Tutu and Roger (Special Edition Long Blog)

My name is Roger. I’m two years old. I’m a big, shiny black dog.

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The last time I hung out for days and days with Tutu I was just a 3 month old pup. Tutu lived in Olalla, Washington then and had a gnarly little beagle pup named Arly, just a month younger than me.

We had some great times, Arly and me, while my humans, the Bride and Groom, vacationed in Hawaii. So much has gone down since then.

I’m, like, a teenager now. I live in Seattle. I know stuff. Like the cat next door, Oscar, smells so good and interesting and my # 1 favorite treat is his poop. I know that the Bride is called Molly and the Groom is called Ben, or sometimes the Captain, and that Tutu is Molly’s mom.

I know that Molly is going to have a pup, and that Ben has been gone for days and days fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska, for salmon, which is my favorite treat of all time.

I’m thinking these things as I lick pork juices from a dish Tutu just set down on the kitchen floor for me. Molly is still at work, but Tutu has been here with me for days and days. Pork juices and ham bits and licking the cookie batter bowl, these are my #1 favorite treats.

All treats are my #1 favorite treats.

*   *   *

Roger lies next to the couch, managing to touch both Molly and me.

My eldest daughter and I navigate hers and Ben’s treks to each other and to this baby, due July 8, right in the middle of the salmon fishing season, with our yellow notepads of to-do lists, our cellphones with the numbers of doulas and doctors, and even a contraction app.

Ben caught a whopping 15,000 pounds of salmon yesterday.

Today is July 4. Fireworks are banned because it’s been so hot and dry, but we can still hear an occasional explosion. We light a blue candle on the mantle for continued good fishing luck. Ben has a great crew who can handle the boat after he leaves, but he’d sure like to make “costs,” which is 70,000 pounds. He is thrilled – since they caught next to nothing up in Naknek at the start of the season, and took a risk boating all the way down to Ugashik (U-gash-ik) (I’m slowly learning the names of these Native Alaskan towns) , which adds precious hours to his return should Molly start labor. They both know Ben probably won’t get here to Seattle for the birth, but both want him to arrive as soon as possible afterward.

“So, Tutu,” Molly says from across our nesting table. “Let’s make a pact.”

Molly has started calling me Tutu, Hawaiian for grandmother. I’ve just lived in Puna, Hawaii a year, but I love it and have no plans to move any time soon. I’m honored to be called Tutu.

“Okay,” I say and pet Roger with my toe.

“Remember yesterday when you asked me if I really wanted to hold off on labor so Ben could get more fishing in?”

“I remember,” I say. “I wanted to know what to really wish for because, to tell you the truth of it, my heart wishes are potent and more often than not come true.”

“And I asked you how the Bearded One was doing on his own for a week now, with his back so recently whacked out?”

“Yes.” Roger licks my toes. I wonder where Molly is going with this.

“Well,” she says, looking straight into my eyes, “this isn’t about either of them, this having a baby, and we should stop asking each other about them.”

“We’re protecting them, imagining wishes to catch more fish or to have me back in Hawaii asap, and both our guys are okay,” I say.

“Yep.”

“How’d you get so smart?” I say and smile. She guffaws and I wipe the dripping sweat from my face, neck, back and chest. It’s record hot and dry out, but these are supercharged, hot flashes of age, the moment in time.

*   *   *

I’m stayin’ on the bed, oh please, let me stay here on this big ‘ol king-sized bed, those pops and bangs and whistles outside are scarin’ me, you hear them, too, don’t you?

“Okay, Roo,” Molly says, and lets me stay. She’s under the covers – I’m not allowed, but it’s too hot anyway.

“Hiiii,” she says, using the voice she uses for Ben. Ben comes to Molly this way every night, I know, because I listen every night, although not always from the bed.

“I’m Hot and Pregnant,” she says, and then she laughs her big laugh, the one I’ve heard come out of Tutu, too. HAHAHAHA! “Nice to meet you, Hungry and Tired,” she says. Then, “Eighteen thousand pounds!”

I wag my bushy black tail. I’d like to stay and lick Molly’s happy face, but it’s my dogly duty to split my time between Molly and Tutu, who sleeps in the guest room across from the stairway. Tutu’s got a crinkly package of dried apricots by her bed and has been known to pop one to me on occasion.

Dried apricots are my #1 favorite treat.

*   *   *

I walk Roger by the church every day, his green plastic doggie poop bag tied to the leash. Molly and Ben live on a boulevard with a wide park down the middle. It used to be a trolley track back in 1913, when most of the houses were built, including Molly and Ben’s. At one end of the boulevard, on the corner, is a classy old brick Presbyterian church with arches and green mosaic inlay, and that’s where Roger and I turn.

So it felt strange to walk down the boulevard to the church on Sunday morning not only because I was going to church for the first time in two decades, but also because Roger wasn’t with me, sniffing the parched grass.

The intern of the Presbyterian minister who baptized Molly years ago is now the minister of this church in Molly’s neighborhood, a lovely coincidence I learned of 2-1/2 years ago when Molly and Ben first moved into this dream neighborhood with sidewalks (at least my dream back in the 1980s).

When I was seventeen and living in Houston, Texas, I became an elder in the Presbyterian Church. I envisioned myself becoming a medical missionary in Alaska,

not a middle school teacher and then a children’s book author in Seattle, Washington, which is what happened. Nor did I imagine that my mother and father (Dad died in 1985) and sister would follow me here and help raise Molly and her two siblings before and after my divorce and remarriage.

This two-week trip – maybe three if the baby doesn’t come by the due date – has been a time trip down a rabbit hole for me, visiting old friends from every decade of the 35 years I lived in the Seattle area.

I wave to Lydia, Molly’s friendly and spry next door neighbor, who is the same age as my mother. 82. Yesterday, Lydia told me that she still has hot flashes. This helps me cope, for some reason.

Roger greets me at the front door, licks the lotion from my legs. I see Molly is still in her favorite spot on the living room couch, exactly where I left her. But now she’s visiting with her younger sister Annie, aka the Nurse, who hops up from Ben’s big leather chair and gives me a hug. She’s stopped by, she says, to see for herself how Molly is doing. Which is that the Braxton Hicks contractions have picked up since Molly mentioned them to Ben last night, and are continuing to get harder. But that can go on for days.

“So how was it?” Molly asks

“I enjoyed it,” I say. “Not a lot of Jesus talk, which was good. Lovely women, a good man singer in the pew behind me, and a poignant communion. Want to hear a cool thing from the sermon?”

Both daughters look at me. Just last week we three attended a Navaho Blessing Way ceremony at Ben’s mother’s house,

where a dozen or so women chanted and recited our individual blessings and gifted Molly symbolic beads and then showered her with rose petals. That was good spirituality, not churchy spirituality, but they indulge me.

