My grandfather Chong’s house

19 06 2011

My mother's birthplace

Fathers Day 2011

My trip to North Kohala last Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with my cousin Nathan, cousin Ann, and DH to scout places and activities for a family reunion in 2012 included some sleuthing, at least in our minds!

I do apologize for keeping you in suspense by my last post. 😉

Our main quest was to determine whether or not the house our mothers, aunties, and uncles were born in (between c. 1905 to 1925)—in the ahupuaa (land division) of Ainakea—was still standing. One would think a simple phone call could give the answer, but I had gotten conflicting reports in recent years, and even last week! With my investigative reporter’s background, I had to fly inter-island and see for myself. DH and my cousins would corroborate the findings.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the house was still there? I imagined our other cousins could see firsthand during our reunion where their (grand)parents lived. We could walk the aina (the land) where our ancestors played and grew up before they moved to Honolulu in 1925 for higher education. I belong to the third generation, and the sixth generation has begun to show up. What an opportunity this could be.

My grandfather Chong How Kong, also known as Ah Nee, worked as the overseer for the estate of Dr. Benjamin Davis Bond (1853-1930), a physician, and his wife Emma Renton Bond (1866-1951). It’s located in the ahupuaa of Iole. Iole is next to Ainakea. Dr. Bond’s father, the very Father Elias Bond (1813-1896) was responsible for my grandparents’ emigration from China.

Today, there is a new land owner (New Moon Foundation) and the “Bond Historic District,” a 56-acre federally registered historic district, within its boundaries. The towns of Hawi and Kapaau and other tiny communities on the northern tip of Hawaii island to the end of the road are characterized by country living, attractive small-business establishments, and a tightly knit, caring community.

Now, about those conflicting reports. From time to time over the years various family members would revisit the old homestead and be welcomed on the property by whoever lived there. I was there in 1990 with DH and cousins Elly and Jim, and in 2003 with my friends Linda and Terry. Ann went with her husband (now late) cousin Anson a few years later. We each took the obligatory photo of us standing in front of the house.

In 1990, the front porch is enclosed and the kitchen wing Ah Nee built is still attached. That's my cousin Jim with a friend in the shade of the avocado tree.

View of the kitchen in 1990. During our family's time in the 1920s, bachelors lived in the house in the rear. My grandmother cooked for them as well as for her own family of 15 children.

View from the back of the house in 1990

Brenda greets us in 2003. The kitchen has been removed, and the house renovated. The porch is open, there are new windows on the side, and the cottage in the back is spruced up. At this time it is occupied by the Kohala Family Homeschooling Learning Center.

Front view with open porch

This 2003 photo shows new windows and paint.

After the magnitude-6.7 and 6.0 earthquakes hit Hawaii on October 15, 2006, I was curious how the house survived, if at all. By phone from Oahu I reached a woman who told me rather authoritatively that the house was still standing, but that it was tagged for demolition because of earthquake damage. Okay, that’s it, I thought.

A few times after that, cousins vacationing on the Big Island would call me for directions to the place. “Not sure if the house is still there,” I’d tell them, “but here’s how to find the site. Let me know what you find.” And I’d describe the wooden gate between two ironwood trees that opened onto the grassy driveway. Later they would say how they couldn’t find it. “Well, it’s a small house, and it’s some distance in from the highway,” I’d say.

Last year when I contacted New Moon Foundation to ask about the house and any educational programs it advertised on its website (research for the family reunion), the office had no idea what house I was referring to. That puzzled me.

Continuing in my search, my Facebook friend Anna, a widow of a Bond descendant, introduced me to her son Boyd, who lives in Kapaau and knows a lot of North Kohala history. He said over the phone when I called to make an appointment to meet him that the house was still there. Oh, yay! When we met in person just a few days ago, he reported, “No, sorry, it’s not.” Indeed when we drove by, finally, we saw from the highway that it was gone. 😦  In its place: a Matson container.

On the adjacent lot are some homes, with a bumpy road parallel to the property line. We drove up the road for a better look at the lot from the side and turned around half way when it got rougher. A dog started barking, and the neighbor emerged. “Go talk to her,” DH urged.

