My husband and I are in Kauai after three long years away. I am no stranger to the Islands. My parents first brought me when I was about eight years old. My father, who fancied himself a golfer, wanted a vacation driving and putting and my mother just wanted other people to cook and clean. Dad spend most of the days golfing and my mom spent it by the pool or on the beach. I, being eight, looked for people to play with and found many. One of my favorites, though, was lady at the famous Hana Ranch on Maui.
If you’ve never been to Hana, it needs an explanation. It is situated on top of a hill and, when I was young, the road there was windy and long — especially to a young girl with motion sickness. I thought I had an inkling of the horror before me — vacation on top of a mountain, no kids, nothing to do — on the drive up. At practically every switchback I would beg my father to pull over where I would open the door and retch. After an hour of doing this — and the drive was several hours more — my father yelled at me that he would not stop any more and I was to hold it in. The joys of being daughter to an older, World War II aviator and Korean War vet with no idea of inner ear and stomach trouble. So we went around each bend and loop on the precarious cliff roads and, later rather than sooner, arrived at Hana Ranch.
When I was at Hana it was not for children. It was a rather gorgeous place. There was a fountain outside the main door and inside high ceilings and large picture windows showing vistas of rainforest, mountain, and surf. In the morning the workers threw open the windows in the dining room and took brooms to the five-foot-wide spider webs that had sprung up overnight, and the inches-long spider with them. It was enough to put you off your food. There was a lovely library with many books and my mouth watered with the promise of one lovely book after another to read at my leisure. The rooms were primitive enough to delight me and to make my mother grumble under her breath. It was an adult hangout with golf, a cocktail party every evening, and absolutely nothing for children to do. It has changed, I understand. The mountain road has been straightened to some degree and the resort itself caters more to families, but then, no, and I faced the week with trepidation. My parents were older, fully in their 50’s when they adopted me, and there was no way to get them to play. They loved me, don’t get me wrong, but they had other things to do than to play with their only child.
I remember one Christmas when my greatest wish was granted by Santa: Mystery Date. Mystery Date was a board game that was intensely popular when I was a child. You moved spaces on a board and every once in a while you received a date and were able to open a plastic door to reveal your date. Inside the door were a blond hottie, a brunette man-about-town, and several others. If you were incredibly unlucky, you were visited by, I guess you would call him a dork by today’s standards: goofy, messy, wearing glasses, the guy no one wanted as a prom date. I often think this game, if it still exists today, would be too politically incorrect for today’s young girls. It is the ultimate disrespect to men and boy. If you look like this, you’re too ugly to go out with. The game says so.
Anyway, I rejoiced when I tore off the packaging and immediately cornered my mother into playing with me. My father took a picture of us that day — me in my bathrobe and Mom in a navy blue dress sitting on the floor, legs out in front of her — both holding cards and playing the game. Me, with a laser-like focus striving to get the best blond hottie for my date, my mother looking bored to tears, with cards in one hand, cigarette in the other. We finished the game and she never played it with me again. I think she got the dork for her date. When I got older my father and I had epic Gin battles and sometimes Mom too, but my mother wasn’t a board game player. The only things she did like were Yahtsee/Kismet, Cribbage and Scrabble. I hated playing Scrabble with her; she did the daily newspaper crossword puzzles with a pen in under an hour. Yahtsee and Cribbage were out of the question: she worked with numbers for a living and I was still adding things up on my fingers.
So I was to have a week alone in Paradise with no one to play with except the many lizards and my shadow. Great. Thank goodness for a Hawaiian goddess who worked at Hana Ranch. I am embarrassed that I don’t remember her name but I think she asked me to call her Mama something. She was a big woman in a muu muu covered with flowers, with long black hair piled up on her head. She wore a gorgeous lei and a plumeria in her hair and she scooped me up as her special friend. She taught me how to hula to “Huki Lau” and “Little Grass Shack” and other time-honored hula tunes, taught me how to string a lei, to pound poi, and to catch a lizard. She took it upon herself to make sure I had a great time. She was one of the first adults to really see me as a fully realized person and not a child that should be seen and not heard. She was a wonder and I think of her often. I didn’t like pounding poi, and I wasn’t that good at lei-making, but I still remember the hula to “Little Grass Shack” and the words to “Huki Lau.”
In the catching of lizards, though, I had no problem. Hawaii has its own lizard called a gecko. Geckos are funny little things with pads on their toes which make it very easy for them to climb walls. The first day we were at Hana, they had a cocktail party for all the new visitors. It was a picture of ’60’s Mad Men culture with martinis, women in bright colored sundresses, and men dressed in the most formal they would be for the rest of the trip: shirts and ties, with an occasional jacket. Everyone had a martini in hand and was asking questions about work and family; I was bored to tears. I wandered around until I remembered the library where I ensconced myself with a book, leaning back on one arm of a huge armchair with my legs hooked over the other arm. Happily I read and immersed myself in the novel. Suddenly, a small green creature fell onto my book. He was fairly friendly and he was a gecko. I played with him for a while and we got along quite well. Then I took it into my head to introduce him to the cocktail party goers in the other room. To this day I don’t understand why a little gecko could cause all the consternation that he did. The gecko and I were asked to leave the party and not come back. The party was exclusive and not for kids and geckoes. I grew up with several trips with my parents to Hawaii, but this is the one I remember the best.
My husband and I love all the Hawaiian Islands but Kauai is our favorite. The weather is gorgeous. It rains almost every day for a little while and not the driving and freezing rain of New York and not the annoying rain of California, but the warm, growing mist that makes Kauai a rain forest showplace. It’s perfect for a get away from the city although you can find almost anything you want here: movies, nightlife, and celebrities. I remember when we brought my daughters here years ago they spent a half-an-hour stalking Jennifer Love Hewitt through the little village shopping area.
But Kauai is more about outdoors, family, and culture. The people are the best and are so welcoming. I don’t remember anyone from the island as anything but uber-friendly. The nasty people were always the tourists. The sun shines. Men wear aloha shirts and women sundresses and everybody wears sandals, even to work. What’s not to love? Papayas and pineapples are a staple at every meal and Mai Tai is the drink of choice. If I every get a change to move here, I will. I have thoughts of writing a crime novel about Hawaii. Maybe I’ll have to come over and spend some time researching. Yeah. That’s the ticket. Research.
Aloha ’till next time,