Happy King Kamehameha Day to all of my Hawaiian friends. Save me a hunk of kalua pig, yeah? (I don’t have room in my backyard to dig an imu — that’s the underground oven used to roast a whole pig — so I’m throwing ribs on the grill instead.)
Whenever anyone asks me, “Where are you from originally?” my default answer as a former military brat is, “Everywhere.” If pinned down, however, I’ll say Hawaii.
Although I was born and adopted in Michigan, I spent the formative years of my childhood in the Aloha State. It’s from Hawaii that my earliest memories emanate, and thus it’s the locale I identify as my place of origin. There’s still a part of me that longs to reside there, even though the Golden State Warriors will win the NBA Finals before I’ll persuade my wife to do that.
Our home on Oahu was a little white house in the Honolulu suburb of Ewa Beach (pronounced “eh-vah,” as in, “You Ewa do dat again, brah, I going knock you on yo’ okole“). There was one other house between ours and a beautiful expanse of white sand beach, where I played in those days before parents thought overmuch about what might become of keikis (that’s “small children” to you haoles) left to play alone in public places. (Or perhaps my parents did think about it, and I should have taken that as a hint.) My best friend was a towheaded boy who lived next door, and who also had the same first name as I. We routinely referred to one another as “the other Michael” in a youthful accommodation to identity.
My most vivid recollections of those halcyon days include the time that my mother and I found and rescued a young dolphin beached on our neighborhood shore, and the time I was pinned under a driftwood log and nearly drowned. From the latter incident I acquired a fear of water that persisted for years, preventing me from learning to swim adequately until I was well into adolescence.
Decades later, Hawaiian influences continue to pervade my consciousness. Some of these are linguistic holdovers from my childhood pidgin: I still refer to my belly as my opu, address my friends as “brah,” say “all pau” when I’m finished with something, and shrug off responsibility with the phrase, “That’s not my kuleana.” Other influences are cultural: I’m convinced that my dogged casualness toward life is vestigial Hawaiian.
And, once or twice a month, I have to indulge my craving for Hawaiian food. Nothing says lovin’ like a loco moco (a gravy-covered hamburger topped with a fried egg, served with rice), a slice of Spam musubi (think sushi, only with Spam — yeah, I said Spam — instead of fish), and a steaming bowl of saimin (noodle soup).
I’ve been a Californian for three decades, but my heart remains in the Islands. And why not — we’ve got a Hawaiian in the White House now. You go, brah!
Think I’ll go put on my aloha shirt and sing a few choruses of “The Hukilau Song.” Or maybe “Pearly Shells.”