The Gift of the Keiki

Harley and I meet outside the laundromat. I sit on a bench near where her dad’s minivan is backed in reading my book about mothers and children. She marches right up to me in her tee shirt, flops and leggings. She is missing her two front teeth. The bottom two are fresh and new and jaggedy, and her bangs are pinned up and back from her smooth, tanned face with a barrette. Children are so beautiful.

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She sits down beside me on the bench and shows me her Addition Practice worksheet, her name HARLEY written in enchanting child script. I look over to her father who is smoking in the open back hatch door, we smile at each other, and Harley becomes my laundry buddy. “Auntie,” she says, “what is 4 plus 5?”

I flush, flattered to be addressed in this lovely, inclusive Hawaiian way, even if this blonde child clearly isn’t native. She is a keiki (kay kee), though, Hawaiian for child, and she tells me she’s 6 years old and has lived in Hawaii for 2 years, so Hawaii is her home. All keiki call adult friends Auntie and Uncle. This is a first for me, and I love it. I close my book.

Of course I know the answer, but I make her count my fingers, which she wants to do anyway.

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We talk for a bit. Her mommy is inside the laundromat doing 7 loads. My husband is inside the hardware store looking for some tool. Our clothes are in 3 washers. Harley lost her two front teeth just yesterday. She has a cat and two dogs and lots of chickens. “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” she crows and laughs. She is out of clean clothes and says I must be, too, because I seem to be wearing my jammies – which I am not.

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I’m wearing a long blousy sleeveless top over tie-dyed gauzy pants which the Bearded One saw at a little shop in Pahoa called Puna Style, so we splurged. This is my best outfit! Harley would like for me to read to her. She hands me THE GOODNIGHT GECKO.

Back in the 1980s, I wrote and published six children’s novels. Part of that life was speaking in schools, and I did as much of it as I could.

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All three of our kids endured me talking to their classes. “Why do they want you to write your name in their books?” our oldest daughter asked. I’ll always remember that. No answer I gave really satisfied. A genuine stumper. I remember that life, so long ago. I could be Harley’s grandmother.

As I’m adding numbers with her, the Bearded One appears. He is a natural with children and suggests to Harley that she might not know what 1 plus 0 is. Her eyes fly open, she says, “I’ve know that one for years!”

She helps us check our washers, rotate the heavy clothes into two dryers, and then she wants to play the twinkling 50 cent game machines against the wall. “Do your parents give you money for them?” I ask. “No,” she says. “Let’s do more sums,” I suggest. I’d love to give this child some small gift, but not money.

She is restless and runs back and forth from us to her mom, who waves from two corner dryers she’s been folding clothes at forever.

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“Auntie! It’s done!” she shouts to me across the room to let me know my dryer load has stopped.

“Thanks, Harley!” I give a thumbs up.

As the Bearded One brings over piles of hot dry laundry and I begin to sort them on the table, two bright orange bullets of foam roll out. Harley is mesmerized. Her eyes are huge.

“Earplugs!” I say. “I must have left them in my pocket.” I show her how they work. “I wear them when I mow, and when the big generator is on.”  Our friend Tom was at the house putting in the third upstairs window, and his generator rocks the house.

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“We have 5 generators!” says Harley.

“Well then, you can use these,” I say and offer them to her, contingent on her mother’s approval. Harley is thrilled. She asks me to put them in her ears, very gently.

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The Bearded One walks over and pretends to speak directly to Harley but makes no noise at all as his mouth moves. Harley howls with laughter.

Then she dashes to show her mom. I shout that they are just cleaned, and her young, ponytailed mom smiles and says thanks. Harley races back to give me a big hug. Her sheer delight at the small gift is energizing. I’m thinking Auntie got the best gift here.

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34 responses to “The Gift of the Keiki

  1. Looks like you’re having fun with Hawaii.

  2. Enchanting. A gift to read, see the illustrations…Harley checking the dryers, wearing her orange gift. xo

  3. Such a wonderful encounter and so much pleasure emmitting from the page. Makes my day.

  4. Nice! The first of many encounters I am sure, where you will be a much loved ‘aunty’. Isn’t that a sweet way to address your elders? It is common practise among the Pacific Islanders who live here too. I even tend to refer to my daughters as ‘Aunty So-and-so’ to my pets ……. [oh dear, does that make me a crazy cat/dog lady?] My daughter reminds me that, technically, she is their big sister as they are my babies……. sigh!

  5. Ross Robinson

    I work with your sister, Leslie. I love the way you write about life; the difficult and finding what is profound in the ordinary. Your Hawaii entries have me hooked. You are so courageous.

