Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Long Deferred Privilege

 Having gone to bed unreasonably early, it wasn’t a surprise when I woke up promptly at 4:00 am.  I made myself stay in bed another hour, trying to compromise as much as possible between time zones. Why compromise? Why not just keep to my own schedule even in a new place? Because I would get up at 2:00 am and go to bed before sundown, that’s why! Not the best way to maximize a tropical respite.

With only 6 days on the ground, we planned to make the most of every minute. But ah, the best laid plans of mice and women… First, we reckoned without several days’ worth of getting lost. We also hadn’t accounted for the possibility of a hurricane.

By the time the wheels went up on our Hawaiian Airlines jet, we already knew that the storm currently known as Tropical Storm Ana would impact our plans, and might even strengthen into a hurricane. Forecasters weren’t entirely sure about the timing, but it looked like we could only be sure of one full day and a few hours of the next for any swimming or other outdoor activities. So we wanted to be out and about early.

David wanted to leave by 6:30, so we were all up early. At 6:32, horrified that my dawdling had already caused me to be 2 minutes late, I put on my backpack, said good-bye to Mom and Tina, and went out. I thought David would just leave with whoever was ready first (me!) and the rest would follow after a few minutes. Well, he was still waiting 20 minutes or so later, when I finally went back up to see what was keeping them. “We were waiting for you!” they exclaimed.

So we got lost 20 minutes later than we would’ve otherwise.
First stop, Pearl Harbor. That one was pretty easy to find. It was our first time out on the Arizona Memorial, a sobering reminder of war, death, and heroism. It also put Grandma’s and Grandpa’s lives into a little more perspective, since they came to teach in Hawaii only 11 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At a time when anti-Japanese sentiment was still high, they invited numerous students into their home without asking to see their passports first. Many of those students, now grown and with their own families and even grandchildren, became so much a part of the family that they’re still our aunties, uncles, and cousins (and always will be!). We delighted in the mystification of our classmates when they saw us with our cousins, since we didn’t look any sort of Asian at all. These American genetics can be tricky things!
It all just goes to show that love is thicker than water or blood.

The Arizona Memorial sank just off Ford Island, which was another heavily bombed area. I didn’t realize so many locations were hit and some of them twice. The boilers still rise above the water, and cute little tropical fish still swim only a few feet from the bubbles of oil that rise to the surface every few seconds, then spread in a rainbow ripple that drifts out to sea.

That one site is a burial place for not only the thousands that died that day, some in the explosions and some trapped in unreachable pockets of dwindling air, but also for many of their fellow servicemen who died as elderly veterans, and chose to be cremated so they could rejoin their friends.

Memorial Chapel
It’s a peaceful place today, with only a few stark, rusted reminders of the violence and death that warm December day. Over the shadow of the great ship float the scattered petals of pink plumerias, bobbing their way around the spots of oil as they journey to the Pacific. Each day, Japanese and Americans stand side by side to silently honor the dead. It’s a far cry from those not-so-long-ago days of surprise attack, death, suspicion, and egregious civil rights violations of our own citizens. The lessons are still there for us to learn, of what the finest nation on earth is willing to do in the name of fear. 
And how much has changed since then. At least back then, the lines in the conflict were clear-cut. Each side knew whom they were fighting. There was a clear-cut goal, and a well-defined victory. Where today the enemy hides among us, among our allies, often concealing themselves among women and children, and can’t be fought or defeated using the old standards of warfare. Where, indeed, there isn’t even any way to be sure that we’ve won, or ever can win. And the greatest weapon isn’t guns or bombs, but stark terror.

Definitely a quiet, thought-provoking place. 

Upon the Hallowed Shore

Also known as, No Swimming for You.

We landed upon the steaming shore of Oahu, stepped off the plane, and began making immediate plans to join a nudist colony. Montana sweaters were cast aside and spat upon. It’s a good thing we didn’t have clippers, or we would’ve shaved our heads before even reaching the car rental.

As soon as we got in our car, we cranked the AC all the way to Arctic, so we could get lost in full comfort. That’s important.

If we’d only gotten lost once, or twice…..or even only three times, we probably would’ve made it swimming that day. But we had to pick up our Amazing Special Treat of homemade-from-scratch BBQ veggie shish-kebabs, plus meet to finalize the details and sound checks for the memorial.

Mom spent much of the trip explaining, as we wandered around involuntarily exploring, how very much the road system had changed since she was last there. They’ve added in all sorts of freeways and bypasses, mazes of ramps, swirls of over- and underpasses…it can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated. Especially since there’s a surplus of traffic and a shortage of exits. If you miss it, you’re going to see a fair amount of new territory before turning around. (On the other hand, if you miss the same exit more than once, you may be seeing familiar territory. It’s all relative.)

The freeways are a trifle different than what we’re used to in other ways, too. Not that there are any freeways very close to us, but the ones that are less distant are pretty much 75 mph. And you get on them, and you actually go 75 mph. The majority of Hawaiian freeways we went on had a speed limit of about 45. Some of the time you even got up to 45. If you’re comparing that to our idea of a freeway, it doesn’t look so good. But if you compare it to the previous system of painfully working your way through clogged surface streets and several million traffic lights, it’s quite an innovation.

So that if you miss your exit and have to go 10 miles before you can exit again, the 20-mile detour only takes you a little over a half an hour, even in rush hour. The traffic is a small price to pay for the experience of going to Paradise.

Despite the delicious in-flight vegetarian meal, we were starving by the time we landed—just after noon local time, and just past breakfast Montana Stomach Time. And what better place to go than Andy’s Sandwiches, a terrific little diner owned by former students of Grandma and Grandpa? There was no better place, so to Andy’s we went.