I explained why we were there, how sad the houses were torn down (there was more than one). Her name was Mrs. Castillo.  She said, “Oh, they weren’t torn down. They were moved away on a truck.” Imagine my surprise! She said the property was then graded and a new road was put in. “Before or after the earthquake?” I asked. “Before,” she replied. Hmmm …

Staff at New Moon Foundation was gone for the afternoon, so we planned to ask the next morning. Back at the Kohala Village Inn, while I continued to reflect on this news, I decided to look up the satellite map from Google.

I found the aerial view of the neighbor’s house, and I also saw our family house we were looking for. I was sure of it. I got excited! I thought, the house was moved all right, but just to a spot farther in on same lot. Now I really had to return to the spot to find out for certain.

The next morning at the Iole office I explained our quest. “I’m imagining our parents as kids playing with the Bond kids, and there must have been a short cut between the two places,” I said to the admin staff. They pulled up the Google map, the same map, and mentioned it was the place of the Meditation Hale (house).

They’ll take us there!  Of our entire scouting trip, that was the most joyous moment for me. Through the fruit orchards, down the gulch into the forest, and up a private trail. As we walked into Ainakea, it was plainly evident that our grandparents’ house was not there after all. That darned Google map is old!

Between the Meditation Hall in the rear of the property and the highway we found a rock terrace and a pair of orange trees remaining. Back in the studio I’m comparing the photos from different eras, wishing I would have thought to bring them on the trip in the first place.

DH and cousin Nate walk quietly past the Meditation Hale at Ainakea.

Looking toward the highway from the back of the property, you can see the ironwood trees where the old gate was.

Why do we care so much after all this time. Well, there’s just something about finding one’s roots, and my cousins will like to come here.

There’s still a missing piece to the puzzle. Where is the house? You know, we were so happy to walk on the land, we never asked New Moon Foundation the question.

The Matson container and me

Copyright 2011 Rebekah Luke




From national park to national park

28 09 2009

Watching Ken Burns’s “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” on PBS last night reminded me of two great trips we took in 2004 across parts of the continental U.S. where some of the parks are located.

Lower Falls at Yellowstone

Lower Falls at Yellowstone

This excellent PBS-TV program about the national parks continues every night this week through Friday, 8 to 10 p.m. HST, and repeats at 10 p.m.  I highly recommend watching/taping it.

That year, 2004, we decided to meet and enjoy some of our family on Moku Honu (North America, Hawaiian for Turtle Island as Native Americans call it)—an idea inspired by the fact that my father, my hanai (adopted) father, and darling husband’s mother and father all passed over in 2003.

I used the internet and telephone to make all the travel arrangements myself.

The first trip was in May. We had a date with DH’s brother and sister on Memorial Day to spread their father Walter’s ashes at Mount Nittany on the Penn State campus per his request. We started to entertain the idea of driving ‘cross  country, but which route?

We also wanted to call on uncles and aunts and their families who DH seldom saw and who I had never met. Walter had two brothers, Uncle Lee in Texas and Uncle Ron in Virginia. Let’s go visit!

We got out the road atlas. I plotted the towns and thought of who else we could call on between Texas and Pennsylvania. I thought of Cousin Eddy in Memphis, Tennessee, of my mom’s side of the family, and my brother-in-law Paul in his new house in North Carolina.

Upon further examination of the map, I could see that we could plan a route and visit a couple of national parks and other visitor attractions too. We agreed we would drive short distances, maybe four or five hours at a time, not all day, then stop and stay no more than three days at each place. We didn’t want to wear out our welcome.

Here is the route and the itinerary, in case you’ll be in the vicinity and want some ideas:

Fly from Honolulu to Dallas. Visit Uncle Lee and family in Plano and Tyler, Texas.

Pick up a rental car in Tyler, drive to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, then to Memphis. Turn in the car.

