Christmas in Pahoa

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Today we witnessed the annual Pahoa Christmas parade.

We were amazed by the number of cars our sleepy village had attracted. I had assumed we could park at the catholic church, but the lot was overflowing. We managed to slip Six into a small slot behind the high school.

We found a good spot to park ourselves toward the end of the parade route. In leisurely Pahoa time, the mayor passed by, then the VFW marching band. Close on their sweaty heels came the Puna Rebels football team in purple jerseys and flip-flops. There was one float, a flatbed decked out in palm fronds and exotic flowers, not the familiar tissue paper blossoms of my youth. (I know how to make those!) Next came the Puna Ukulele association, a group of somewhat grizzled men and women strumming and singing That’s Amore, what I thought was Me and Bobby McGee but turned out to be Bill Bailey, and Mustang Sally. Oddly, none of it felt odd which was odd in itself. Next were girl scouts dressed as boxes of cookies (Thin Mints! Tagalongs!) and looking sweet enough to eat. Then the Horse Owner’s Association, their mounts festooned with tinsel and jingle bells. Toward the end was a power shovel adorned with glittering Christmas finery, its shovel filled with brightly wrapped gifts. It slowly lumbered its way down Pahoa Village Road, seeming to grin as it enjoyed its reprieve from shoving volcanic rocks around.

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But the spice in the curry is the people of Puna. They come in all sizes, shapes and colors, a variety of delights like the cheese and salami selection at a large Italian market. There are hippies, both wrinkled, gray-haired Woodstock survivors and neo wannabes, so young and bright, vegan crystal worshipers unaware that fringe and dreadlocks were once innovations. There are seniors, one-time owners of a Nebraska car wash, missing their kids now grown and flown, the lady in sparkly purple tennies muttering to her dog, the slim lady who JUST CAN’T STOP dancing the macarena. And there are kids, lots of kids, running and playing and chasing their butterfly dreams flitting among the hibiscus flowers.

I stood at the side of the road watching that rainbow of life pass by and felt it reach out and wrap my belly in a sticky web of memories and gratitude so thick I could barely breathe. I felt the charm of the village community event despite the challenges it had faced, the enormity of the changes in our lives since we left Japan almost four months ago, the fact that I was alive and well and breathing freely, supported by the strength of my own two legs. Safely hidden behind my floppy hat and sunglasses, I wept, and as I did, a little boy ran up to me and handed me a flower. At least I think it’s a flower. It could be a garage door opener for all I know, which makes it that much more charming. I laughed at my middle-aged self discovering life like a small child: a crack in the lava, the scent of an unknown flower, the pointed tongue of a neon green lizard watching me do yoga. It’s all new, all exciting, all needing to be investigated. I delighted in my own innocence.

parade flower

The parade petered out, so we wandered toward the community center and watched our taiko drum group perform a few songs. They even did Hiryu, the same song our beginners’ class is going to perform at our recital on December 14. (If you’re going to be in the Kea’au area, do drop by Hongwanji around 6:00. We’ll really try to get some of the strokes right. And there’s a potluck after!)

By the time we’d absorbed the spectacle of the parade and its people and the pepper-pop throbbing of the drums, we were ravenous. We dragged ourselves to the Black Rock Cafe where I devoured a club sandwich and fries, still exotic foods in my Tokyo tainted mind. And then we came home, exhausted but replete, where all of us dropped into an afternoon nap as sweet as the pink pads on the bottoms of Monkey Boy’s feet.

monkey nap

There are twenty-four more days of holiday cheer ahead of us. I’d best gird my loins.

Jiggle Emancipation

I was on the deck the other morning and Nutball was skulking under the eaves of his house, pointing a smartphone at me and narrating how he would post the video of the horrible woman next door on Facebook.

Just how many people does he think will watch a chubby, middle aged, single breasted woman do yoga?

If he wasn’t so sad, he’d be comical.

I have come to think he is the price I have to pay for all the wonderful in my life. That price might seem steep but it isn’t. Near and far, I have my family and friends, people who genuinely care about me and I feel the same about them. I have my health and what looks like a pretty good care network to look after it. I have the house and every lovely thing in it, the garden, the car, the cats, a fridge full of food and wine in my glass.

But even more than all that, today I got…a bed.

Oh, what a bed.

I am grateful for the beds that came with the house, but they are jiggly and they had jiggled me out of sleep every night for the past four months. We spent 30 years sleeping on a futon on the floor. Unless there was an earthquake, no jiggles. I realized I could no longer bear the jiggles. But for once, along the bumpy, rutted road of the past two years, here was something I could fix.

Girding our loins and clutching a credit card, we approached the bed store. “Firm,” we said. “Extra firm. Solid. Absolutely anti-jiggle. Sleeping on rocks.”

