Sweet memories and coming home, part 1

7 09 2009

On Friday I had a date with my friend Vinnie. At long last I would see him perform Aldyth Morris’s one-person play Damien, a story about the Flemish priest, Father Damien de Veuster, who unselfishly spent his life ministering to the lepers isolated at Kalaupapa on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Father Damien will be canonized on October 11, 2009, in Rome.

I first met Vinnie at Maui Community College when I worked in university relations. He is one of those colleagues/friends who you see every five years or so, and with whom you can just pick up where you left off. Vinnie has performed Damien more than 60-70 times since 2000—on Maui, in the United States and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Europe. I emailed him I finally would be in the audience. “Stay afterward so I can see you,” he wrote back.

With opening-season football games townside signaling bad traffic, I decided to get to the church in Mililani by going the opposite way along the North Shore of Oahu and down the middle of the island. The distance is longer, but the traffic moves, and I enjoy the scenery along the two-lane Kamehameha highway versus the freeway. The route I like goes through Wahiawa, the town I lived in until I was 13. When we pass the Kukaniloko Birthstone State Monument, I know I am almost there.

Kukaniloko by Rebekah Luke

Rain hides the Waianae Mountains behind the Kukaniloko Birth Stones among the tall trees. The birthing ground of Hawaiian royalty was established in the 12th century, according to Fornander.

Kamehameha Highway runs for just three blocks through the town. I have a habit of reciting the neighborhood places I remember. Some are still there, others are long gone and replaced by fast food joints and nondescript development. Wahiawa served Wheeler Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks on the other side of the singing bridge, and the pineapple industry. The lively little main street had everything.

Annie Uwi’s (18 cents for Love’s Bread), the tofu factory, Doctor De Harne’s, Bank of Hawaii, Pang’s grocery (2-cent deposit refunds for soda bottles), Island Bazaar (drygoods and gifts), Chow Ching’s (gon lo mein, char siu and roast pork on Sunday), Duke’s Clothing, Happy Fountain (high swivel stools, orange freezes, curly saimin with fresh green onions, and the best grilled hot dogs), Elite Market, the stationery store, the barber shop, the taxi stand, Top Hat Bar, Service Motors, the shoe store, the jeweler, the variety store, Benny’s photo studio, Judy’s Florist (big cattleya orchid corsages).

Sometimes before leaving Wahiawa, and if the people I’m with don’t mind, we turn right on Kilani avenue to see my old house. My parents rented it from Uncle Harry who lived next door. He had nine houses amidst a lychee garden. Folks drove all the way from Honolulu to buy lychee. I remember being a baby and playing with Uncle Harry’s earlobes on the chenille bedspread as he tried to get me to nap while he listened to the story on the radio and Aunty Edna fussed in the kitchen . . .

Where I lived 50 years ago. The front porch has been screened in, the mock orange hedge is twice as high, and there's a gate now. Everything else looks the same, including the mother lichee tree that must be older than I!

Where I lived 50 years ago, the front porch has been screened in, the mock orange hedge is twice as high, and a gate makes it look less inviting. Everything else looks the same, including the mother lychee tree that must be older than I!

So, you see, every so often I recall my childhood.

As I grow older and work on ascension, and as I observe our 4-month-old granddaughter, I think back on what it was like to be a baby and how important it is for adults to create happy memories for children. Some of my memories weren’t so sweet. I remember the adults laughing at me when I crawled from my room bringing my socks after they asked me to fetch my shoes, feeling frustrated that I could not talk yet to explain why I did that. But I certainly could think it!

I remember emotional things and times that woke up my senses such as when my mother took me aboard a President Lines cruise ship to dine with her visiting friend, and I burned myself on the baked potato.

I remember when Momma took me to Honolulu by taxi on her Thursdays off from piano teaching (I could walk now) to buy music at Metronome and Thayer’s for her pupils, and before coming home we would go to Woolworth, and she would give me a teaspoon of her coffee to drizzle over my vanilla ice cream. Coffee is still my favorite flavor.

(Darling husband thinks it’s amazing I can remember that far back. “Well,” I suggested, “try it. Don’t you remember the smell of your mom?”)

One time I was at a Hawaiian civic club meeting in Wahiawa where they served a bento box lunch. One bite took me back. “Where did this come from?” I asked. “That’s from Marian’s Catering.” Ahhh … I wasn’t able to identify the flavoring, but the taste that took me home was unmistakably Wahiawa from the 1950s. It hadn’t changed.

And just this past July at a friend’s memorial breakfast, someone brought prune bread from Wahiawa. When I was a kid it was called prune cake, and I have been looking for it my whole life. I ordered a prune cake from Chef Instructor Walter Schiess at Kapiolani Community College for my wedding cake, and, unable to find a recipe, he decided, “If it has prunes in it, then it must be a fruit cake.” The Old English wedding cake, three tiers tall, was gorgeous, but not prune cake. When the woman who brought the prune bread saw how ecstatic I was, she gave me a whole loaf to take home. Now I know my sweet memory is alive and well at Kilani Bakery!

Damien. Oh, yes, I was on my way to the play.  Not surprisingly, Vinnie (correct name: Vincent Linares) was FABULOUS as Father Damien. He portrays the character so very passionately. What with Aldyth Morris’s script and the venue of St. John Apostle and Evangelist Church, it was excellent theater on every level. To quote the program notes, “The play finds Damien, awakened from his deathly slumber, taking a journey through his turbulent and compelling life while answering his detractors and critics, a journey that eventually takes him home again.” Home.

On Saturday evening I attended for the first time the Ka Himeni Ana (Old Fashioned Singing)  event at the Hawaii Theatre. This concert and competition has taken place annually since 1983 to encourage the singing of Hawaiian music in the old-fashioned manner without microphones or amplification, with the exception of the steel guitar. The production was filled with nahenahe (soft, sweet) sound, the festive sight of musicians and concert goers in the beautifully renovated theatre, and the fragrant scent of hundreds of fresh ginger blossoms.  Sweet memories, indeed. I plan to go again next year.

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

Special note: Vinnie Linares’s final performance of Damien will be on October 24, 2009, at an old church at Makena Beach, Maui. When available, the event details will be posted in Comments below.

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