Roger looks at me and seems to know I’m setting up a story. He goes to sit next to Ben’s chair.

“So there’s a plane crash and 20 people are stranded in the wilderness, 20 miles from the closest town. The people are given a list of 10 items, 5 of which they can choose to have, but all 20 people have to agree. The items are an ax, a map, a compass, a lighter, a bottle of brandy, and five other things I can’t remember.

“Anyway, the question the people realize they have to answer is,Would you stay, or would you go? Think about it. Would you, along with 19 other people, stay and dig in and wait to be rescued, or would you, with those same 19 people, strike out for the town?”

“Oh my god, Mom,” Annie says. “There are so many other factors.”

“Not in this story,” I say. “The point is that you don’t know what gear you’ll need until you know your project. The sermon was titled, ‘Back to the Beginning.’”

Daughters and dog alike stare at me. “I’d stay,” I say. “I like to dig in.”

Neither daughter commits. The story is unsatisfying to them, I can tell. But Roger comes over and licks my hand.

*  *   *

I would stay with Tutu. I love her, the way she talks, the things she pants about.

*   *   *

Roger always lets me go down the stairs first in the morning, which I appreciate.

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Molly stays in her room to talk on her phone, her first Monday morning not dressing for work. “Who are these little people, Erin?” I hear, and know she’s talking to her best friend from childhood, whose baby is due next month.

I turn off the front porch light which burns all night –

my off-grid Hawaii electricity mind notices these things, electricity is so expensive back home – and head for the kitchen and a bit of ham from the fridge for Roger.

I make Mango Maui tea and think about the Bearded One. We talk every day. His back is much better, he says, and Tom and our son, His Majesty, are working on new kitchen windows, a tile countertop and a new sink, hoping to finish before I return. He’s surviving quite well on the frozen spaghetti casserole and burritos I left for him. I still can’t completely take in the marvel of living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and calling Seattle any time, or Ben working in Bristol Bay, on the edge of the Bering Sea, talking with Molly from the tiny village of Egegik. Or last night, from his boat, after catching 27,000 pounds in 10 hours.  His new all-time record.

 

Molly has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, Tuesday the 7th, a day before her due date.

The big question this morning is, “Should she let the doctor strip her membranes?” The doctor asked at the appointment last week, and Molly had said no. Even though she is very tired of being pregnant in this bizarre heat. I’ve told her that all three of my babies came the day after a doctor’s appointment, at which this cervical scraping occurred.

When she comes downstairs, we don’t talk about it, though. We talk about the shopping for curtain blackout fabric she wants to do, and I talk about visiting with an old friend who’s coming at 10. And we plan to leave here together tonight for her dad’s 64th birthday party at 6:15. I’m invited, too. It’ll be good to see Bill.

* *   *

It’s the middle of the night and I am dead out at Molly’s feet, my favorite place, when suddenly Molly is talking. “You’re WHAT?!” she says. I creep across the bedspread, smell Ben’s joyful voice.

Molly says, “So why are you coming home?”

Why is she barking? A human mystery. She barks some more, and then gives in. He made more than costs, his goal.

She hangs up and sighs deeply. “Why did I fight him on this, Roger? Am I crazy? He’ll be home tomorrow night.”

I move in closer for the last hours of my last night alone with my favorite person.

*  *   *

It’s 8am and I move Roger and his food and water dish outside to the back porch and meet Molly on the front porch to go to the doctor. She drives and we discuss Ben’s return tonight.

“I fought him hard, Mom,” she says to me as we both watch traffic. “I must sound like such a bitch.”

“You don’t sound like a bitch, and besides, even if you did, you have every reason.”

She smiles a little, and we move on.

I’ve driven the route to the hospital already and know where to park and everything, but I prefer for her to drive. Seattle is a big, fast city.

 

“Where is he now?”

“Hopefully in Egegik.”

“The doctor is going to ask about striping your membranes, you know.”

“I’ll tell her Ben is on the way,” Molly says, furrowing her brow, “but I don’t think I want to hurry the birth. He’s not here, yet.”

Molly has a massage scheduled for this afternoon, and I’m going to cook my brains out. Ham and scalloped potatoes, a rhubarb pie and cookies.

We park in the immense concrete garage on level Alligator. By the time we are waiting in the actual doctor’s office, Molly has tracked Ben down at the fish processing office in Egegik. “Should I let her strip the membranes?”

“What did he say?” I ask when she hangs up.

“Not yet! is what he said.”

So we both shriek with hilarity when the doctor, a young woman who looks a lot like PeeWee Herman, and who both Ben and Molly love, strips them without even asking! “Ouch!” says Molly. “Say hi to Ben for me,” says the doctor.

*   *   *

Ben is home! I lick him all the way home from the airport. Besides salmon, I smell four different boats, a helicopter, and two different airplanes on him. His beard is long and especially tasty.

Molly made him throw his smelly fish shoes into the garbage, not even offering them to me. Tutu has been cooking all day, so I’m a bit full, anyway. Ben eats two plates of ham and scalloped potatoes with ketchup and hot sauce. I lay at his smelly feet. Molly eats a big piece of rhubarb pie and rubs her belly. “It’s tightening up again,” she says. Tutu has saved the cookie bowl for me to lick clean. Life is good.

*   *   *

“Let them sleep all morning,” I whisper to Roger, who is in my room when I wake up. Molly and Ben seem to be sleeping in, their door is closed. Ben doesn’t sleep a lot during fishing season anyway, but he had been up for 36 hours and was running on adrenaline.

I’m making tea when Molly appears in the kitchen. “Good morning!” I say.

“Ben is so tired,” she says.

“He looks great,” I say.

“Yeah,” she agrees, “he could wash his hair and shave, though.”

She starts the coffee pot and then leaves to go sit on the couch and make some phone calls. Roger escorts her.

I putter a few minutes, and then hear Molly calling from the living room. “Mom! I either just peed my pants or my water broke!” She hobbles into the kitchen, laughing and dripping.

“What time is it?” I say and rush to start my log. “8:30am, July 8.”

Molly wipes down her legs with a dish towel. “Oh my god,” she says.

“How do you feel?”

“Fine,” she says. “I slept great.”

She is concerned about wetting the couch, so I follow her into the living room with another dish towel and soak up the two spots. “No biggie,” I say.

“I’m cramping a bit now,” she says and leans on the arm of the couch.

“You’re going to have a baby today!” I say, giddy. I look at Roger who is looking at Molly, who is not noticing him at all.

“I’m going to get Ben up,” she says, and I say, “Okay, 8:40, Ben up. I’m going to write that down.”

The next thing I hear is Molly’s big laugh from upstairs. HAHAHAHA!

“What?” I sing out.

It’s Ben’s happy voice now. “Molly is such a rule follower. It makes sense the baby would come on the due date.”

I love that they are laughing together.

