“Tell Them Mike Sent You”
Mike is a rather modest man, even though he is the Chief of Staff for the Governor of Hawaii, who in between his other duties, which I feel certain are very important, makes time to steer misguided tourist in the right direction, and even snap their picture, standing in the Governor’s Office, that he insisted we should go up to the fifth floor to see, before the Governor’s staff went home for the day.
We encountered Mike in an entirely unexpected moment, after what for me had been an extraordinarily astonishing day, much of which would mean little to anyone else, but to me will forever be sealed in my memory as part of a brief, but significant return visit to Hawaii.
My morning started by going down to Starbucks to order our coffee, always with a bit of dread, as for some reason, our four shots of espresso, in a short cup with hot half and half, filled to the top, with no foam, seems to either stir confusion in the pricing or bafflement as to what the coffee should be called – on this day, however, I was greeted by Skye (whose name I hope I have spelled correctly) who had made our coffee the morning before, and kindly remembered what we wanted, not feeling a bit overwhelmed! It was the perfect way to start our day.
We had previously checked everything off of our “must do list”, thus we were feeling a bit more relaxed and free to hope we could get to those “would it not be nice things to do list”. After having gone to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, that morning, where I wanted among other things to see Ernie Pyle’s grave site, thinking of my cousin-in-law Phil, we left debating our next stop, which was either going to be the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives or the Hawai’i State Capitol Building, whose unique design I had read about and very much desired to see.
I was a bit hesitant about the Mission House, not wanting to overwhelm our agenda with my interest, but being assured that this would be a mutually welcomed stop, we entered the small gift shop, on South King Street, and purchased our tickets for the guided tour, with a docent who was a descendent of the original missionaries, who came to Hawai’i from Boston, Massachusetts, setting sail on the Thaddeus, on October 23, 1919, on a journey around Cape Horn.
The docent began our private tour by asking if we had any special interest in the museum, which initially seemed a bit odd and a question that I almost dismissed; but after a brief hesitation, I explained that I too had first come to Hawai’i as a descendent of Missionaries, as it were. I shared that my parents had moved our family to Hilo, Hawai’i, in 1973, as part of an assignment from the Home Missions Department of the Assemblies of God, an answer which she seemed surprised by, but was indeed part of the reason I had wanted to come to the museum.
It was an odd moment for me, I felt as if I were reclaiming or laying stake to a part of my history, which I do not often feel entitled to assert, as the sojourn was brief, but in fact significant, leaving an indelible mark.
When we arrived in Honolulu recently, it had been more than thirty years since I last stepped foot in the state. We got off the plane, after the long flight from Boston, the same city those original missionaries had come from, and we were of course tired, needing to freshen up, and hungry! After checking into our hotel, we got behind the wheel, and set out to look for a bite to eat.
Leaving the beautiful Waikiki behind us, we drove north, a bit astounded at the foliage that was dominated by flowering plumeria’s, coconut palms, hibiscus, heliconia, bromeliads, and of course elephant ear plants, which Hawaiians call taro and us Cubans Malanga – all plants with which I have landscaped my yard in Florida; I had no choice but think about how much time, as a child, I had spent in the church’s garden, in Hilo, and how much pleasure and solace I had found there playing with God’s creation, making lei’s and poi without the aid of a teacher or the internet, and picking Anthurium’s for my Mother. Yes, the climates are similar, and I have oranges, avocados, figs, and Cuban oregano growing in Florida, but had I subconsciously recreated a Hawaiian paradise in Florida? It would not be until later, in my visit, but I would eventually see all of those plants, including the Cuban oregano growing in Hawaii as well.
We soon came across an impressive line of locals, at a carry out window attached to a market, and impulsively pulled over. For the rest of the trip, any place I saw a long line, I stopped, most often to eat – it was a delicious way to see the island. I recognized little on the menu, but nevertheless ordered, and then went into the market, to gander at its offerings. We of course bought water, but more importantly, they had the mystical guava cake that I so fondly remember from my childhood and which I have tried to recreate with my haole limitations. (Link to my recipe below.)
I was happy. As I stood waiting for the food, a man walked up to me and asked me what was good there, I said I had no idea, I had simply stopped because of the crowd, he then assured me that the little place had great reviews on Yelp, I smiled joyfully, anticipating my cake more so than the pork.
Our first night had ended sitting on the balcony, overlooking the Pacific, having capped off our feast with Leonard’s guava filled Portuguese doughnuts, where the line would turn out to be the longest I would stand in, on this trip. The doughnuts were the best thing I have eaten in a long forever, making me feel very satisfied and oddly comforted or was it that I just felt comfortable? I loved listening to the ocean!