    • Aloha Ross! Leslie has told me about you. She admires your courageous work, and I admire BOTH of you, working with profound loss every day. Welcome and Mahalo for this lovely comment. I’m glad you’ll be staying around. :)

  6. This was lovely to read, Christi. ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ are terms of respect among our First Nations peoples, too. I was raised to call my elders Mr. or Mrs.; never by their first names. As I grew into my 40s, I still asked what people preferred to be called when I was first introduced. It’s all more casual now, which at first I thought was a good thing; lately, though, I’ve returned to liking the respectful terms of address (unless for someone very close who prefers to be on a first name basis).

    That wee Keiko sounds so enchanting! I’m not at all surprised that you are attracting kidlets in your new home. I’m expecting the menagerie to make an appearance soon, too . . .

    Cute illustrations, as usual; they are so evocative . . .

    Love the photos of your new home interiors, too. How nice to have huge windows that can be open all the time! ~ Linne

    • I know what you mean, Linne, about growing up calling elders Mr. and Mrs. And in Texas I learned to say Sir and Mame, too! My kids’ friends all called me Christi from the get-go. But I had a hard time calling Keith’s mom her name Billye since I met her in 1977 and she was Mrs. Glover back then. I wouldn’t have dreamed of calling her Billye! I think it changed some time in the 70s, though, as so many things did.

      Thanks from the B.O. for the cartoon kudos…I love them, too.

      I hear it’s hot there! It’s so humid here that the daily 80 degree high feels pretty hot. My sister called yesterday and said it was 90 in Seattle. They are going nuts. Mahalo for your sweet comment, as always, Linne. :) xxoo

      • I’ve come to prefer the affectionate respect to the more formal terms we grew up with. My kids called me by my first name for the first few years; then I realized I was missing out and we changed it back to Mum (I prefer the English over the other; it seems more soft, somehow. Mom always seems so demanding to me. But I’m a little crazy when it comes to language and words in general)

        Yes, it’s dreadfully hot and I spent today wilting on the couch; after getting only about 5 hrs sleep each night, I’ve been unwilling to drag myself out in the morning and tackle the packing, so I’ve missed the relative cool hours. However, did get a load out and have another close to ready. There’s not as much as I feared, thank heavens.

        You might be interested in this cool wrap to go with your Mamajamas;

        I’m thinking, not only scarves, but also a length of any light fabric . . .

        90 in Seattle! That’s so rare. I heard from a friend in Victoria today and it’s hot there, too, probably the same as Seattle. Crazy days . . .

      • Aloha Auntie Linne, ooooo I just watched that video and what a great idea! I am all over it. :) Thanks!! And we’ve been super duper humid and rainy. A tropical storm scooted by and just made it liquid everywhere, plus thunder and lightening. 3 inches of rain just last night. Crazy weather across the planet. Here’s hopes for some cooling in Canada. Love you.

  7. Beautiful. That’s what children give us, the gift of delight in the small things in life. x

  8. Aw, what a lovely encounter :-). I would love being called Auntie too! Kids make me so happy! I love your house and new outfit! That wood and having a view of the lush tropic greenery rock! Thanks for writing! Love, Susan

    • Aloha, Susan! It’s been quite interesting to go to the laundromat each week — the great meeting place where we all have to hang out and clean up. :) I’m starting to think Harley was right about my new outfit, though. Kind of a PajamaMama look. lol Comfy anyway! Thanks for reading! xxoo

  9. Your post start stories in my head that last all day, thank you.

    • Aloha, Clay! I think of you every time I drive behind a motorcyclist…it could be you, and I give him or her lots of safety space. Can’t wait for you to come visit us again. You can rent motorcycles here. :) Love, Christi

  10. Elizabeth Hauk

    A six-year-old child may just be the perfect human being to focus us on living in the moment. I like the gifts you exchanged. I was thinking about the comment your daughter made when she asked about people wanting you to sign your book. At first I thought maybe it’s about connecting with celebrity but then I think it’s more about creating permanence in a relationship, the need people have to memorialize significant events. You do that so well. Love to you and your live-in cartoonist! Betty

    • Aloha Betty! Ooooo, very thoughtful about the signing thing. Permanence and memorializing, yes and yes. It is a hard thing to explain to a child. :) I love the first line of your comment, too. 6-year-olds are the present incarnate. By the way, your friend’s handwritten granola recipe is on my fridge. Haven’t made it yet, but I will. I like just seeing it there…maybe that permanence and memorializing thing. Love you, too, and love to Gary and Nate. Christi

  11. Wonderful. Christi, your gift is in sharing these moments with the rest of us, and you do it so very well. I so look forward to each new episode. Of course, Farmlet wouldn’t be Farmlet without the illustrations, and I am so happy to see the photos of your home-in-progress, too. I can see you as a wonderful Auntie, connecting with whatever stray children wander in, and I can see Uncle B.O. entertaining and amusing them with a wink and a grin. Hugs to you both!