*   *   *

Not even Tutu remembers me. She runs up and down the stairs. Ben is on the phone with special numbers Tutu brings him, and Molly sits on the toilet without shutting the door. I’m not allowed in the bathroom, even though my water bowl is right there by the door. Tutu finally pats me on the head. I feel her nerves. She is sweating.

*   *   *

“It seems to be happening quickly,” Molly says to Ben from the toilet. She tells him she wants to talk with the doula while he washes his hair and shaves, that she doesn’t like seeing his hair so weird.

He says, “I haven’t seen a mirror or a bathroom for a month,” laughs and starts shaving.

Then Molly is talking to the doula. “Eat, rest, take a shower, take a bath.” Molly repeats the doula’s advice, hangs up and starts the contraction app. I watch her double over. Seems like at least a minute to me. When the hard cramp or mild contraction is over, she pushes the stop button.

“Can I get you anything?” I ask from the hallway outside the bathroom. It’s 9:18.

“Rhubarb pie,” she says. “In about half an hour. Downstairs.”

Ben finishes shaving, calls his mom and sister, then checks his computer in his office next to the bathroom. When he returns, he says, “The Chinese stock market crashed this morning. Wall Street just shut down. United Airlines cancelled all flights.” Oh great. Civilization is crashing today. I hope Hawaiian Airlines is still flying.

“It’s only going to get worse,” Molly says from the toilet. I don’t think she heard Ben. It’s 9:46. She gets up and leans over the bathtub now. She punches the start button and groans loudly.

Roger crouches by the stairs. “Come on, Roger Sweetie,” I say, heading downstairs. “Let’s put you outside.”

*   *   *

Here I am in my backyard with a nice big piece of ham in my bowl, which I eat, but my heart’s not really into it. I can still hear Molly groaning through the open bathroom window.

*   *   *

Downstairs, I call the Bearded One, then Bill (who calls everyone on that side of the family), then my sister (who calls our mom and brother). The message: Molly is in labor, the doula has been called. Ben is here leaning over the bathtub with Molly.

I cut a piece of pie and carry it up the stairs.

“She’s throwing up,” Ben says to me from the bathroom, looking concerned. No more need for pie. “Should we go to the hospital now?” he asks.

“I don’t think so,” I say. “Not until the doula gets here, anyway. Molly says she wants to labor at home.” It’s 10:30 and Molly howls through another contraction. Ben hunches next to her and says, “Breathe, baby. Remember, keep breathing.”

“Show me!” Molly cries out. “I don’t understand the words. Show me!”

Ben breathes out loud, in and out, in and out, fast, panting. Molly follows his lead and they ride the wave together.

“Okay,” she says, meaning the contraction is over and he is supposed to push the stop button on the contraction app. He does, but Molly needs to hear that he’s done it. “Tell me!” she cries out.

And he does. Every contraction after that for the next half hour, he faithfully shows and then tells.

I fetch the book with possible laboring positions and Ben helps Molly get into them. Breathing loudly for her as he does.

I run a warm bath and Molly sinks into the water. Then I breathe with her as Ben calls the doula again. He says the contractions are every 3-4 minutes now, and a minute long, but they haven’t been this way for an hour yet. Which is the guideline for heading to the hospital.

First labors are notoriously long, but it’s 11:15 and Ben reminds the doula that Molly has a very high pain tolerance. The doula says she is on her way.

I let the doula in an hour later, she works with Molly on the bed as Molly screams through multiple big contractions, and then at 1:00, Molly lets out a gut-wrenching groan that the doula recognizes as significant. “It’s time to go!” she says.

Ben is more than ready. Molly tells me to put towels on her car seat and get her hospital bag from the stairs. “Where’s Roger?” she says.

“He’s outside,” I say. “He’s fine.”

I can’t remember if I shut the door on the way out, but Ben says never mind, and I put Molly’s bag in the car. Then I just stand there. In the street. Molly is in the car. Ben is going to drive. The doula has already left.

“Get in,” Ben says to me. “Aren’t you coming?”

I draw a blank. Am I going? Somehow my job seems done. And I’m not needed there. The garbage needs to go out tonight, the plants need watering. And Roger. But I do seem to have my purse with me. “Okay,” I say. “Yes. I’m coming, too.”

All the way to the hospital, I breath with Molly. Hard and fast. I think about how Ben and I are a good team.

Ben turns into the hospital drop-off area at 1:15pm and hops out. The doula arrives just before us and is already running to Molly with a wheelchair. I move to the driver’s seat – my job now is to park the car – and I realize, to my horror, that the seat is too far back for me and I can’t find any lever to move it up. Ben and Molly are long gone, and I can’t even reach the car pedals!

I hop out of the car and stand before the line of various uniformed attendants and security people in front of the hospital doors. “Does anyone here know how to move a Subaru seat forward?” I call out.

A couple of men raise their hands, one runs over and finds the secret electronic switch for me, I thank him profusely and drive down and down to level DEER to park.

Sweat drips from my face in the elevator. People smile at me, even suspect who I am, a crazed grandmother trying to find Labor and Delivery.

Molly is on the delivery table, her legs up in the stirrups, six nurses in blue, our doula, and Ben surround her. It’s 1:30 and the woman doctor between Molly’s legs is telling Molly to push. She has been in labor just five hours and she’s completely dilated. The baby is coming.

I stand back where I can see everything and be out of the way. Molly notices me and waves me off to the side. I rush to the head of the bed near Ben, who Molly is hanging onto for dear life.

Ben is supposed to announce first if it is a boy or girl. He forgets, but it doesn’t matter because Molly makes that final terrible, beautiful push, the baby’s head comes out and the rest of the body follows fast and we could all see his little penis as he made his way up to Molly’s chest. 1:57pm.

Like a cooked shrimp, the baby turns from blue to pink as Molly and Ben kiss and kiss. The baby gazes at them. Cyrus is his name, after Molly’s great-grandfather.

Then Molly’s legs begin to shake and a nurse brings her a warm blanket.

Bill arrives. We hug each other and beam at the wonder of being grandparents.

Three hours later, Molly, Ben, and Cyrus are settled in a hospital room, Cyrus tightly swaddled in Ben’s arms. I declare my intent to depart to take care of Roger. The nurse suggests I take Cy’s little blue stocking hat, for Roger to smell.

Molly, Ben and Cy

*   *   *

“Roger,” Tutu says, “come here.”

She sits on the couch with a new toy in her hands. I stay on the floor.

“Molly had a baby boy today,” she says. “His name is Cyrus, and he has sent you this.”

Tutu holds out a cloth for me to sniff. Which I do. I sniff and sniff and the flesh on my nose tingles and drips with the scent. My eyes close and my mouth fills with moisture and I long to taste…

“No, It can’t be licked yet,” she says, “and never eaten. Baby Cy is your boy and he’ll be here tomorrow. In the meantime, you can smell his hat.”