Tour Memphis with expert tour guide Cousin Eddy. (I have to mention the famous Memphis barbecue, Graceland, Sun Studio, Stax Museum, National Civil Rights Museum, Beale Street (rockabilly music by the Dempskys), soul food, Memphis in May festival, plus a drive to Ripley, Mississippi, to visit Eddy’s aunt and eat pie!)

In Memphis, buy a lot of music CDs. Go pick up the next rental car. (Would we mind driving a van that needs to be delivered to Philadelphia for the same rate? As long as it has a CD player, no problem!)

Listening to our music, drive the length of Tennessee to Nashville, attend the Grand Ol’ Oprey.

Enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Gatlinburg, TN, and over the border to Cherokee, North Carolina. Drive slow along the very scenic Blueridge Parkway from Cherokee to Blowing Rock, NC. Stay at Chetola Lodge for the Celtic Music Festival.

Turn right (east) to visit Paul and family in Summerfield, NC,  head up to Virginia to visit Uncle Ron and Aunt Marge, and then on to Sister Penny’s in Collegeville, PA.

At the end of week no. 3, after spreading Walter’s ashes, we were in the Nittany Valley in the exact center of Pennsylvania. We located DH’s grandmother’s old farmhouse of his childhood, and we ran into his other cousins, all still farmers, of a family who has remained in the area since their ancestors arrived from the old country. This trip to the Nittany Valley was the first time DH, his brother and his sister traveled together as adults. I’m sure they will always remember it.

The second road trip was in September. We enjoyed the May experience of driving so much that we decided to meet the Luke relatives before meeting up with two of the Sinclair sisters on their annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone National Park.

Steamy landscape at Yellowstone

Steamy landscape at Yellowstone

I wanted to visit Aunty Julia, my father’s last surviving sister who lived with her daughter Loris’s family in Stockton, California. We started in San Francisco and met Cousin Laureen and family. Together we drove to Stockton to see Julia and Loris. Another cousin Lorene, not to be confused with Laureen, and her husband drove from Sacramento bringing dim sum for lunch. Throughout the afternoon Loris’s several kids stopped in with their kids, and we had a really nice reunion.

Loris has a sister, Bee, who lives in South Fork, Colorado. So next morning we flew from Oakland to Albuquerque and drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico. (In Santa Fe I can recommend El Paradero B&B, El Farol restaurant, and the Georgia O’Keeffe museum and café.) From there we went to Mesa Verde National Park, then to Durango where we rode the narrow gauge railroad to Silverton and back. We continued to South Fork (of the Rio Grande) to visit Bee and her husband.

Birch and evergreen

Aspens and conifers

To get to Yellowstone National Park, we drove the highway that runs along the top of the Colorado Rocky Mountains from south to north. We had dinner with Bee’s son Bret in Steamboat Springs. Next morning we entered Wyoming. There’s a lot of Wyoming before you get to the park’s north entrance. Ruth and Kathy came in from Idaho.

We thoroughly enjoyed our rendezvous, the beauty of the park, its geological features, and all the wildlife.

Pronghorn antelope

Pronghorn antelope

As it is adjacent to Yellowstone, we also visited Grand Teton National Park in Jackson, WY.

Thus ends my post of our 2004 tour of the national parks by way of some quality time with our families.

Some reflections:

When I was in the third grade at Schofield Post Elementary School, our lessons included listening to the Standard School Broadcast radio program about the national parks, featuring a different one each week. That’s how I first learned about these places that were wisely set aside for our benefit and enjoyment. I imagine the Ken Burns films will provide additional education today.

Why did we wait until our parents died to call on our uncles, aunts, and cousins? Because our parents didn’t want to. Now I think, that’s silly. Lee, Ron and Julia have since left the earthy plane as well. I am so glad we visited them in 2004. Now for both DH and myself, our generation is the oldest in our respective families. Gratefully, we still have our cousins, siblings, daughter, nieces and nephews.

Three weeks is long enough to be away from home; three and a half weeks is too long.

When time and finances permit, we ought to do a trip like this again—family and the national parks. Perhaps sooner than later.

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke







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