maui, hookipa beach park

Had brunch with my daughter at Amerigo’s on Sunday. Our waitress was a pretty blonde with a broad smile. We made small talk when she checked to see if everything was to our liking. We were both surprised to learn that we had a Maui connection. She’d just returned from visiting her brother who lives on the island, and I explained that I’d been born there. As usually happens when I mention that fact, her face brightened and her body relaxed as if we were in the islands. The server, in her late 20’s or early 30’s, said her brother is a wind surfer and has been a Maui “kamaaina”  (stranger turned local), for 17 years. He loves the lifestyle, and she wished she were back with him, enjoying the surf and tropical sun.

I was sincerely happy to learn that someone loved my island birthplace, enough to make it his home for more than a decade. Chatting with the waitress brought back fond memories of picnicking at Hookipa Beach Park, now a wind surfing mecca. I shared them with my daughter who has only visited Maui once in her 24 years. Perhaps we’re due for another trip home.

Growing up in a household with no disposable income, weekend picnics at the beach were very special. Sundays were  when we packed the trunk with brown paper sacks full of lunch fixings, like fried chicken, white rice, potato salad, chips and strawberry and orange soda pops. Piling into the car, my mom, brother, sister, and me, would drive to beaches an hour or so from our home in Wailuku.

Although not my favorite, Hookipa Beach Park managed to stir my imagination. Hiking a long, steep, hilly path down the rocky cliff-side, carrying bags while bracing against high winds, was not fun. And the blue, green ocean always seemed colder than elsewhere. Fighting to keep a toe hold in the sand while being pulled by an occasional rip tide, struggling to stand as huge waves crashed on top of me, and tripping over rocks along the sea floor, did not compare to wading in the calm, sandy, warm waters of Kalama Beach Park in Kihei.

We would often seek shelter from the whipping winds in a water cave, carved into the base of a cliff. At low-tide, the sandy cove was a child’s dream. Lying face up on the clean, washed sand, I imagined myself a Hawaiian princess of old. Pretending that our family was fleeing from those who’d overtaken our royal palace, we sought shelter in caves along Maui’s coastline. There we’d remain until the tides returned, swelling our hideout with sea water once more. Somewhere on the horizon of my pre-adolescent mind was a handsome, “hapa-hauole” (part-Hawaiian, part-Caucasian) prince, my knight-in-shining armor…

Awakened rudely by the hollers of my siblings because the water was edging its way up the sand, I knew it meant we were leaving. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! It was always worse climbing back up the craggy cliffs, bellies full, bodies lazy, wet sand covering legs and arms. But worst of all, the end of another Sunday, meant a return to school, homework, and endless chores. It seemed forever until the following weekend and the next picnic. 

why can’t sunday, follow sunday?…hugmamma.

“a convertible that won’t muss your hair”

“Think of the biggest, most architectonic beehive hairdo in John Waters’s movie ‘Hairspray.’ Now add another foot of teased and tormented coiffure. Think Marge Simpson. Now go higher. Even such a splendid pile of ‘do’ as that will be safe behind the wheel of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet with its standard-equipment ‘Aircap’ wind-deflector system.” Sounds like every girl’s dream car, fun in the sun, hair intact, looking gorgeous. Like Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief” with co-star Cary Grant, except movie magic kept her blonde tresses from separating into a stringy mess. That, unfortunately, was Bridget’s fate in “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” I’m not a blonde, not even a brunette, more like a henna-rinsed, nearly there “snow bird.” I’m neither a movie-star, nor a pretty, young thing. So why the obsession with sports cars? It’s on my “bucket list” of wishes. The image is of a carefree woman, devoid of material concerns, youthful, beautiful, outdoorsy without really being outdoors, and unattainable. Essentially, it’s of a woman in control. Again, there are the Grace Kelly types, controlling yet vulnerable, and the Bridget Jones types, not-in-control and out-of-her league. I’ve got a foot in each camp, controlling yet vulnerable AND not in control and out-of-my league. So sometimes I picture myself in a sporty convertible with the top down; but most often it’s of me in an SUV hauling plants or antiques. The latter is my reality and probably will be well into my seventies. Maybe my eighties? I’m not sure I’ll even be driving in my nineties, let alone sitting behind the wheel of Mercedes’ latest sports car.