Okay, Tutu. No teeth. Just smelling is good.

*   *   *

Roger sleeps on my bed with me. The next morning we get up together and do all the laundry, clean the bathroom, mop the kitchen floor, and vacuum. I know I’ll go home as scheduled the next day.

As I make Ben and Molly’s bed and fold clothes, I look at the map of Bristol Bay above their dresser. We have a map of the Big Island of Hawaii on our wall at home. The white pineapples are ready now, I think.

After all the work is done, Roger and I go downstairs and look at old photo albums from when Molly was born. Time loops over itself. Finally, at 7pm, they pull up to the house in the Subaru.

Then, Ben is sitting on the couch, in the same spot Molly’s water broke just the day before, with the swaddled Cy. “Roger,” he says, “meet Cy.”

Roger sniffs the baby politely. “Good dog,” says Ben.

Roger looks at me, and I understand. He’ll take it from here, but come back soon.

me, cyrus and roger

Equalization

It’s that time of the month again.   The Bearded One’s back is out (for the first time in his life), he’s in bed and has been for days (moving all those damn lava rocks),

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so for the first time since we moved here a year ago and got the solar system up and working last fall, the monthly battery equalization is all up to me.

“I haven’t pushed the button myself,” he says as he explains to me – how Tom explained to him – how to start our new electric-start, gasoline-powered generator. Our old FOUR-pull start, propane-powered generator is for sale, and I’m handling that, too ($700 on Craigslist).

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We are too old to yank that rope four times out to here. The Bearded One will be 60 in September. I’m not far behind him.

I laugh.  I haven’t laughed much today. The Bearded One has never actually started the new generator. I will be the first. This is funny because I never was able to start the old generator. I have to start this new one today because we have to have it on to equalize the solar batteries. A dreaded procedure we usually do together.

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Tom wrote us a lengthy (but at our reading level) manual called “Care and Maintenance of Your Solar System”. It includes this: Equalization is a process that charges a battery with higher than normal voltage to dissolve scale and electrolyte buildup on the internal battery plates to keep them clean and functional so the voltage in each battery cell is comparable with its peers (equalized!) which makes them perform better and last longer.

The Bearded One is in charge of maintaining and starting the generator, and carefully putting the distilled water in the batteries (touch two terminals at once and it’s all over), and I am the electronics panel person, because it looks like a computer and the Bearded One is computer illiterate. Tom almost always ends up having to help us with that screen. It just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.

“Living off-grid requires healthy bodies,” I say, riffing on a previous discussion where I panicked about my planned trip to the mainland  to help with the birth of our grandchild in less than three weeks.

I couldn’t leave the Bearded One like this. Our own water and electricity operation requires some effort almost every day – hauling propane and ethanol-free gas, checking the catchment tanks, checking the battery water level and the monthly equalization,

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not to mention the unexpected events like the battery meltdown at the end of December, or the generator not charging the batteries, or the accursed monitor not working properly. How, just 10 days from now, is he going to be able to handle all that, plus the cooking and cleaning? He can barely make it to the bathroom. At least now he doesn’t need the crutches to get there. The happy ending to that dilemma is that our son, aka His Majesty, who still lives on the island, agreed to be on call — even to moving in here if need be – so that I can go.

“Healthy bodies,” agrees the Bearded One, “and a handyman.” He is reassuring me that we can always call Tom or Bruce. Living off-grid does create a community.

“I’ll figure it,” I say. And then, as I leave the house with the generator instruction manual, a flashlight, a gallon jug of distilled water and a turkey baster,

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I stop and run upstairs to make sure Nala is inside. Open batteries full of hydrochloric acid don’t mix with curious cats.

The day the Bearded One’s back gave out, Tom and His Majesty were up here installing the reed ceiling over the heat insulation panels. It turned out nice, like Gilligan’s Island.

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The Bearded One hasn’t even been up the stairs to see it yet. He’s moved into the den, and Nala thinks he’s mad at her because he won’t go outside or bend over to pet her.

There she is, on the shelf in the tool area. We meow to each other.

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This week hasn’t been all work and no play. On Thursday, swimming at Pohoiki with my buddy NeNe, the water was way calm, almost like a lake. There were hardly any waves, but dozens of paddle boarders and swimmers and snorklers. And kids out of school. Lots of Hawaiian locals, but also a handful of us local haoles and some happas (mixed race). All the usuals that know us were telling us there was a school of spinner dolphins out there. Big smiles and pointing. Previously, I’ve only seen these leaping dolphins from the shore, and way out. They were close in today. So I swam out! And just 10 feet away, sleak gray dolphins, maybe 30 in all, in a lovely formation, two by two, then a few singles, leaping up and down, circled this group of us.

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Several people had goggles and one woman offered to share. Two kids were goggling next to me and told me all about the little baby, just a foot long, that was flanked and shielded by the others, but giving the elder dolphins some trouble. I didn’t see the baby, but the kids, a boy and a girl, had and told me.  Everyone was treading water quietly, respectfully as we watched. I loved the people around me as much as the dolphins.

On the way home I stopped to get propane, filling one 4-gallon tank I had with me and buying two additional for our stove, fridge and hot water. We sold our 9-gallon tanks on Craigslist yesterday. Heavy things. The Bearded One always loaded and unloaded those.

Okay, so here I am, by myself in front of our electrical system (four US Battery L16 410-amp hour 6-volt flooded lead acid batteries wired in series to create a 24 volt electrical system), and our new generator (Generac 7500 Watts).

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I fill a 2-gallon gas can from a full 4-gallon can (which is hard to lift and angle and I’m selling our 4-gallon cans asap).

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Then I angle the gas nozzle into the generator hole, previously located and upcapped, and pull back on the little lever so the gas burps out. And out. Two gallons is enough. It just has to run an hour to equalize.

Fuel petcock switched to the left, check.

Choke switched to the left, check.

Press START. Vrooooooom! She starts, then gets sluggish and I race around and switch the choke off, and the generator is on. Whoop! No pull rope at all.

Next to the battery box. Take off the plywood siding (takes me 10 minutes of loosening C-clamps this first time). Carefully remove spring-loaded battery caps from 4 green box batteries. Shine flashlight into batteries and see water level. Use turkey baster to fill them up. Wipe sweat from brow.

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Then go mess with the monitor. Can’t get clear screen. Check instructions again. Try to clear the screen by turning off Battery Disconnect Switch. Nothing happens. Do this several times. Still not working. Sweat.

I turn off the generator and trudge inside. Sweat and tears, but no blood. “It won’t work!” I say.

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The Bearded One says, “You did great. You started the generator! You filled the batteries. You are such an island babe.”

“True,” I say. It was pretty sweet. No man is an island. “I’ll go call Tom.”