As the days in Hawai’i passed, I realized that this trip too was beginning to resemble the many remarkable journeys, which I have unexplainably been gifted with in 2016; and not having brought my computer with me, thus limiting my ease to write, I found myself free to ponder, reflecting without necessarily producing a column or poem; I almost felt as if I were on a holiday!
The tour of the Mission House Museum ended with me speaking to the several other decedents, as well the curator, who our tour guide had generously and graciously asked to come over, to answer my questions; I felt completely and beautifully overwhelmed with glorious thoughts and memories.
We went for lunch, talking about my parents, literacy, the Hawaiian language, the impact of Christianity, history, identity, and this feeling of familiarity which had suddenly and finally become my companion, after having spent a life time of feeling homeless.
It was after we had eaten, wondered around the Hawai’i State Capitol Building, failing to gain admittance, photographing one of the most notable memorials to the Veterans of Korea and Vietnam, that I have ever seen, checking out the YWCA, simply because of their signage, and finally making our way to `Iolani Palace, where we were informed by the very nice cashier that we could indeed enter the Capitol, it was open, and we had to simply use one of the elevators to go down stairs, to then make our way upstairs, that we then met Mike.
He spotted us in the basement of the Capitol, trying to get into an empty conference room; initially, he walked past us, but apparently our state of bewilderment brought him back. He asked if we needed help, and we clumsily explained that we were trying to see the Senate and House of Representative Chambers. He told us that unfortunately they were closed, but that we should go up to the fifth floor, checking his watch, that Bev would be there, and she could show us around, before they went home for the evening. He walked us over to the elevator and told us we could drop his name, to tell her that Mike sent us.
I was dumbfounded, and felt completely underdressed to knock on the Governor’s door, but the spirit of when in Rome, took over, and of course my traveling companion who is always much bolder, led the way, and I followed.
It was not Bev with whom we spoke, but rather Mercy, or so we believe, but please correct me if I am wrong; she graciously welcomed us as if maybe we knew the Governor’s Chief of Staff, who within a few minutes of our tour of the Executive Chamber, actually showed up to assist in our visit, commenting on how sorry he was that he did not have the keys on him, to show us the legislative chambers, but telling us how we could see them anyway – look in the windows!
He offered to take our picture, introduced us to the portraits of the Governors, explaining their positions in the display and told us how the Governors offices were truly open to the people. As I stood there, feeling this amazing spirit of everything which Aloha is supposed to represent, I asked him who had been Governor in 1973; Mike told me it had been John A. Burns, Governor Burns had once been my Governor, I thought, as I literally felt that I was floating through the most ethereal of tropical breezes.
After several more stops in the downtown area, we headed back toward the beach where we once again ate, this time in the park with the locals, reminding me of the time I had spent here thirty years ago. I thought about how three Cuban girls, hearing their overly protective Mother’s voices, even when they were thousands of miles away, had wanted to go swimming, at night, and thus took turns, one standing at each end, while the third swam in between the designated safe zone, and then switched places so we all got our turn.
The days which followed each offered an endless bounty of love, beauty, and serenity. I could not believe how connected I felt to this place, which had indeed once been home.
One of our last stops, before heading toward the airport was at Safeway, the grocery store. I had gone in under the guise of getting something for our trip home, but as you already know, I like visiting grocery stores. After asking about fresh guavas, which they did not have, and checking out cheeses and bread, I made my way to an aisle with local foods – I had in the back of my mind, a desire to visit, though I had not made it, to what I remember being called, in my childhood, a (crack) seed store. It was a place where my classmates would stop after school to buy treats, such as dried and salted fruits and a place which my budget only allowed me to window shop. I was limited on time, but I quickly grabbed a bag of rock salt plum and sweet seedless li hing mui, I then spotted a package of coconut pudding, haupia, which I love, grabbing one to make for my family and one to send to Patty; and then made my way to the cashier, who said, looking at my purchase, oh now she wanted to eat haupia. I said I did to, and she then told me she could give me the recipe, her recipe was better. I laughed to myself, and said to her I was going to mail it to a friend, the cashier hesitated for a moment, looking at me, while still checking out the man, in front of me. She then told me that her daughter worked at Federal Express, so she was fortunate when having to mail packages to the Mainland, I agreed with her; her next comment was on the fact that the pudding would not taste right, because my friend would not have coconut milk. I agreed, but assured her that the package was going to Florida, where coconuts abound; she seemed to find comfort in that, as she finally began to ring in my purchase. “Oh, this is good, true Hawaiian,” she told me, shaking her head as she scanned my crack seed finds. I felt so very pleased, like I had passed some sort of test.
Last month, I had a birthday. As we age, we often feel our worlds are getting smaller; but I feel mine expanding, and not just as one who passes by or stops for a bite to eat, but rather I feel I keep finding that my home is much larger than the walls and roof which house my dishes and books; I cannot wait to see what tomorrow will bring – That Is All For Now!