In my last post about our trip to Hawaii, I left you with photos of where we stayed and some idea about what our day to day was like. Now it's time to talk about our reason for getting together in the first place: Grandpa's 90th birthday party!
"Party" is not really the best word to use for Grandpa's birthday events, because it was a weekend of festivities. On Friday evening our family gathered for swimming, grilling and a photo session by my cousin's cousin Sarah. Above, my Auntie Lani, cousin Amy and Sarah pose for my point and shoot camera. All of Sarah's nice photos are below!
Above is one of my favorites: Grandpa with my oldest cousin Amy. Below is the group shot, and everyone is in!
Grandpa has been living for the past few years in Hilo with my Uncle John and Auntie Lani (above) and they take such good care of him. Below are our Portland travelmates: Uncle Don with Grandpa, Auntie Katy, and my younger cousins Sam (17) and Jordan (27).
Gigi and Marcos being lovely, and my Grandpa surrounded by his three kids. John is the oldest, my mom is in the middle and Katy is the youngest. Our family is not very big (if you've seen the group photo up top, you've pretty much seen it all - we're missing a few of Lani's kids and their grandkiddos!) but we're very close, despite living so far apart. I feel so lucky to be part of such a good, loving and relatively drama-free clan of people.
Truthfully, when it was time for the photo shoot we were climbing out of the swimming ponds and looked a bit ragamuffin. However, my cousin Amy and her family showed up darling and ready to go, and their photos are beautiful. Here is her little one Charlie, and her with her daughter Malia below!
The weekend of Grandpa's birthday celebration was also New Years Weekend, so on Saturday morning we drove a stretch to a little town on the Waimea coast, which hosts an annual "mochitsuki" - a mochi pounding festival. Mochi is Japanese sweet pounded rice, and it's said to be good luck to be a part of the pounding. We each took a turn with the heavy wooden mallets to ensure a sweet New Year!
On the way back home we stopped with Amy and Malia at the best mochi store in Hilo to pick up our New Years treat - mochi with all types of fillings. Taro, brownies (!), sweet potato, and all kinds of goodness. Oishiiiiii!
The best part of the weekend was the afternoon we sat together as a family and shared memories about my Grandpa. The original idea was to ask him questions, but after being with him briefly at the beginning of the trip it was clear that he no longer tracks stories well enough to interview him. So, we moved to Plan B, which was for each of us to share stories and memories with him and the group. And you know what? It was lovely, and perfect, and so meaningful.
We started off with a few gifts, and then it was time to do our memory share. In no particular order, we shared memories of Grandpa. For me personally, it was wonderful to hear my family member's experiences with this vibrant man, because it fleshed out for me who my Grandpa is from a few more angles. I had the pleasure of living with my mom in my grandparent's home from first through tenth grade, so there is a part of him with which I am well acquainted, but as a child I understood him very differently than I do now as an adult. He was a beekeeper when I was growing up, so I am familiar with a home of honey harvesting, and epic annual Christmas parties and the even more epic 17-foot Christmas trees we would raise in our living room and Grandpa would decorate, and all of his hobbies - Lalique glass collecting, and ancient Hawaiian artifacts, and the thousands of excavated bottles in rows on our roof, and the Tuesday night poker games.
But I loved hearing especially from my mom and Aunty Katy and Uncle John about their childhood memories of Grandpa. They helped to paint the picture for me of a hard-working man who was raised by a single mother in the corn fields of Nebraska, who had something in him that propelled him beyond the confines of few opportunities, to really make a way for his family in this world. My Grandpa is loyal, and ballsy, smart with his resources, and a hard-worker. That afternoon he laughed at all the right times, and thanked us for sharing our stories. I know he didn't remember most of what we shared, but I think he was tickled to hear stories about himself that were factual, or hilarious or just kind of crazy.
Some of my favorite things that were said that afternoon was when my Uncle said that his dad knew how to make his children feel rich, even without a lot of money.
And when Aunty Katy said that Grandpa always had an answer for everything, even if it was embellished or completely made up, at which he laughed and said, "Well, you didn't realize how stupid I was!"
Or when Grandpa shared earnestly at the end of our afternoon, "I loved our family! A beautiful family!"
At some point I think we were a little nervous about the birthday celebration - how would it be if Grandpa was tired, or didn't have the energy for a memory share, or if he couldn't remember enough to contribute? But it ended up being so perfect. We were all satisfied with how things turned out, which was important for those of us who had traveled so far, and who had such high hopes. Sometimes you don't know when the last get-together with someone will be, so it felt important to all of us to have had a special afternoon to celebrate Grandpa.
The rest of the weekend was, of course, spent swimming, kayaking, grilling, lighting sparklers for the kiddos on New Years Eve, and loving our last few days together as a family. My heart yearns for it all over again when I look at these photos. I have never felt such extreme relaxation as I did that week on the Big Island, at our little rental homes in Kapoho. Have you ever felt so relaxed that the cells in your body literally feel new and refreshed? Without phone coverage and without internet access, it was heavenly. The first day or two we had some withdrawal symptoms, but as soon as we shook it off it was truly the most relaxing tropical dream vacation.
Who is having the next birthday we can celebrate together?
Next - the crazy world of O'ahu!