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Pinkerbell

“I’m coming, too!” I call to the Bearded One who is spraying his tanned shins with mosquito repellant out where the truck is usually parked.

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It’s between rain showers and I can’t go swimming this Monday morning because the truck is in the shop. The Bearded One just got his hat and stick and sunglasses for his morning walk, so I decide to join him on my new bike that I got for Mother’s Day – Pinkerbell.

“Yay!” he calls back and waves his walking stick. Lots of pit bulls on the Big Island.

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It’s 9:30am, 68 degrees. It’s also Mt. St. Helens Day, I see in our Hawaii Tribune Herald. Thirty-five years ago today Mt. St. Helens blew, and I was in Seattle, just a hundred miles away. In church. Now I’m living less than 25 miles from Mt. Kilauea, currently active and rumbling – 25 earthquakes up there this weekend. Our daughters, one of whom is pregnant and had a baby shower on Saturday, still live in Seattle. I fly to the mainland, as we say here, late next month to welcome this grandchild, whose sex remains unknown.

I check the Magic Number – the solar battery read-out in the guest room – 85%. Excellent. This is the best of off-grid life. The sun charges the solar batteries and we don’t have to run the propane generator, and the rain keeps the catchment tank full. The solar system got some needed fine-tuning last week, and we’ve reached 100% every day since.

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I walk through the tiny hallway of our 900 square foot 2-story Hippie House into the den and admire the working sliding glass door and the windows full of green and yellow light. The crocus looks like it’s on fire.

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I step out onto the newly finished lanai. There’s the washer and dryer. And there’s Pinkerbell, dry under the new tin roof, ready for a spin.

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Pinkerbell has a kickstand. As well as a basket, 7 gears, wide tires and seat, and is the hottest shade of pink outside of a lipstick tube. We bought her at Target, select Schwinns on sale 25% off, and paid $180 including tax and my Hawaii Bike License ($15) which will come in the mail.

My sister named her, although my brother came up with some good ones, too. My brother and I rode our bikes everywhere growing up in Houston, Texas in the 1960s. My bike was a blue Cruiser, a lot like Pinkerbell. His was a bit smaller and red.

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I’ve ridden Pinkerbell every day since I brought her home on Mother’s Day. I rode her to the labyrinth last week and wowed the women. “Whose Schwinn!?” one of them cried out on sight. I ride my fairy bike up and down our rode a couple of times a day, inhaling the ocean breeze, looking at the vast sky.

Nala blocks me as I wheel the bike down the lanai, then lies on the step and meows. “Shoo,” I say. Nala sleeps outdoors now. Unlike in Seattle, there are no coyotes or raccoons here to kill outdoor cats. Nala will be a year old next month and she is a great hunter and companion, even if she won’t stay in your lap for 5 seconds.

Smoke’s in the air. Our 80-year-old neighbor starts his fireplace whenever it gets below 70 degrees. The Bearded One collects wood for him as he works the farmlet, spreading cinder soil over the lava, pruning the Monkeypod tree,

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cultivating the pineapples (100+ yummy white ones),

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transplanting palms and boosting the compost on the bananas. I wheel Pinkerbell around the house, past the huge mango that rains down mangos when the trade winds come, past the barbecue that’s already rusted, into the yard where the truck usually sits.

A huge dove crashed into it yesterday and busted the sunroof out of its weld. The Bearded One heard it from inside the house and saw the wounded dove, seemingly the size of a small turkey, and its mate fly off. “A great way to use up a chunk of bad luck,” he said.

We head out to the road, me pedaling slowly, the Bearded One marching his happy walk, swinging his stick.

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We meet neighbors and dogs, everyone waves. The Rottweilers croon, the dog named Shane barks and wags hello, and the old man named Richard waves from his lanai with his dog JC. On our way back, a neighbor comes out to the road to introduce us to Kula, a silky soft 9-week-old Golden/Border Collie mix. “We got her at the Humane Society, half price off on all yellow dogs!”

The Bearded One and I don’t want a dog now. Or chickens. Or goats. Just a cat and each other.  We go to the Maku’u Farmer’s Market on Sundays to get eggs and produce and farm honey, and a pizza for him. For now, we’re buying our meat at the grocery store in Pahoa, pasture raised beef, no factory chickens – until we go to Hilo and the Bearded One has to get chicken strips at Safeway. Along with sushi.

I think about these things as I ride my bike over the cinder gravel road, past the new construction.

There are 6 houses going in on our mile-long road. They poured the concrete foundations for two of the kit houses (roughly 1000 sq ft on 1 acre for $200,000) this past weekend. Tiny houses, indistinguishable from the Bearded One’s and my first rental in Seattle 20 years ago.

I get home before the Bearded One, park Pinkerbell back on the lanai and head in. Magic Number? 87%! Such a life.

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Feet In Your Shoes

NeNe, my swimming buddy, waves from the boat ramp and I wave back from just inside the breakwater. Where’s George? I wonder, and swim to join my friend.

I almost didn’t come. NeNe didn’t answer her phone this morning, and it was pouring rain. But when she called back, said she was running late and let’s go! I bolted for the door.

And got here a few minutes early, so I watched the surfers out in Pohoiki Bay, their boards pointed out to the deep purple-blue sea, waiting for a wave.  The right wave.

Today I’ve lived in Hawaii one year. Off grid, on catchment water. I’ve learned a lot. Water is incredibly precious.

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Modern culture uses a lot of electricity – most everything is plugged in. I’ve learned that propane refrigerators need defrosting.

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I’ve learned that lava flows can just stop. And that hot flashes are real and debilitating. My generation of Boomer women is still a bit radical, but I’ve learned that the younger Millennial generation has a large contingent of counterculture souls, aching to live a bit more in sync with nature.

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The Bearded One and I have seen whales, wild pigs, owls and countless rainbows.

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We have a whole new concept of what “hard rain” is. We have hosted family and friends.

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But the best, for me, continues to be swimming in the ocean. The water is alive.

NeNe pulls her long, thick, white hair into a ponytail.

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A surfer, a white guy about our age who I don’t recognize, slides his board into the water near me as I float in the shallow water off of the ramp.  “Where’s George?” I say.

“In the car!”

The surfer looks at me and I briefly explain George is a wonderful dog, a huge black AKC champion Bouvier des Flandres who is also sometimes a pain, not listening to NeNe and wandering off and eating garbage.

“He was being a poop, so I left him there,” says NeNe, splashing into the water next to me.

“Good for you,” I say.

“I get to decide,” she says, looking as tough as she can.

“Yes, you do,” I say, and then I stand up in the water and begin to recite:

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“You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

The surfer looks at me, eyes wide.

“You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.  And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go!”

“Did you just make that up?!” says the surfer.

“It’s Dr. Seuss!” I say and smile big.

“AH!” says the surfer. “He’s a god.”

