Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pan Am Memories: Aloha to Hawaii And to My Mother

Because the faltering TV series "Pan Am" was pulled from the schedule this past week -- its actual fate yet to be decided by ABC -- I was inspired to write the following piece about my trip to Hawaii with my mother.
We were flying to Oahu from San Francisco. It would be our first layover on our trip around the world as a guest of Pan Am. I had been a stewardess for six months so I had benefits.
As we landed at the Ohana Honolulu Airport, I tried to imagine the Japanese bombing this peaceful island. Pearl Harbor was a lagoon harbor three miles to the west. No, I told myself, that was long ago and far away.
Tokyo was our next layover, so I'd have plenty of time to deal with my feelings. Now I was going to enjoy the good weather, the hospitality, the beauty of the land, the wonderful food and the companionship of my mother.
We had flown from Philadelphia to San Francisco, then spent a night in the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins and were now landing at Honolulu."Do you think they'll give us flowers?" Mom asked.
As the stewardess opened the door, the ground crew put leis, wreaths made of lavender and white orchids, around the neck of my tiny mother who was four-foot, 11 inches tall. Then they placed a second one over my head. The scent of the palm trees blowing in the wind coupled with the tropical breeze from the Pacific Ocean stimulated our senses and welcomed us to this island paradise.
And there they were: girls in grass skirts doing the hula as sounds of a steel band and ukuleles were heard in the distance. Mother's one dimple creased as she smiled. We were excited to arrive in this tropical Eden. Philadelphia seemed long ago and far away. We forgot about my father's suffering and the cold weather for awhile.
We were two wahine on holiday I thought, as I looked around at the well built bodies of the natives. Our taxi drove us to the Hilton Hotel on Waikiki Beach. We watched the palm trees bending in the breeze and felt the caress of the warm ocean wind.
"How long do we have in Oahu?" mother asked. "Tomorrow we fly to the Big Island," I replied. "Tonight we will have dinner at Don Ho's."
""Don who?"
"Don Ho."
"Who's he?"
"A famous Hawaiian singer who has a restaurant known for its Polynesian luau and his entertainment. It has a thatched roof made of royal palm fronds and is open on three sides with a great view of the harbor," I told her.
""Why are you putting on a bathing suit?""
"First I want to go for a swim," I said. "It's two in the afternoon. Why don't you take a nap? You must be tired."

"Ok, but don't pick up any strange men," she advised. "Your bathing suit is too small."
"Mom, it's a bikini," I said. "The polka dots make it look smaller than it is.
Sure enough once out on the white sand, as I was walking out of the azure waters a handsome Hawaiian with burnt almond skin said, "Do you mind if sit with you awhile. I'm a native and you must be a malahini."
"What's that?" 
"A visitor."
'"Do you need an escort for the evening, I'm Kevin,' he said extending his hand as I took in his muscular body and I felt his eyes on mine. Two hours later I returned to the hotel to ask mother if she would mind if Kevin joined us for dinner.
"Well, if it makes you happy," she said. "What does this man do for a living?"
"We didn't discuss that. Honestly, mother, you're focused on the wrong things."
"Listen, dearie," she said, "mark my word, you could get into trouble with some man you met on a beach."
Mother and I went to dinner at Don Ho's with Kevin and had a delicious dinner of roasted pork with macadamian nuts and pineapple and papaya salads. When we said aloha, I returned to the hotel with mother who said, "Honestly, Carole, his skin was so dark."
"He's Hawaiian, mom. And what difference does that make?" I asked. Mother's Pennsylvania Dutch heritage was rearing its repressive head.
The next morning mother and I flew to Hilo on the Big Island. We rented a car and were going to drive around the coast. I wanted to see the black sand beaches and mother was a compliant companion.
On the Kona Coast, also known as the Gold Coast, we found a charming hotel to spend the night so the following day we could visit the beach. It was near what was then the world's most active volcano, Mt. Kilauea, (I am a volcano freak) and its national park, the Kohala Coast on the north and further north Waimea which had of all things, snow and cowboys called paniolo!
We didn't know how we were going to do it all, but we started with the northern resort of Mauna Kea built by Laurence Rockefeller on South Kohala. In 1965, to build this work of art, Rockefeller chose a patch of black lava in an inaccessible area with two beautiful beaches.
I had read about this magnificent resort and wanted to show it to mother. It was complete with homes, golf courses, eight restaurants and horse-back riding.
"A bit pricey for us, Carole, " mother said as she studied the view from the hotel of the golf courses and sparkling ocean."We can look," I said as I stepped into our Honda to drive to the black sand beach for a quiet swim.
We drove for one hour to Ho'okena State Park to swim with dolphins and to take in the lush tropical gardens and the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.
Here we found a secluded beach where mother and I could chill.
I was tired of driving and took a nap. Mother talked to some small children nearby and when I awoke, we drove off for a late lunch to the restaurant overlooking the volcano, which was bubbling and magnificent.
"When is it due to erupt?" I asked our waitress. "It just did last March, 1965," she said with a smile. I was impressed with her resolve and yet perplexed that she had no fear. 
When mother went to pay for the check, she said, "Oh, my lord, I left my pocketbook on the black sand beach!"
Driving 60 mph, an hour later I reached a thatched hut and two small children swinging mother's handbag that had her passport, airline ticket and money. They were smiling and eager to return the bag. Mother gave them a reward that they tried to refuse, and we were all so excited that I had not watched the time. It was now 5 p.m. and we had to return to the volcano.
 "Why?" mother asked.
"To walk through the lava tubes," I explained. First we took a path over the smoldering earth that led to these lava tubes. There were markers with dates of eruptions and different stages of growth for vegetation since each eruption.
"I'm exhausted, Carole. Can't we return to the hotel for a quiet meal?" As we were eating at a beach-side restaurant I reflected about the day we shared.
"We fly out tomorrow, don't we?" mother asked. "Yes, back to Oahu, then off to Tokyo.""Let's get a good night's rest. I need it," she said as she held my hand. "So do I," I said.
The next morning we said aloha to the Aloha state as we flew away from the glorious Big Island and Honolulu and its memories of Kevin, then off to Tokyo.
We were booked in Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel. I was excited to see this monument that had withstood the massive earthquake of 1923 with my mother by my side.
She was a survivor, too, as she had lived through the Great Depression by eating only rice.


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