Tag Archives: Hawaiian culture

Dragon Woman

“It’s all barometricky out there,” says the Bearded One. It’s Saturday morning and I sit sweating in my chair next to the window in our upstairs bedroom. I grunt, a sort of nasal harrumph out of the inactivity of my project-free weekend. I need something to do.

“I have no life,” I say.

Today is the first day in over two weeks we haven’t been under a hurricane or tropical storm alert, which is also practically the entire time I’ve been home from the mainland after attending Grandson Cy’s birth last month.  Cy is doing well.

Cy and Molly in bed

And so is Roger the dog.  And Molly and Ben.

Ben and Roger

It’s also hot and humid and mosquito infested and I feel worn out. Even though neither Guillermo nor Hilda hit, we tied down and tucked away anything outside, rounded up plywood window coverings and food and library books, filled propane and gas cans, and notified relatives and friends that we no doubt would lose internet and phone if it hit.

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We stayed close to home and didn’t schedule anything, all lessons from last year’s direct hit by Tropical Storm Iselle.  I’m grateful we didn’t get hit, but the aftermath of such intense preparation is a kind of void, like getting ready for a trip and then not going.

Everything annoys me today. Cobwebs and dust in the house. Rampant lilikoi vines choking palm trees. Beautiful and bloated historical novels of Hawaii that break my heart. The world was a very different place until just a hundred years ago. Kids died, diseases wiped out hundreds of thousands. I stare out the window at the blue skies and sparkling sun – I need a project.

“You could mow,” offers the Bearded One, using a tried and trusted trick of his. It’s true, mowing has never failed to improve my mood. However –

“Yes, I could,” I say. “But I don’t want to.” A long pause, then I add, “It just grows back.”

He is unfazed. He helps me process. “Hm,” he says, pacing around and examining our small upstairs area. “Well, I need to help get this termite repair project set up for you. And get supplies for painting the beams. You’ve talked about wanting to take that on.”

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There are a million projects we’ve talked about doing on this old Hippie House, and I could embrace any of them, but I’m not.

“I want to begin something new and different and full of purpose and meaning to-day,” I say. The words trigger tears.

The Bearded One looks out the window across our lush tropical acre. He has a heart project, I think. Two banana patches, one in the front that already existed but wasn’t thriving.

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And one in the back corner, which he is building directly on the lava, layers of brown and green vegetation to make the necessary two feet of compost. We love bananas, especially the little apple bananas that grow here.

“And it’s not to start a novel.” I’m scowling now. Writing another novel is always my default go-to knee-jerk first-idea solution to the problem of what to do with my creative juice, even though the writing spirits haven’t moved me sufficiently in 20 years to warrant all that work.

“Okay,” he says. “No novel.”

“And not dry more fruit.” Although that was a fun project this week. Jackfruit, papaya, pineapple and mango – all from this property, sliced and spread out on baking sheets and set on the dashboard and front seat of the closed-up truck. Two days in the equatorial sun and they are bone dry.


“That was a great project,” he says, still scanning the grounds through the huge screened windows that make the upstairs feel like a super-elevated lanai, like we are truly outdoors.

“And not cook.” Even though I love my new kitchen counter and sink and windows.


“We eat like kings,” says the Bearded One.

“I’m fasting today,” I say. (I’ve developed a 10 cookie/day habit this month that has to end.) “And I am not going to even think about a vegetable garden!” (It’s too hot here, the sun scorches my every attempt, there’s no soil. Besides I can get fresh stuff local – higher elevation farms – inexpensively at the market on Sunday.)

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“I’ve already disassembled the planter tubs,” he says.

“And I thank you for that,” I say back, and finally breathe.

I think of the white pineapples growing here that I love to eat, how choked they are with weeds. I think of the pineapple factory workers in the novel I’m reading, 12 hour days, dismal pay, racism, plantation labor, abuse, the blatant overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. I think of the Hawaiian word for the land – ‘aina (EYE-nuh) and how Native Hawaiians see their identities and well-being entwined with the ‘aina. Respecting it and living with it are of utmost importance.

Swimming in the ocean connects me to this place, but the truth is, I haven’t connected to this land yet. I stand up. I have to get outside.

I start weeding the ginger bed right off of the lanai.


Ripping and tearing, snakes of vines circling the tall leaves, crawling up ti (TEE) trees and obscuring huge lava rocks. I wear long sleeves and pants and boots and gloves and work for a couple of hours, sweating with a purpose.  I won’t much notice the spider bites (the Bearded One gets them all the time…) until later.

Inside I drink glasses of water and sit in front of the fan.

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Then out I go again, careful of my back, continuing my weeding, drawing closer and closer to the dreaded Bromeliads which encircle the northwest side of the house. Dozens of giant, six-foot serrated razor-sharp leaves in a cone, sitting on the lava in virtually no soil and holding gallons of water in their bases, a mosquito larvae heaven. I have thought of taking them all out so many times, but…

Today is the day! I pull at a leaf and discover that I can actually dislodge it. One after another, I tug and twist and disconnect the individual Bromeliads from the base octopus of root lying on the lava. Water pours out over my pants and boots and socks as I tip the monsters, then I grab the root and drag. To the fence line  up at the back of the property, back by the new banana patch.

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Six maniacal two-hour sessions over two days I work. All weekend. The area slowly opens up and I see the base of the mango, an orchid planted on a branch. I smell savory ginger and sweet puakenikeni.  The Bearded One has removed both the crocus and the strawberry guava trees that have been super conspicuous for the year we’ve been here.


It’s cool and shady and I think there are already fewer mosquitos. I thank my 58-year-old body for the strength to bend and pull and drag, to get really dirty and sweaty over and over again.


Bone-tired and smiling, I ask the Bearded One to help drag the last brontosaurus Bromeliad the rest of the way. I am draggin’ it uphill towards him.

“You,” he says, studying my flushed face, sweat-soaked attire, and fierce accomplishment – he waits until I look up – “are a draggin’ woman.”

I lean into him and say, “Well, grab hold. Let’s get this sucker outta here.”

Chop wood. Haul water. Drag Bromeliads. I feel much better.

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.


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.




“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.