Have you ever traveled back to the town you grew up in?
I’m back in Hawaii for January. I grew up in Mililani Town, outside of Honolulu on the island of Oahu.
I am a haole.
I was the tallest kid in my class. My class photo always featured me on the end, standing a head above everyone, smiling big in all of my blonde awkwardness.
Haole: In the Hawaiian language, an individual that fits one (or more) of the following: “White person, American, Englishman, Caucasian; American, etc…” Its use historically has ranged from descriptive to racist invective. – Wikipedia
Hawaii is paradise for most tourists, but when you live there it’s like any other island. The natives are tightly knit, gas prices are outrageously high and every current fad reaches the island at least a year later…at least this was the story 10 years ago. My memories are incomplete. Some are so strong I can still taste the foods of the island, and some are so distant that I still have to call my parents to fill in the holes.
As a child, I loved growing up in Hawaii and still vividly remember the food, my old homes and my friends I surrounded myself with. I learned to talk story (hang out) with the locals, enjoyed traveling between the islands on the kamaaina (local) rates and ate more spam than most U.S. kids ever see in their lifetime. We called everyone in our neighborhood Aunt and Uncle instead of Mr. and Mrs. We were all family. I know my memories come from a child’s point of view, but here are some of the random, yet impactful memories I still hold with me.
I never saw an English book until I returned to the U.S. I am sure this is different now, but when I was in school we learned two languages, Japanese and Hawaiian, both which I wish I remembered more of. I returned to the mainland having no idea what a preposition was or an indirect object (who really needs to know that anyways). My first English teacher back on the mainland put a jar on my desk and charged me a penny every time anyone caught me using the word “like” in conversation.
I was an avid soccer player at a young age. Parents didn’t bring you bags of chips or cookies at the end of your soccer game, we got Spam Musubi. Yes, deliciously processed SPAM, combined with sticky rice all wrapped in seaweed. Ignore what your traditional taste buds are telling you and trust me that it’s addicting. In order for our team to make it into the finals you didn’t have to score the most points (that could actually get you penalized) you were judged on sportsmanship points. You could get kicked out of the playoffs at the end of the season if you had rude parents who yelled too much, scored too much on the other team (which would embarrass them) or didn’t come to the game with appropriate equipment.
My community revolved around not causing your neighbors to “lose face” or be embarrassed. Even at the young age of 7, I wasn’t allowed to open any birthday presents until everyone had left the party. To avoid the chance of someone’s gift being that much better than everyone elses, I waited. Imagine telling a 7 year old to wait to open her presents…
Every time I return to Hawaii, I rent a car and drive to my old neighborhood, navigating with my memories…and an occasional call to my dad. I always stop over at Po Sing Kitchen and purchase at least one rice cake (OK, maybe five). I remember riding my bike to Po Sing and counting out my pennies and dimes on the counter so I could buy one for a special treat ($0.99). I played across the street climbing on the red ropes while I tried to race my sister to the top and my mom yelled at us to be careful.
I have fond memories of living the island lifestyle. I was barefoot nearly all the time, with flip flops accounting for the rest. I was young enough to not be affected by the high rental rates, gas rates or food prices like my parents were. I realize there were a lot of politics and social conflict that I didn’t experience that comes with living on the island.
I miss the perfect weather of Hawaii, I wish I still had a banana tree in my backyard and I still wonder how my life would be different if my family had stayed on the island. My memories are random, but I still hold onto each one!
Do you ever wonder how your life would have taken a different turn if you stayed in the town you grew up in?