Several years ago I lived my dream. I had visited my daughter at a summer dance program in Chautauqua, New York. Arriving at Buffalo’s airport, I drove the hour-and-a-half  distance in my rented yellow Ford Mustang convertible. With the top down, I breezed along highways and country roads. I felt in control and carefree. Radio blasting, I sang along with the upbeat music, grinning from ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland.” But it didn’t take too long for the dream to wear thin.

When there was threat of rain, the top went up on the convertible. Rolling the roof up and down became a hassle. So it stayed put most of the time. In that position, getting people in and out of the back seat was difficult. It was ALMOST funny watching passengers buckle and unbuckle themselves in the cramped rear, especially if they were long-legged. When driving alone down solitary rural roads, I tried maintaining my carefree composure. But when I got lost I felt like the island girl that I was, looking for the landmark that would indicate I’d completed circling Oahu. Instead I crossed over the border from New York into Pennsylvania. Luckily, there were helpful strangers at gas stations and convenience stores, who steered me back on the right track.

I’d asked my husband to let me rent a convertible to “test the waters.” It was one of the best investments he ever made. That yellow Ford Mustang convertible was so gorgeous to behold, but so woefully impractical for my needs. My husband was grateful for my lesson learned. It let him off the hook from ever having to buy that sporty hunk of tin. So having realized the dream, I’m content with the image.

a baby-blue, volkswagon ‘beetle ‘ convertible, in my 80’s, now that’s another dream…hugmamma.

been there, done that

Media coverage of President Obama’s recent vacation has put Martha’s Vineyard “on the map.” Not that it wasn’t already there. According to the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal “The release of  ‘Jaws,’ the 1975 movie about a man-eating shark, first drew the masses to an island that had been a some-time presidential retreat since Ulysses S. Grant. Celebrities such as Carly Simon, Meg Ryan and David Letterman own homes on the island. …President Bill Clinton’s frequent visits in the 1990s brought another surge of interest…” Though not celebrities, my daughter and I visited the island about 7 years ago. She had auditioned, and been accepted, to dance with “Stiefel and Students.” Because she was apprenticing with a ballet company midway through the summer program, Ethan Stiefel allowed her to attend the first 2 of the scheduled 4 weeks. She was delighted to train with an icon of the dance world, and have a great job lined up for her future.

The compound which housed “Stiefel and Students” was specifically built for the program. The owner, a wealthy contractor, was a patron of ballet, his teenage daughter dancing with a private studio in their home state of New Jersey. Because he’d guested as the Nutcracker prince to their daughter’s Maria, Steifel became a close family friend. Two beautiful homes sat on a couple of acres of prime land near downtown Edgartown. Each had several bedrooms and, baths, huge kitchen with living space, large patio and a sizeable dance studio. The student dancers, including my daughter, were in one house, while the instructors and guest dancers from NYC lived in the other. I don’t recall if one or more of the 4 chaperones lived with the students, or if they all stayed in the other dwelling. Needless to say this was  one of the best “dormitory” situations of my daughter’s summer dance experiences, which has included Banff, NYC, Atlanta, Chautauqua, Jacksonville, Portland, and Irvine.

Viewing this as the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was, my husband and I decided I should summer in Martha’s Vineyard while our daughter was there. So for 2 glorious weeks I lived among the rich and famous, and the middle class, myself being one of them. Having done extensive research, I settled upon a bed and breakfast called The Lighthouse Inn. The 1 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchen-living room combination was charmingly decorated and conveniently situated in the heart of Edgartown. My husband and I hoped he’d be able to take time off from work and fly out for a respite. But it didn’t happen, so flying solo, I poked around my environs leisurely, and with relish.

Being from Maui, I’ve never cottoned to the idea of vacationing on other islands. It isn’t so much that I’m a snob, although it might seem so, but there are other parts of the world which I’d prefer to visit before opting for an island vacation, other than returning to Hawaii to see family. Having said that, Martha’s Vineyard is an island for sure, but nothing like the tropical ones with which I’m familiar. The houses, churches, store fronts, flora and fauna, and yes, the people are a total reflection of New England which, of course, is where the island is located.

As with all popular vacation destinations, the population on Martha’s Vineyard swells to overflowing during the hot summer months. On days when cruise ships are in port, there are longer lines everywhere. Traveling alone was advantageous for without an entourage, I was seated for a meal more quickly, I could wend my way through a maze of people on sidewalks and in shops more easily, when to start and end the day was my choice as well as HOW to spend it. And having 2 weeks meant I could do everything without feeling hurried. Living like a local is always my idea of a dream visit.