We bought a bed. It arrived a virgin, swathed in plastic, untouched by nightie nor pajama, longing for human contact, eager to embrace our weary bodies, unable to suck us into the depths of saggy back-aching foam and jar us awake with endless jiggles.

At bedtime tonight, we will have a jiggle exorcism ceremony and then sleep the sleep of the just.

I don’t know if we deserved all that we went through last year. I don’t know if we deserve all we have now, this beautiful life in this beautiful place. But I’m pretty sure we deserve a decent night’s sleep.

All men, women and children deserve to be jiggle-free. So here is my blessing to one and all: May your belly be full and your bed unjiggly. Happy Thanksgiving.

new bed

I got a wace caw!

race car

A few years ago, I was riding a train somewhere in Tokyo. It must have been pretty late because the train was nearly empty. I looked down at the seat next to me and saw a tiny blue race car, probably dropped by the sleepy fingers of a child who’d been carrying it around all day. At that very moment, somewhere in the vastness of Tokyo, that child’s sad face and quivering lip might have been breaking his mother’s heart as he begged her to go back and look for the tiny car. That thought tugging at my heartstrings, I picked up the tiny car and tucked it into my pocket, vowing to keep it safe and love it well.

Now I have my very own tiny car, L’il Six, a 2015 Honda Fit and just plum peachy perfect for my needs. Six and I were making our way home the other day, trying to merge into rush hour traffic. The people in the next car did not want to let us in. To make that clear, the young woman in the passenger seat turned to me, smirked, and gave me the finger.

Voices of Mary Poppins, Aunt Bea and other prim ladies tut-tutted in my head, asking where such unpleasant behavior could have come from.

My word. Good gracious. Heavens to Betsy.

The day before that, someone keyed our car in the parking lot at Foodland. I think it was the pouty-faced boy sitting in the back seat of the van parked next to Six, but can’t prove it. I don’t even want to. The damage is done. Maybe someday that awful child will realize what a dickhead he was and try to do better. Or he’ll end up in prison. I don’t care which.

I’ve never had any illusions about living in paradise. Along with breathtaking sunsets, mesmerizing surf and exotic flowers and birds, there are also bugs and slugs in the garden, endless rain, mushrooms growing on the deck and lava dust in the dryer. All of that is as it should be. But I was not expecting such spiteful, petty nastiness, such surly arrogance, especially among the young. And more than that: the belief that a moment of vengeance makes any difference. And even more: the ignorance of just how much damage their selfish actions do to other people’s lives.

But the pendulum also swings the other way. Among many others, there was the lovely lady at the ATM who gave me change for the copy machine and refused to take my dollar, the warm smile of the man who blessed my sneeze at Home Depot, the support and encouragement of the younger members of taiko class.

Icing on the cake, this story belongs in the Halloween Hall of Fame:

Little bitty trick-or-treater with a sad face and quivering lip: “Is that chocolate?”
Rick: “Yes, it is. Would you like something else?”
Beleaguered Trick-or-Treater’s mom : “Just take it and say ‘thank you,’ buddy.”
LBToT: “But, Mom, I don’t… [insert huge shuddering sobby sigh]… like chocolate.”
Rick, understanding this is a Big Deal, shows him the whole bowl: “See if there’s something else you want.”
LBToT: “Is that a wace caw?”
Rick: “A race car? Yeah, you can have it.”
LBToT: “THANK YOU!”
LBToT Mom: “Thank you!”
LBToT, echoing down the sidewalk: “Mom, I got a wace caw. I got a wace caw!”

Sir Isaac Newton said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I suppose that works for physics, but for humanity there is an additional factor. Perhaps Finger Girl and Sourpuss Boy got a moment of spiteful bliss from their horrid behavior, but I will get years of pleasure from the ATM Lady, Home Depot Guy, the Drum Kids and IBToT. The good is worth more. The good is a wace caw.

Time

suitcase

On July 12 circa 1930, G. C. Lovejoy climbed the gangway to board the SS Hm Banker of the American Merchant lines. G. C. was traveling from London to New York. I don’t know if G. C. carried the suitcase or paid a porter to do it. I don’t know if G. C. stayed in first class or steerage. I don’t know if G. C. dined well or was seasick the whole way. I don’t know if G. C. looked forward to the voyage or regretted it bitterly. I don’t know if G. C. was tall or short, happy or sad, a man or a woman.

So many years later, G. C.’s suitcase found itself in my dad’s possession and in November of 2010, became the protector and resting place of two antique clocks, lovingly laid in a nest of wadded newspapers. There they slept, until G.C.’s suitcase arrived here in Hawaii two days ago. It was minus its handle but otherwise intact, its brass latches still functioning, its seersucker lining unassuming, smelling of years gone past, hopes and dreams packed and unpacked and packed again.