Mom and Tina got cucumber sandwiches so fat they had to be held together with decorative toothpicks. I ordered the burrito, which included a veggie meat so realistic that one customer had come back to complain angrily that her vegetarian meal wasn’t vegetarian. (Even though it was.)

After a few minutes, Andy himself stepped from behind the counter to talk to Tina and me a little more. He turned to me first. “Which one are you?”

Thinking he was about to serve our food, I answered, “I’m the burrito.”

There was a long pause. When my dear, loving sister could compose herself, she choked out, “No, he means WHO ARE YOU?” The whole rest of the meal, Certain People could be heard cackling to themselves. “I’m the burrito! Aaahahahaaaa.”
I maintain it was a perfectly understandable mistake. 
Even though we didn't get to go swimming, at least we had a few moments to catch the sunset at the Ala Moana beach. I even got a few fun time exposures of some paddle boarders out on the calm ocean waters, and even more fun time exposures of Waikiki and Diamond Head.

With a great struggle, I kept my eyes open till shortly after midnight. Which was only 8:00 pm local time. Four-year-olds were just finishing their baths when I started snoozing. But it was dark, and that’s all I cared about.

Roused briefly by a burst of noise from the dorm students, I groggily wondered, “Don’t they even give them a curfew?” A few moments later, I remembered the four hour time difference, and that for them it was only 8:30. It’s going to be 2:00 am for me before they go to bed, was all I remember thinking before falling asleep again.

Nagging Coughs and Angora Elbows

Note: The following tropical series is from October. It is now January. No one who knows me will be surprised, since my Christmas letters alone are running more than a decade late. Besides, I thought it would be fun to wait until a frozen, snowy day and then visit Hawaii all over again, at least in my memory.

Very kind family members and friends chipped in so I could go on this lovely trip, since Hawaii is not in my normal operating budget. And, as you'll see, it was a mission trip. Really. 

          *                  *                    *

We’ve already had our first snowflakes here in Montana, though not enough to stick. It’s been well below freezing almost every night. The trees are almost naked. A few weeks ago, I would’ve told you that it couldn’t be a better time for a tropical trip. That was before the Ebola outbreak.

Our risk of actually catching the disease is very low, but our risk of being mistaken for someone with the disease is somewhat higher. See, it’s harvest time. And not only that, but after our catastrophically late spring, it’s frantic harvest time. Farmers are in their fields day and night unless it’s raining, trying to get their just-ripened crops in before it’s too late.  And since the weather people are predicting an early winter, “too late” is coming down the pike like a greased log in a flume.

Mom and I live on each side of the grain elevator. Usually it blows her direction, but a couple weeks ago the wind shifted and sent all that chaff my way. Suddenly, I also sounded like an escapee from the local tuberculin ward. Hard to breathe, coughing day and night, even once the wind shifted back toward Mom again. And in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months, coughing, fever, and aches are some of the earliest signs of Ebola, before it passes on to serious vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhage, spots, red eyes, and death.

People are terrified of coughing people. Just the other day, a man on a plane sneezed, and jokingly said, “I have Ebola!” He was removed by the Men in Blue Suits, and later found to have nothing worse than a nasal tickle. Bad time to have a cough.

With careful nurturing, I got my cough under control just in the nick of time. Which was extra fortunate, since some of the nurturing involved strenuous exercise which has left me aching in many areas. (Yes, also a sign of Ebola, remember?)

Mom didn’t do quite as well. Despite her own nurturing, and frequent doses of dextromethorphan, she’s been coughing and sneezing like crazy. We’re trying to be thankful she doesn’t have a fever.

The trip to Billings went swimmingly. By that, I mean swimming in fur. It was the furriest Cadillac I’ve ever ridden in, in my whole life. Also the only Cadillac. (I’m more of a pickup-truck-with-no-AC-so-the-windows-are-always-down-except-in-winter kinda gal, though I’d settle for a van if need be.) Tina fared the worst. She wore a dainty traveling outfit, classy flowing black shirt with dark jeans. When I saw flowing, I do mean that it hung in attractive, rippling waves. I also mean it was flowing with border collie hair. Dripping with it. Her elbows wafted in the breeze.

Being a kind sister, I tried to cheer her up by comparing her to famous people in the Bible. People like John the Baptist, and Esau, who was “hairy all over like an garment”. I even offered to braid her elbows, all to no avail.

Mindful of planks in my own eye, I did take a moment to lightly brush off the few hairs that clung to my nether portions, but only shook off enough for several eagles to use in their nests. Tina could have knitted a life-size model of the Ark. Oh well, the youngest child usually gets the largest portions, anyway.

Despite a few white knuckles in our group, the flights to Oakland were uneventful. The shuttle ride to the nearby Motel 6 was more eventful, because there WAS NO SHUTTLE RIDE! Mom had called the place directly about a week before to arrange transportation from the airport, and the man told her not to worry – that the airport had a free shuttle that would bring us to the Motel 6 along their route.

After waiting in the post-midnight chill for over a half hour, Tina finally called them. The lady informed us that there was no shuttle of any sort that went there, and we’d have to take a taxi. After we found out how much the taxi was going to be—each way—we spent the rest of our time calculating how big of a hotel upgrade we could’ve gotten, and still paid less for the night. Turns out it was a pretty big upgrade.

We made the best of it, and the heavily manned guard shack at the entrance kept the Motel 6 from being unsavory. Still, we determined to cancel our return night, and stay somewhere more expensive (yet cheaper), with a REAL SHUTTLE THAT ACTUALLY PICKS YOU UP. Not that I’m bitter. None of us are bitter.

Nothing remained but to make the last leg in the morning, and begin looking for some sunscreen, preferably SPF 3000.

Bon voyage!