And with that, NeNe and I head back out into the waves.

The Boy Spouts of America

The Bearded One lifts the empty box Nala came in from the back seat and I shoulder my purse and grab the gallon ziplock bag of my chocolate chip cookies and we head into the veterinarian’s house, which is just another house in our immense subdivision here in Puna, Hawaii. I am a nervous wreck.

Our 8-month-old kitty was spayed today and we’re here to pick her up. I feel like a new mother these days (at age 58) with this new kitty around to nurture. Maybe once engaged, mothering never ends. Besides, everywhere we go there are babies.

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*   *   *

Earlier in the day, our older daughter called to ask for my chocolate chip cookie recipe. She and her husband, the Captain, are having a baby in July which will be the Bearded One’s and my first grandchild and we are over the moon.

Right now they are nesting. The Captain is gardening and working a city job and won’t be fishing this year, and our daughter wants to bake cookies. I tell her I’ll email the recipe. I tell her the story of Nala getting spayed today, how nervous I was, and then I tell her again I will be there for her, that I will fly to Seattle when she comes home from the hospital.

“We’ve decided not to find out the sex,” she says. This is a change. For weeks she’s wanted to know.

“Remember when you were a kid how we used to check the cookie bottoms to see if they were boys or girls?” I ask.

“No!”

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“Lift up the edge – burned bottoms are boys.”

She is appalled.

*   * *

Nala is heavily drugged. She can’t walk a straight line.

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She is helpless and needs to be somewhat contained, and can’t go outside for a day or two. The doctor says she did great in surgery. He is an older white guy with wire-rimmed glasses, sneakers and a sweet smile. I thank him and hand over the bag of cookies.

*   *   *

We get Nala home and settled in a barricaded area downstairs, and when she is sound asleep, we decide to go to the beach, as we often do, to watch for whales. Sure enough, there are several fins and spouts a ways out, so we hang around for a while and watch. Humpback whales come to Hawaii from Alaska in the winter to birth their young.

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The pod moves across the horizon from left to right. Everyone points and shouts when we see a spout, and then we see an extra big spray and a smallish humpback baby breeches for all to see.

“The Boy Spouts of America!” says the Bearded One and everyone laughs.

*   *   *

At home, Nala is missing. We walk in the front door and the barricaded corner is empty. The box she came in is pushed aside, and it is clear she escaped. But where? No way she could have handled the stairs yet. We call her name. Nothing. We search the entire bottom floor, all her favorite places.

Behind the stove and fridge, on the towel shelf —

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— in the bathtub, on the suitcase in the guest room closet, under the stairs. No Nala.

I race upstairs, even though it’s impossible that drunken kitty could be up here. I am frantic.

But there she is. Asleep under the bed, on my side. “There you are,” I say softly.

“Mew,” she says, and goes back to sleep.

If You Give a House a Bed

We are Robert the water guy’s next to last delivery. It’s almost 8pm, we’ve got spotlights on the side of the house, the Bearded One is opening the gate, and I’m standing at the window holding our new kitty, Nala.

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“Mew,” she says, her eyes nocturnal and wide. She wants to watch, too, but is a bit nervous about all these lights. She is comforted just by hearing the sound of my voice, that I am not concerned.

She wants me to tell her a story as we stand here, looking out at the road, the driveway, and the huge pile of bedding soil dropped off earlier in the driveway, a tall pile that looks in the dark to be pointed like a witch’s hat.

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I remember a favorite bedtime story of our kids – If You Give a Moose a Muffin – and riff on it for my kitty.  “Okay,” I say, kissing Nala’s soft head. “This story is called, “If You Give a House a Bed.”

“Mew.”

“If you give an old hippy house a huge pile of bedding soil outside, it’ll want a real inside bed (not inflatable) as well. So you’ll drive into Hilo and buy a Serta Perfect Sleeper queen-sized bed, box spring and frame.

When the bed is delivered, the hippy house will want another one for guests. And then another for the den. But it’ll settle for a couch in the den, one that clicks down into a full-sized bed, so you can watch an occasional Netflix, and also for guests.

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And when this old hippie house’s rooms are all full of beds and couches, it will ask where the washer and dryer will go. You’ll have to trek to Hilo again to buy some concrete and order wood for a free-standing outdoor deck to put the washer and dryer on. Might just vibrate the old house apart, otherwise.

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When you’re building the deck, that old house will notice how dusty and dry the road and yard are getting in the record-breaking heat and drought (9 inches behind normal rainfall for the year and 10-15 degrees hotter for the winter). The dust will remind it of the last El Nino and it will think about what a crazy year it’s been with hurricanes and lava eruptions and now drought.

It’ll ask you to check the water level in the catchment tank. It’s scary if it goes too low. When the old building sees there’s just a foot left, it advises you to order a water delivery to keep everybody happy. $140 for any amount up to 4,000 gallons. The 1550 gallon tank is starting to feel downright tiny.

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Out in the yard, the hippy house suddenly notices the perfect spot for a second catchment tank, so you won’t have to keep paying for water. It tells you to put an ad on Craigslist for a jackhammer man to clear the lava rock from the spot.

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And then it remembers how dirty you get working outside, so the old house, excited and on a roll, insists on an outdoor shower on the deck next to the washer and dryer. It’ll go measure. We’ll need to buy some redwood to build the shower.

Meanwhile, you go inside for a glass of filtered catchment water from your new Berkey water purifier, and sit on the couch/bed. The hippy house is feeling very homey. All it needs now is a cat.

Just then, your son calls and asks if you would like a beloved, tame, gorgeous 7 month old cat named Nala, whose mother is pregnant again. You say, ‘BRING HER!’”

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Nala meows fiercely, and I pet her some more. I hear the heavy water truck coming up the road, unmistakable in the night silence. It’s pitch dark. The stars are popping. Time to wind up the story. “Yep,” I say, “chances are, if you get new beds, inside and out, an old hippy house is going to want at least one cat to go with them. “

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Still Untattooed

“Take a look at this,” I say. I hold up a photocopy of a drawing of a young, tattooed Hawaiian man from 1778.

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Half his handsome face is covered with tattoos and he sports a Mohawk. “My son’s hair looks exactly like that.”

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The ladies laugh. There are two tables and a total of eleven of us retired-aged women. We are piecing together facets of our souls in a SoulCollage class at the Keaau Senior Center (minimum age 55, so I’m 3 years qualified), cutting images out of magazines and gluing them onto 5”x7” pieces of cardboard.

We are making personalized decks of cards for ceremonial drawing at a later time. Like drawing Tarot Cards.

One of the women didn’t hear me say “hair” and is clearly shocked that I’d have such a thoroughly tattooed son.

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“Your son?” she says, and I reassure her that he is still untattooed. Although most young people in Hawaii seem to have at least one. Maybe it’s just more obvious because more skin shows here.