My daily routine, more or less, would begin with rising (not too early), breakfasting at some quaint nearby eatery, and then going for a walk. Some days I wandered different paths through town or residential neighborhoods, other days I strolled barefoot along the quiet, sandy, white beach a few blocks away. But wherever I went I always spent my days people-watching, a favorite pastime. Just glimpsing passersby, their differences, similarities, relationships, habits, is always interesting. New England’s culture could not be further removed from the Hawaiian culture in ethnicity, spirit, dress, food, religion, architecture, and perhaps, sensibilities.

Of course the first thing I noticed was the predominant, if not quasi exclusive, presence of White, Anglo-Saxon Americans. Although my complexion is brown, I’ wasn’t “put off” because by then I’d lived and worked amongst Caucasians for 26 years, having moved to the mainland in 1977. While more formal than Hawaiians, there was a semblance of relaxed informality among those who dwelled in Martha’s Vineyard. Of course there’s no mistaking a New Englander by the way he or she dressed. More than likely they’d be striding along in loafers, sandals, or sneakers with socks, rarely flip-flops. If in shorts, they’d be like the bermuda shorts of the 60’s, often topped by Izod, Hilfiger or Calvin Klein. The ladies wore coordinated knee-length skirts in small prints and blouses in white, or some other solid color. Designer purses or pretty colored totes hung over their arms or on their shoulders. Perfectly combed blondes and brunettes sported ponytails or loosely coiffed hair that caught the ocean breezes. They all wore sunglasses, probably also having lotioned themselves with sunblock beforehand. Children were dressed like replicas of their parents. The only ones who may have digressed from the traditional New England “look,” were the teenagers. There were some in cut-off jean shorts, barely-there tanks, flip-flops or bare feet, and unkempt hair as if they’d just awoke.

From my recollection, the food was pretty good, but probably pricey since everything had to be shipped in. I remember dining  in a family style restaurant, cozy B&B bistro, fine Italian eatery, hamburger joint and a diner whose concerns for food safety seemed a little sketchy. Their late hours dictated my daughter and I choosing to eat there once, against our better judgement. We left full and satisfied, so the place suited our needs just fine. Sometimes I prepared my own food, enjoying a comfortable evening in the apartment, dining on a home cooked meal while watching a good television show. Perhaps my solitary time on Martha’s Vineyard encouraged my fledgling habit of speaking with waiters and sales people. They were companions of sorts, if only for a brief interlude. I’m glad I’m still very much in the habit of treating strangers like long-lost friends.

One weekend, a best friend from Redding joined me for some much-needed rest and relaxation. She always worked too hard, still does. It was a pleasure having her along on walks, sitting across the table at a restaurant, and perusing shops for souvenirs. But our ongoing conversations about everything and anything, as though we’d never been apart, were the best part of our shared time. Sometimes talking into the wee morning hours, we were able to scurry out the door in time to greet the dawn. Huddling against the chill morning air, we planted ourselves on the sand dunes revisiting our previous conversation, or we’d just as likely drift onto another topic. But we were always wowed by the brilliance of the rising sun. We didn’t need to make the long, arduous trek up Maui ‘s dormant volcano, Haleakala (“House of the Rising Sun”) to see what we beheld on a beachfront, steps away from our front door. After my girlfriend’s departure, I never saw another dawn on Martha’s Vineyard. I’m never awake at that ungodly hour, if I can help it. But I will always associate sunrises on that New England island with Laurie, my forever friend.   

Nothing screams New England more than its architecture. Martha’s Vineyard was no exception. Stately churches standing tall and erect on tree-lined country roads in residential neighborhoods, where traditional homes with rocking chairs on wrap-around-porches, sat alongside salt-box homes in shades of blues and grays, fronted by English-style cottage gardens. Everywhere I turned was like looking at a postcard with pictures of idyllic, pastoral scenes. They took my breath away. Though an island, Martha’s Vineyard is of a different breed, one that this islander could truly appreciate for its unique beauty. I don’t think my first visit to that charming location could ever be improved upon unless, of course, I returned with my husband and daughter. But then there are other places I have yet to visit, and so…

been there, done that…hugmamma.

redding ct, like the maui of old

When someone learns that I’m from Maui, she always exclaims “Oh, don’t you miss it? Why’d you ever leave?” I take a breath, preparing to answer what I truly feel in my heart.