The newspapers mostly carried crossword puzzles and obituaries, or maybe that’s just what caught my eye. In tribute to G. C., I ironed the crosswords back to life. The obituaries were more of a lost cause.

clocks and Markio

And now the clocks sit on our Japanese cherry wood tea cupboard, only a quarter century old and made by prison inmates rather than traditional artisans, but lovely all the same.

The clocks flank Markio, a Heian Period kimekomi doll. (What’s a kimekomi doll?) Mariko has a serene expression, as if lulled by the ticking, pleased for the company, unfazed by the hourly bong-bong-bong, as confident in her own beauty as the clocks in their control of time.

Above all this is a tapestry from a temple in Kyoto and to the left, another I found in a junk shop. Inside the cupboard are a painted case from Turkey, a carved Anubis and coffee mugs from Egypt, a Buddha-shaped incense burner, Meditation Cat and a couple of pink unicorns.

I put the clocks on top of the cupboard to keep them safe from the cats, thinking the placement was temporary. But the longer they sit there, the more they belong, their almost Gothic look somehow bringing everything together, bringing out the best of the whole rather than the oddity of the details.

Those clocks were a part of my childhood, their ticking perfectly in harmony with the creaks and pops of the old farmhouse we lived in. The slight smell the clocks give off is the smell of time, no less incongruous with the smells of Hawaii than I am.

The clocks need to be wound. That is the price we pay for the illusion of controlling time. But time is the one immutable constant, the one thing that can neither be given nor taken away. It can only be lived. All of us, our loves and hates, our joys and sorrows and disappointments, are only pieces of time, moments to be savored or forgotten, and only to be lived once. They are no more than what we make of them.

suitcase label

 

China

I have started a collection of mismatched china plates. The first member of this soon-to-be budding coterie was discovered at the Goodwill store in Hilo lying under a thin layer of dust behind a broken toaster and a one-eyed Raggedy Ann.

china plate

Isn’t she lovely? Her refined elegance is marred by a small chip on her back but her spirit still shines through and she has not once spilled my baked beans onto the floor.

In the beauty of a chipped china plate, I see the beauty of life. I have learned that we are the reflection of what we have done with our lives. Most of us are tarnished, chipped, maybe a bit blurry. Along the road to arriving here, we have earned our wrinkles, gray hair, scars, aches and confusions. Rather than seeing these things as the ravages of time, I like to think of them as proof that I have lived, proof that I have not sat in a tower behind a locked door, watching the soldiers march past. I have more than once taken that frightening first step into the unknown and experienced again and again the joy of discovery, the universality of the human heart, and the magnificent release of laughter.

I love the feel of a nice china plate, but hate the idea of having a full set of matching china. If one plate gets broken, the set is diminished. On the other hand, if none of the plates match and one gets broken, nobody but the broken plate will be any the wiser and none will be diminished by the loss. The mismatched horde remains strong, not trying to be anything more than what it is, and every member is valued for its intrinsic uniqueness.

To celebrate what is either the ultimate in wisdom or a foolish naivety–honestly I don’t care which it is–I am gratefully accepting donations to the collection. With luck, I will have enough mismatched plates to host a dinner party by the time our hedge has grown enough to give us some privacy.

So if you want to be rid of your mismatched bits, please feel free to send them on. And if you could be so kind as to send them by UPS, I would be eternally grateful.

hibiscus

 

Profanity in Paradise

flamingo

We have a lovely wooden deck behind our house, one of the reasons I wanted it in the first place. I imagined myself doing yoga, swathed in intoxicating smells and sights and sounds, feeling my nerves gently calmed by the hum of nature’s breath.

But I quickly discovered that most of the time, it’s either too hot or too wet to do yoga there, and although we don’t have many mosquitoes, the flies quickly chase away any notion of Zen budding in the yogi’s heart. But early in the morning, if I get the timing just right, I can roll out my mat in the last of the dew and feel the sun’s first rays kiss my face as they peek through the trees behind our garden.

I was having one of those wondrous days, feeling the Zen, my blood and breath moving as one. Then I heard someone shouting. I ignored it at first but slowly realized the person was shouting at me. I was in down dog with one leg in the air. I looked under my arm and saw that the shouter was Fukwitz Jr. from next door, a man I would guess is in his mid-forties. I’m no Victorian shrinking violet, but the words flying from his mouth were pure obscenity, the sort of oral flatulence that would make a sailor blush. F-bombs were falling willy-nilly, partnered with other words I sometimes use myself, but one in particular that I NEVER say.