It makes me think.  Wonder what I’d get if I were to get one.

Everyone is still listening as they cut and paste. Lovely music plays softly in the background from the teacher’s tape player, and we can hear the ceramics class next door, through the huge screens, wedging and slapping clay.

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I look at the image. 236 years ago, this young man sat proudly for Captain James Cook’s artist, John Webber.

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In the book I photocopied, the author wrote about how fascinated the famous captain and his officers were with the differences between the curvilinear patterns of the New Zealand Maoris and the strict linear patterns of the Hawaiians. This confident young man had status, the book said. They cut the designs into the skin and rubbed vegetable dye or soot or squid ink over the wounds.

Since we moved to Hawaii nine months ago, I’ve introduced myself a lot. What do I do? Who am I? A writer? A baker? A candlestick maker? Much of my time lately is spent with my new gas (propane) stove, the nicest stove I’ve ever had (I’ve always had electric), baking cookies and muffins.

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Still, identifying myself stressed me until this last week when I asked the Bearded One, who has no tattoo and has never had one whit of trouble identifying himself to the world, how he answers the question. Who wants to know? he said. And that was an epiphany right there. The question is about the questioner! Not me. It’s about who I am at this moment, the relevant stuff with this particular person, and finding the connection between us.

“Facial tattoos scare me,” I say to my classmates. “The other tattoos are a fine way to mark and identify yourself, but I don’t like needles, thankyouverymuch.” Nods of agreement all around the table.

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“As to what I’d get if I were inclined – a labyrinth”.

 

Chartres Labyrinth

The Labyrinth Lady – a lovely, tall, red-haired 60-year-old woman, who also happens to be the Soul Collage teacher – smiles as she walks by. She bought an acre lot a half mile from the ocean almost twenty years ago. She told me she was obsessed with life’s paths. It took three months of full-time labor, but, by herself, she built a magnificent Chartres Labyrinth.

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She opens it to the public frequently, and I was invited to join the group who weeds it and then walks it together every week.

Photo credit Stanley Gapol Labyrinth of Christie Wolf

Photo credit Stanley Gapol; Labyrinth of Christie Wolf

 

The rules of walking the labyrinth and cutting and pasting images are similar. You don’t have to be silent. You can crack a joke. You can stop and smell the flowers or examine a plant or straighten a fallen-over statuette or chime. You just walk the path. With respect.  It’s not a maze. It’s a circular, spiral path looping and layering back and forth yet all the while progressing toward the center.

“That speaks to me,” one of my labyrinth friends says, pointing to two images that I’ve just cut out of magazines and glued onto cardboard – a stained glass church window and a witchy Wonder Woman in a blue bikini and stained-glass blue body paint.

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I smile and keep gluing until the Labyrinth Lady announces break time. Then I haul out my bag. “Cookies!” I say, and lay them out for my new friends. We can all think about it, I suppose, but for now we are still untattooed.

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All Bus Up

“If it works, and it’s in Puna, it’s worth something,” Tom says to me. I laugh, but I don’t believe it. “It’s all bus up!” I say.

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Tom is here disconnecting the old stove that came with this house, and installing a longer propane line and an electricity box for the new one we bought, which is being delivered this afternoon.

The windows are open as they always are, and we can just hear a bulldozer rattle and clank down the road.

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Last year I was pioneer woman breaking new ground, moving to Hawaii, living off-grid, baking dozens and dozens of cookies in an all bus up stove. This year I’m getting a new stove.

All bus up is my favorite Pidgin phrase. When we bought the house, we tried to make their lawn mower and string trimmer part of the deal. The seller said, “Sure, you can have the mower, but the string trimmer is all bus up.”

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I love how it sounds, how it makes me smile when I hear it again. Lawn-mowers, string trimmers – all bus up! Store-bought eggs, all bus up! This ancient, rusted stove is not literally all bus up, but it’s pretty far gone. There is just no way it’s worth anything. I would feel guilty even giving it away on Craigslist.

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The Bearded One and Tom almost can’t get the stove out because of the window ledge.

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It must have been here for at least 20 years, since the house was built. And now, it’s in the middle of the kitchen floor. Rusted sides, one lone non-sooty functional burner, a long-stopped clock (6:30), and a choking brown dust layer on the floor beneath the oven.

Bulldozer treads bang in the distance, metal plates on solid rock. There is no soil here. Not 8/10 of a mile from the ocean. This 500-year-old lava is virtually brand new. Pahoehoe (puh-hoy-hoy) lava flows pile up, and composting takes eons. I’ve watched the bulldozer work. A brown man in a bright blue shirt drives the bulldozer back and forth, over and over and down and around the bus up lava rock, grooming it to build, breaking it down into workable size chunks for altering the rough landscape into a big pool table.

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This is not how our place was done, by a long shot.

I set to work cleaning the floor and wall and anything else that needs it as I wait for the promised phone call from the Home Depot delivery man saying, “We’ll be there in half an hour.” The Bearded One doubts it’ll all work out as promised. It rarely does here.

Finally the phone rings. It’s them! What? The man who was supposed to convert the gas jet to propane didn’t get the message?

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He will do the conversion on Monday? They deliver to the other side of the island on Tuesdays. Wednesdays they don’t deliver. She apologizes, but the plan is all bus up and we won’t get our new stove until Thursday, five days away.

“No stove for five days!” I say to Tom a few minutes later. I hang my head. “What I would give to have the old one back.”

He smiles. “It’s already hooked up. I just used your new connections. You can have it back now.”

I laugh, deeply relieved. It’s still working. Kind of like the whole world. Even if it’s all bus up.

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Beach Boys

The three men point right at my tank top, their mouths hanging open. They’re all freezing in this blasting wind at the shoreline. The Bearded One is with them, having passed me in the truck as I walked the mile to the ocean.

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The beach boys – sixtyish “Brian,” barefoot and boisterous with a beer in his hand; “Dennis”, 72, Chinese from L.A., with an ancient terrier strapped in a harness to his chest; and “Carl,” a young Hawaiian who we just met – are all talking a mile a minute until I walk up.

“Aloha,” I say, trying to ignore their stares. “Seen any whales?”

“Aren’t you freezing?!” says Brian. “I’m freezing!”

Dennis shivers looking at me, and cuddles his dog. “Aren’t you from Alaska?!”

The Bearded One lived in Alaska for a few years back in the mid 90s and, in these situations, he sometimes tells stories of his dog mushing and gold mining adventures. No wonder Dennis thought I was from Alaska.

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“I’m from Seattle and this is not cold,” I say and notice for the first time every one of them is wearing a jacket. It’s 65 degrees but the wind is strong. “There’s no wind chill!” I say.

“Wind chill,” Brian says slowly. He ponders. He shivers.

I laugh. “It’s hormones, too. I’m always hot,” I say, wink, and Brian and the Bearded One both hoot.