Maui as it is today, even as it was 15 years ago, is no longer the island of my childhood. As with the neighboring  islands, in fact as with other popular destinations, tourism has transformed what was a less populous, less commercial, off-the-beaten-track locale into a mecca for the rich and famous, and even the not so rich and famous. Mind you, I came to terms with the drastic change some time ago. On one of my last trips to Maui, years ago, it was apparent that visitors to the island provided a livelihood for the majority of the locals. So I wasn’t about to admonish them as co-conspirators in the “ruination” of Maui, while I left to make my living and home elsewhere.

Before my daughter was born, actually before she was even a possibility, I was returning home to Long Island, New York from a business trip to Kansas City. Seated next to me on the flight was an attractive man dressed in cords and a sweater, appearing very much like a New Englander. Striking up a conversation, we spoke of many things.  One of the topics was where we resided. I explained that while my husband and I lived in Westbury, I wanted to move somewhere reminiscent of my birthplace, Maui. I desired the same small town atmosphere, where neighbors knew each other, where children played together, where there were town parades, fairs, picnics. Without hesitation, my traveling companion blurted “Redding, Connecticut! You should move to Redding, Connecticut!” 

I’d never heard of the town, so my new friend proceeded to describe it as a small, rural community isolated from the hubbub of surrounding towns by vast acres of pristine land, much of which belonged to the town ensuring that they would never be commercially developed. He went on to explain that to enter Redding, one either drove alongside reservoirs which supplied water to the town, or along country roads shaded by trees. The idyllic picture seemed lifted from a postcard. Giving me the name of the realtor who helped find this New York City writer a getaway home, I was convinced that my husband and I needed to make the 75 mile trip north of NYC, in search of Redding.

We got more than we bargained for, as a result of our hunt for a new home. Nearly bereft of hope that we’d be parents someday, Redding was the answer to our prayer. After 16 years of marriage, our daughter was born. The first 11 years of her life were spent in an oasis within the midst of suburban Connecticut. Watching her in those early years was like stepping back in time, into my own childhood Paradise. 

Topographically different, Redding had rolling hills, and a man-made lake in which to swim; Maui boasted a dormant volcano, and ocean waves upon which to surf. Redding’s landscape was dotted with sugar maple trees, whose leaves were seasonally transformed into the colors of the setting sun. So unlike Maui’s tropical palms swaying gently in the evening breezes, as the glassy Pacific waters below mirrored the shining  moon overhead.

In spite of their disparities, the people of both Redding and Maui were alike in their hospitality toward newcomers, and the friendliness within their communities. Schools were small, so while students didn’t know everyone personally, they were aware of everyone through friends or others. Children looked forward to trick-or-treating, door-to-door.  School plays were exciting affairs, as were school dances, and basketball games. Sleepovers were commonplace, as were play-dates and church picnics. Dads coached sports teams and led the Boy Scouts; moms were Girl Scout leaders and drove carpools. Children caught buses to school, or walked. Neighbors helped one another; they prepared meals for a family with a cancer-stricken mom; they cared for children when parents were tending to emergencies; they consoled those who laid loved ones to rest.

My daughter’s memories of an idyllic childhood in Redding  are just that, treasured remembrances. And so it is with the Maui of my youth. So when I’m asked “Wouldn’t you want to live there now?” I always reply,  “The Maui where I grew up is in my heart; it’s with me, wherever I am.” I know my daughter feels similarly about Redding, Connecticut, the town she still calls her home, though she’s not lived there for 13 years.

“home is where your heart is,” truly…hugmamma.

good samaritan #4

If you’ve read “no more pain, only friends,” you know how grateful I am to have found a great dentist in Dr. Quickstad. His unrelenting calmness with staff and patients is a comfort, in what could otherwise be a very traumatic experience. I sincerely wish I’d discovered him sooner; I’d have had him in my life longer.

The “bonus” in knowing Dr. Quickstad is that he has regularly volunteered his services at the Albert Einstein Hospital in Haiti. He has helped that island’s people long before the rest of the world rushed to their aid after the recent, devastating earthquake. He and his wife will return to Haiti this fall, to again be of service for a week. In the spring, donations were accepted which Dr. Quickstad matched, up to $100. More than $3,000 was collected for the benefit of the Haitians.

no fanfare about the man, he just does what he does best…hugmamma.