentioned the little darlings much. I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t much fun in that area — I hated babysitting as a teen, so having a brother 6 years younger was my only experience with little kids. I knew not a thing about toddlers. T had to take the reins on that one.
They were miserable. T hitch-hiked into Wailuku every day to try to find work, so it was just them and me. Their mom had wanted a vacation from them, so she was OK with T’s request to take them with us. But they hated being away from her. Well duh, they were two and four — they need their mom, right? What did I know. T shoulda known. They hated the tent, hated sleeping on the ground, hated the mosquitos, hated the cold water stream, and probably me, because I was about as miserable as they were.
After a month of no jobs, dwindling money and too much rice, T called his dad, who flew over to pick them up. Thank goodness — it was awful seeing them so stressed and in tears most of the time. And hungry!
After a while, rice for brekky, rice for lunch, guava any time, and more rice for din — rice rice rice — it gets old. We never should have brought them with us. I think T had this idyllic vision of his blond little boys and himself, building sand castles and frolicking in the surf. But we were an hour from the beach, with no car! I think we got to the beach once while they were there.
Now child-free, T and I packed up the tent and moved back to the LaHaina house, where we started looking for a house of our own. I got so angry about not having enough food. I walked around to every store on the strip asking for a job. I found one as a go-fer at a small gallery. They had me paint one of the interior walls a blah grey, and do odd jobs. At last we could eat something besides rice!
One night T and I had a horrid argument, and I stormed out of the house, slam-banging the door and all. I was still so young and stupid and completely self-centered that I had this idiotic romantic idea that he’d come look for me and bring me home all apologetic and happy to rescue me. So I planted myself at what I figured was the most obvious spot to be — down at the beach.
But Angela, you’re probably thinking, there are miles and miles of beach on Maui — how would he know which one to go to? Right. So his angelic being, my knight in surf trunks and t-shirt, never appeared to save me from myself. It never entered my head to walk back home.
Eventually I found a bit of a dune, covered myself with sand, and fell into a muzzy doze. The sand crabs were merciless — I couldn’t fall into a deep sleep or they’d gnaw my face off. So I dozed, woke, swatted away crabs the size of bread boxes, and dozed again.
The sand was wet. Permeated my t-shirt and shorts through and through. Why I didn’t end up with a rip-roaring case of what we used to call pee-noo-moan-yah, I have no idea.
As the sun appeared over the hill, I dug my gritty self out, trudged back to the house, unable to even remember why we’d been arguing, shivering cold and soaked to the bone.
T was furious. Upon seeing me come in, he stomped away in as much fury as I had stomped out with. So much for my romantic idea that he’d rush to me with open arms, exclaiming where have you been, I was so worried about you!
Eventually, I learned he’d thought I’d gone out with another guy! Snort! As if! It was the first red flag in our relationship that warned me that One Day We Will Part, but I was too thick to see it.
When I told him what had happened, he just laughed, shrugged, and left to go surfing with the guys.
This was new emotional territory! No coddling Angela’s fantasies about Being Special, or her ideas about How Relationships Should Be!
We found a house down on the beach in Paukukalo, a little Portuguese community on the other side of the island, near Wailuku. To describe it as a ‘fixer-upper’ would be more than kind, but we did. We scraped the walls and painted them in bright colors, brought in thrift store bed, couch, tables and chairs. Put our tent and camp stuff away — good riddance.
Then we noticed how things went thump in the night, for no obvious reason.
image: TROPICAL DELIGHTS