Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i
Much as Jen and I whimpered and moaned about how much we missed each other, it didn't take long at all before we were back to vegging on the couch, trading chores, and chasing a naked Katie around the apartment with an inexplicably shunned diaper.
Their shortened trip was pretty much forgotten as soon as the jetlag wore off. (And it's much easier coming back from the Mainland.) All of a sudden, the full six weeks seemed like it would have been easily survivable.
In fact, Jen's guilt over her early return has already led her to promise her parents a return visit come Christmas. A generous offer, but one about which I've doubts finances will allow.
I'm very very glad to have them back, of course. A tough day at work is instantly erased by a biiiiiig huuuuug at home. Stupid everyday things again get a reassuring glaze of significance, dipped in the context of The Big Picture. I'm no longer on my cereal and gummi bear diet. And, of course, a newly color-coordinated bathroom needs people around to appreciate it.
Sure, the results of my big cleaning fit barely lasted a day. But maybe I missed the crumbs in our bed, the pen marks on the door, the torn up magazines I never got to read, the mysterious damp stains in the carpet...
The return of domestic bliss did mean the abrupt departure of that rarest of commodities: spare time. I miss it, sure, but I also know I did a pretty pathetic job doing anything productive with it, so its loss is bearable. I just have to make sure to have a to-do list of adventures ready for the next time I'm left to my own devices.
And to think that used to be a dangerous prospect.
Mom's mysterious ailment (discovered last month), through a variety of consultations and tests, eventually got a name. A few hours of research on the web revealed that it's not anything to sneeze at. Awful words like "stroke" and "risk of early death" bounced around in my head like rusty nails.
Of course, just about everything shortens your life these days, and in the grand scheme of things, it was probably only moderately serious. But we took it very seriously. My mom's family has a history of heart- and blood-related health problems, and stroke has taken away more than its fair share of my ancestors.
For a time, things were in a whirl. We suddenly started eating lunch together downtown every other day, talking about stuff, like family and health and property and wills, but not really talking, like it just came up spontaneously in conversation, between the great weather and the dastardly Jeremy Harris. Mom was being strong, as always, more often inclined to comfort Todd and me than think about herself.
I even caught myself overcompensating in the son department, being extra nice and affectionate, buying food, sending shiny happy e-mail every day. It got to the point where I started annoying myself...
Thankfully, we soon came to our senses, and got down to business.
We had a few good heart-to-heart talks (even Todd settled down), read up on the condition, and made it a point to nab the earliest available appointment for every test and specialist. In addition to medical and physical issues, though, we also found ourselves concerned with the spiritual.
Mom consulted with her big brother (my uncle) Al, friends, ministers, and even obscure spiritual guides recommended to her. The whole process basically inspired her and unbelievably both Todd and I to reestablish a connection to our past. The sense was that our ancestors were feeling neglected, and this health scare was a clearing of phantom throats.
And so, with little hesitation, we planned a trip to the Big Island.
The weekend after Jen and Katie came back, it was my turn to get on a plane with my brother and mother to pay an overdue visit to my late grand- and great-grandparents. My late-onset fear of flying was as strong as ever, but I kept my whimpering to a minimum. This was important.
We landed in Hilo shortly after 8 a.m., rented a forest green Mercury Sable, and headed over to Ken's House of Pancakes. There we ate a hearty breakfast and plotted our course to Hawi and North Kohala, where my mom grew up.
The long drive up the gorgeous Hamakua Coast was as pleasant as I'd expected. We chatted about anything and everything most of the way, until Todd eventually passed out as we rolled into Kamuela.
As it turns out, he probably should have stayed awake a few minutes more. (He had the map.) We ended up taking a wrong turn in Waimea, and ended up going south more than halfway to Kona before noticing the volcanoes were in the wrong place.
The detour brought us through Waikoloa and Kawaihae, though, and we got the rare treat of watching a monstrous amphibious hovercraft barrel ashore while four huge gray battleships loomed on the horizon. The Pacific-wide RIMPAC military exercise was underway, and we had front row seats.
Although that extra left turn added an extra 30 or so miles to our journey, we still reached Hawi bordering wild forestland on the northernmost point of the island before noon. We rolled through the tiny town, and as mom lost herself in memories, I marveled at how a 1,000 yard strip of road with no more than a dozen little wooden storefronts qualified as a "town."
It was the very definition of "old Hawaii." It made Haleiwa look like a veritable metropolis. I half expected to see a sign that said, "Welcome to Hawi/Kapaau - Population 31 34." Then mom noted that the place had grown and changed quite a bit since she was a little girl.
We turned up a narrow, barely paved road, and in moments we were driving across an immaculately tended lawn toward a tiny green Buddhist temple. On our left, a small cemetary, where mom's father and grandparents were waiting.
Mom never really knew her dad, Jack Masaru Kayatani, who died when she was three years old. (Tom Henderson, the only man I ever knew as a grandfather, was actually my grandmother's third husband.) And her grandparents were never more than names on old letters. But here we were, looking across three generations, to make amends.
It had been at least a few months since someone had tended the three graves, although we could see many of the surrounding graves had clearly gone years without visitors. Noting how small the town was, I remarked that it was quite possible some families don't even know they have relatives there. Or perhaps some of the people resting in peace had no living descendants left at all.
I made very very sure I would remember how to get to the cemetery again.
Todd surprised us by jumping into grave tending with both feet. As we washed and scrubbed and straightened, he'd chide mom and I for missing a spot.
After everything was in order, we set down flowers, mochi and fruits that we'd hand carried the whole way from Honolulu. We then took turns praying to each.
I wasn't sure what to say. I actually felt a little nervous. I just told them about Jen and Katie. And that I wouldn't forget.
Mom slipped a little offering under the door of the temple, and we quietly got back in the car and drove back out onto the highway. After stopping at a small store in an unsuccessful attempt to say "Hi" to one of mom's many cousins, we headed back south.
We made a long stop in Waimea, picking up some TCBY ice cream and McDonald's fries and a cute embroidered shirt for Katie.
Then it was back down the Hamakua Coast, back across the "airplane bridge" (as my mom called it when she was little) and back into Hilo. We got to the airport and caught the very next flight back to O`ahu.
I assuaged my nerves on the plane by playing a game of chess with Todd. It was the first time we'd challenged each other in probably six or seven years, but of course he still cleaned my clocks.
It was a short, simple trip, but a wonderful one in so many ways. I feel like we all got grounded again, realigned and re-energized in some way. But also it was great just being a family again. It brought home to me how little the three of us spend together nowadays, despite how much we still so clearly mean to each other.
Mom's guru recommended she make the pilgrimmage at least twice a year. It's certainly one task that I'd love to see become a family tradition.
As far as mom's health, the picture has gotten much brighter since. Now the doctors are saying treatment will likely be limited to drugs, not surgery, and some are saying there's nothing to worry about at all.
Tonight, in fact, is the last test on the schedule, a body scan at Kaiser Moanalua. I'd frankly be intimidated by a room-sized machine focusing on my head, but she says she's looking forward to it. "I think I'll take a nap," says she.