We take a break from the conversation to scan the Pacific for whales. The season’s apparently slower getting started this year.  A few splashes, but no actual humpbacks.

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Brian, Dennis, Carl and a few others come most every evening as we do to look out at the ocean and just hang. Sometimes I bring home-made cookies. “Mike,” one of the regulars who lives right on the ocean says there are some whales out there, but not very many. He and his wife hear them singing at night. He remembers years when you could see dozens of babies leaping through the water across the bay. Where are they?

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Clouds in the sky to the east turn brilliant orange and red, reflecting the sun setting on the other side of the island.

Dennis tenderly pets his dog. He rescues all kinds of dogs and brings turkey treats for Mike’s dog. He once told me, “Never buy a dog from a hippie,” and I started to laugh, but he was deadly serious. I didn’t inquire further.

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To the south, two different rain squalls sweep toward us on the horizon. The ocean is so vast, I can’t see it all at once and have to turn.  No whales, though.

And then I remember the big news. “Hey, did you guys hear? Malama Market is closing on Thursday!”

“No way!” says Brian.

“Yes, that was my response,” I say. The Bearded One is nodding. Everyone will really miss Malama’s.

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“Longs, too?” Dennis asks me. Longs is the drug store across from the Pahoa Marketplace where the Malama grocery store is, and where the new lava flow is now less than a mile away and moving fast, 300 yards a day. It could be in the Malama parking lot on Christmas. It could be on Aisle 3.

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“No,” I say. “For now, it’s just Malama and the gas station closing.”

“They’re bailing!” says Carl, surprising me with his vehemence. There aren’t a lot of any kind of businesses in south Puna. Then he smiles. “I mean, aren’t they, like, jumpin’ the gun?”

“I know,” I say. “It’s hard.” Not only is Malama the main grocery store for miles and miles, it employs 83 people. It’s where we’ve gone for food, gas and propane. Now we’ll go the other direction, north to Keaau and Hilo. But people in Pahoa and south Puna will have even further to go, plus if the lava takes Malama, it will be just a few hundred yards from the highway – a real game changer.

Brian shakes his head. “They don’t want to wait until they’re on fire,” he says. “Makes sense. It’s a shock, though.”

“They should build a berm,” Carl says, smiling.

“Like that guy, Albert – “

“Albert Lee!” says Carl. “I’m related to him.”

“He was on the front page of the paper,” I say. Albert Lee, who lives in Pahoa, bulldozed a 12 foot high berm to stop the lava or at least divert it from his house – with his neighbors’ blessing. Unbelievably, the lava stopped all on its own just in front of his berm. That was a different lava flow.

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Carl is really laughing now. “He’s a rock star!” he says.

It’s getting dark and the party for us is ending. Carl pulls out a fishing pole for some night fishing. It’s time I get around, leave all these good vibrations behind, bid goodnight to the beach boys and to the ocean and whatever whales are there. We’ll keep coming back. Wouldn’t it be nice? God only knows. Fun, fun, fun.

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The Land of Ooze

“What time is it?” I whisper to Katherine, the only lady at the monthly Game Night wearing a watch. There are ten of us here at Marge’s and this is our second round of Catch Phrase.

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I was first invited by my friend Deborah. I had a great time in October, missed November, and tonight – December 3 – she just got up and demonstrated several 1960s dances (Twist, Watusi, Jerk and Pony) and our laughter rocked the entire 16 mile square subdivision.

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“Eight forty-five,” she says.

“I said I’d be home by 9,” I say and a couple of the ladies across the table just howl at my curfew. We are all wild and whooping it up, sipping wine and munching pupu platters and staying out late. Still, half the women live in other subdivisions, one has an outside job, and yet another’s cat allergies have kicked in and her eyes are watering. Everyone agrees to wind it up.

By 9:30 I’m out the door with my empty cookie plate and a big slab of apple pie in a plastic box for the Bearded One.

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The moon is huge, just 3 days from full. I see the constellation we call The Three Twinkly Ones – Orion’s Belt – clearly and think as I always do when seeing these three stars in a row of our three adult “kids,” all of whom were actually here together last month.

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After they left, unsurprisingly, I felt a bit bereft, pondering life and my navel and badgering everyone for a definition of home.

NeNe, my swimming buddy, says home is where your beloved is. The Bearded One says home is where you don’t want to live anywhere else. Our younger daughter, the Nurse, says home is where her hair products and cat are.

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I climb into the dark truck. It starts right up and stays started. Monday it was with Ed at Kolohe Car Repair on 19th Street getting its fuel pump relay replaced. Hawaii is hard on cars. Lava cinders grind the tires down, salt water and vog eat the paint and feed the rust, and the roads are rough. “Just gonna rattle the truck to death,” says the Bearded One.

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On the other hand, it’s December and the weather is exquisite, in the 60s at night, low 70s during the days with sun rays and a trade wind breeze. These are the reasons we moved here 8 months ago.

I back out the pitch black driveway and swerve to avoid a pothole the size of a toilet. I think how Ed the Mechanic reminds me so much of Virge the Mechanic back in Washington, good guys who come to our house to pick us up since we have just one car. I don’t want to be in Washington, though, I think.

I feel tired as I drive through the dark. I weeded one of the pineapple patches earlier today while the Bearded One weed-whacked.

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I can only imagine him trying to stay up for me. It’ll be 10 before we’re in bed. This with a man who went to bed at 2-3am most nights for the first decade or so we were back together.  He shifted his clock for me.

I turn left onto Paradise Drive, past the piles of uprooted albizia trees from Tropical Storm Iselle back in August, and I’m halfway home.

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One of the other Game Night women behind me turns right toward Pahoa, where the lava flow has picked up again after stalling out last month. “The vog set off our smoke alarm last week,” she told us between game rounds and pupus refills. She shrugged and smiled – what can you do?

The lava river has split and is oozing more toward us now, but it’s still miles away. A slow motion, months-if-not-years event.

And the feral pigs. One of which, a small black hog the size of a golden retriever runs in front of the truck as I turn onto our road off of Paradise.

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The Three Twinkly Ones and the moon shine brightly above our house as I enter our driveway. It’s 9:40 and the Bearded One greets me at the door in his jammies – electric blue surfer boy pants. The house behind him is dark.

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“I’m so sorry I’m late,” I say. His eyelids droop sleepily and he mumbles something about being happy that I had fun as he shuffles toward the stairs.

“Here,” I say, “I brought you some pie. Maybe a few days’ worth.”

“Pie?” He looks at my outstretched hand.

“Apple.”

He perks up, takes the pie to the kitchen and turns on the light. There is our new microwave oven, the smallest available at Target, but still uses lots of watts. Carefully he microwaves the pie, and then sits down by the window under the universe of stars and eats it all. There’s no place like home.

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