Apparently, I was horrible to Junior’s mother, Mrs. Fukwitz, which is weird because I’ve only spoken to her once. She was rude, I was sulky, answering her criticism in monosyllables. There was nothing more to it. Somehow in Junior’s twisted mind, this got blown up like a Mr. Potato Head balloon at a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

After raging at my utter disrespect for the (F-bomb!) elderly, Junior said he’d spoken to ALL the (F-bomb!) neighbors and they all (F-bomb!) hate me, which is odd. The only other neighbor we’ve met is a man with a smoothie truck who warned us that Junior has a horrible reputation all along our street. Aside from that, anyone who hates me without meeting me is as stupid as Junior and I don’t give an F-bomb what they think.

The tirade went on and on. I was stunned, seeing images of the Tasmanian Devil drooling with impotent rage as Bugs Bunny dances around him, Wile E. Coyote blowing his own head off as cannons backfire in his face. (Meep-meep!) Words went through my head: Bully! Coward! Mama’s boy!

But I kept my peace, picked up my mat and met Rochi at the door just as Junior shouted that he was going to kick my ass, which nearly gave us both the giggles. Even in my current physical state, I would flatten him with one right hook and joy in my heart. The poor dear really doesn’t know me.

It gives me comfort to know that Junior is nothing but a playground bully with bubbles of spit at the corners of his mouth, a dead frog in his pocket and lice in his hair. But the anger, the need to vent it on a stranger, is beyond my comprehension. I’ve met bullies but had never come face to face with a genuine sociopath before. Part of me was mortified. What had happened to this person to fill him with such anger, such a driving need to hurt other people?

I’m not naïve enough to believe in paradise, but was feeling comfortable, welcomed, starting to feel like we are home. But that experience poked a hole in my soul. I could handle the foul language. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but I had never had such fiery venom directed at me. The generous part of me knows Junior is sick, possibly not responsible for what he does, maybe not even aware of it. The less generous part of me hopes he falls into a crack in the lava and burns for all eternity while flea infested slugs nibble on his danglers.

Again and again, kind and well-meaning people have said that we deserve to be here, to live this life, after all we went through last year. I have wondered how much ‘deserving’ has to do with it. At the same time, though, did I deserve to be shouted at like that? What could Junior possibly hope to gain? Did he expect me to panic, to crumble into a weeping puddle of despair? Did he hope I would fight back, get into a profanity pissing match?

What he did accomplish is to put a veneer of tarnish on paradise, which is probably what he wanted. It makes me profoundly sad to think that gives him satisfaction. But more than sad, I’m angry. He’s made me afraid of my own home and that breaks my heart.

I’ve run the “what if it happens again” scenario in my head a thousand times. What to do? Call the police? Turn the hose on him? Tattle to his mommy? Make the sign of the cross and pray for him? Do a little jig and pretend I’m a nutbag, too?

None of the above, I think. I plan to keep ignoring him, the whole Fukwitz clan, and wait for him to get bored or the hedge Rochi planted to grow tall and thick. There’s the silver lining. Things grow tall and thick in paradise, whether you want them to or not.

baby hedge

Auntie Eda

At Kamehameha High School the other day, I was helping a very nice young man with his costume for the upcoming production of Hairspray. He asked me, “May I call you Auntie Eda?” I wrinkled my nose and asked him back, “Must you?”

When I first met my sister-in-law, I found that she had instructed her two daughters to call me Auntie Eda. “Heavens no,” said I, sounding a great deal like an Auntie. “Aunt Eda if you must, but just Eda will do nicely.” I was still in my 20’s after all, not at all ready to wrap myself in a shawl and settle into a rocking chair.

Along those lines, I was once at Sears with my mother. I was about 16 but looked younger. Ma was shopping for a fridge. I knew she wouldn’t buy one with an ice maker, so I wandered off to see what the washing machines were up to. A sales clerk approached. “May I help you, ma’am?”

MA’AM???? My head filled with visions of myself barefoot and pregnant, dropping out of high school, moving into a double wide with black velvet paintings and Barbie dolls in ball gowns used as toilet paper covers. I backed away from the man slowly, hoping he hadn’t really noticed me.

So the nice young man’s question brought back haunting memories, but he went on to explain that Auntie is a term of endearment and respect. I felt my heart do that Grinch thing as years of training, assumption and bias melted away. I suddenly completely sure that it is OK to be who I am, or even better than OK. It is exactly, perfectly just how it should be, right now, right here.

Grinch

I don’t know if happy is the right word for how I feel. I think it’s more like vastly content, or a vast deal more than content, to misquote Jane Austen. You can always want something more, something different, something bigger or smaller or cheaper or more expensive. Or you can be satisfied, pleased and grateful for what you’ve got.

big car little car

Case in point: That’s my car on the left, L’il Six. It is absolutely all the car I could possibly want right now. The pink truck on the right, on the other hand, is a concept I can barely get my head around, but I bet it makes its owner happy.

Big car, little car. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Auntie Eda is going to go make dinner now.