    • What a lovely thought.:) My gift. And you are right on about the illustrations. I know how essential they are, and look forward to them, too. I write it, and then he sits and “draws his little pictures” as he puts it. We have fun. Hugs to you and your sweetie!

  12. Christine Widman

    HI,
    I think the Bearded One’s drawing of your new outfit makes you look like an Hawaiian flower….with a little hippie thrown in. I adore your PajamaMama look.
    Having recently had the grand-kiddos here for a week, I can feel the directness, spontaneity & immediacy of Harley and you…shown with the tenderness of the Bearded One’s illustrations.
    Interestingly – our two grandkiddos call their aunt – Auntie. And I had never realized it until your blog entry…I was the one who would say to them…Auntie is coming to see you…Auntie wants to talk to you on the phone. I’m wondering if my early married life in Hawaii embedded that name of endearment unconsciously.
    Curious.
    Hugs.
    C

    • Auntie is such a natural, less-formal but not so familiar as a first name moniker that I can see why children pick it up so quickly. Harley continues to give, as I thought of what her reaction would be to the latest infrastructure troubles here (water pump stopped working last night, probably a dead battery…so no running water) and could just see her smiling and saying, “Oh, we get to pour water into the toilet from buckets!” Living in the moment.

      I saw where your temps were in the 70s!! And the blessed monsoons, yippeeee!! We’ve had those same temps with a tropical storm, so 3 inches of rain last night alone. Very humid. All paper is limp and droopy. I know how you need the rain. Love you, big hugs, Christi

  13. Christine Widman

    PS Here in the desert it’s cool…yesterday we were the same temperature as NYC…mid-70’s for a good part of the day. Today a high of 93 which is lower than Seattle yesterday. Pretty wild. We are getting our monsoons. Have had lots of luscious soaking rain.
    It’s heaven.

  14. What a beautiful story! So much of what life is really about…you go Auntie! HA! I love reading Farmlet still…

  15. Children are translucently beautiful because they just “are”. Like dogs, they live in the moment and that gives them a simple, pure and most beautiful aura :). I love the sound of those jammies Ms Christi. Kudos for you wearing them around town ;)

    It sounds like the gecko is your totem, your spirit creature at the moment Ms Christi doesn’t it? I wonder what lesson you are supposed to be learning from him?

    Still in love with the sheen on that wood. You get to see that every day. I bet your house smells amazing with all of that wood :).

    I agree about you getting the best gift. Living in Hawaii is a lesson in island living and island living is all about sharing and community and communion and being everyone’s auntie. A lovely post Ms Christi…now what is that gecko trying to teach you eh? Can’t wait to find out :) Shake a coconut around for old narf7 and think of us here as we have snow on the mountains around us and Brunhilda is the only thing between us and freezing ;) Remember “The Old Country” where it actually gets cold? ;)

    • My totem animal used to be the dragonfly, but geckos are everywhere for me! I looked them up in ANIMAL SPEAK by Ted Andrews. Lizards are all about “Subtlety of Perception.” Lizard medicine is psychic and intuitive, “the ability to perceive subtle movement, physical or ethereal, walking or sleeping.” The part that made me smile was this: “One of the most significant characteristics of some lizards and their claim to fame is the ability of the tail to come off. A predator may grab for it, it’s paws landing upon the tail, only to be surprised as the tail breaks off and the lizard scampers to freedom. The lizard then begins the process of growing another in its place….sometimes it is necessary to separate ourselves or part of ourselves from others to be able to do the things we desire to do.” LOL The FIRST Farmlet tale was in Olalla. Now I’m growing at new tale. :)

      And oh, yes, I remember the cold, my dear. 35 years in Seattle, remember! It was always 47 degrees (8 C) !! Love to you and the boys. xxxooo

      • We both learned a (totem) lesson today :) Glad I could share my “learn one thing a day” with you on this fine sunny day in frigid Sidmouth Ms Christi :) I guess the sun is shining on both of us at once :)

  16. Christine Widman

    “…the tail breaks off and the lizard scampers to freedom. The lizard then begins the process of growing another in its place….sometimes it is necessary to separate ourselves or part of ourselves from others to be able to do the things we desire to do.” LOL The FIRST Farmlet tale was in Olalla. Now I’m growing at new tale.”
    This NF resonates with this psychic “aha”.
    Islands and deserts….places of renewal and spirit.
    Love you, Island girl.
    C

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