Mom and dad in Hawai'i... Longtime readers will know that Debbie and I are huge fans of Hawai'i – though not for the reasons most people are. We never go to a beach. Instead, we hike the beautiful volcanic island scenery, watch for wildlife, and go four-wheeling on the major volcanoes of the Big Island. In the first years we started going (late '70s) through the early '90s, we didn't have enough money for anything fancy like a motel or a bed-and-breakfast, so we camped. We loved the campgrounds on Hawai'i back then – they were uncrowded, cheap, in beautiful locations, and the facilities (especially in the state parks) were fantastic. We especially liked Kalopa State Park and the Namakani Paio campground in Volcanoes National Park.
In the early '90s we decided to invite mom and dad to visit Hawai'i on one of our camping trips. We had already done that with Debbie's mom, and it was a rip-roaring success. The cost was considerably more than we could really afford, but we knew that such a trip would have to happen fairly soon – mom and dad were getting older, and there probably weren't many years left when we could do it. So we dusted off a high-limit credit card, gulped, and just did it.
Debbie and I look at those trips now as one of the smartest things we ever did. My mom and dad talked about that Hawai'i trip for the rest of their lives, and so did Debbie's mom until Alzheimer's claimed her mind.
My mom and dad had done quite a bit of traveling together, usually with at least some of their kids. All of it was on a shoestring budget, driving and camping. They'd been all over the continental United States and southern Canada. Travel itself wasn't new to them. But to get to Hawai'i they had to fly – something they had rarely done up to that point. Beyond that, though, Hawai'i was exotic to them, with scenery, flora, and fauna that was completely unfamiliar. We might as well have been in Africa from their perspective!
It was terrific fun for us just to watch them reacting to the new things they were seeing. Countless times they'd see a plant, flower, bird, or piece of volcano that had them goggle-eyed with wonder. My mom didn't like hiking, generally, but we even got her out on some of the easier trails and to tour botanical gardens and orchid nurseries. I remember her standing under a papaya tree, staring up in wonder – it was nothing like she'd imagined it. Mom and dad walked together under a giant banyan tree near Cafe 100 in Hilo, both of them floored by its sheer size. Mom particularly enjoyed the large monkey-pod tree forest near Lava Tree State Monument, and dad shared my admiration for the koa forests at high altitudes on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
One morning when we were camped in Namakani Paio, we were up and making breakfast. A lady came out of another cabin and started hollering at the birds for making noise – and that got mom laughing so hard she could hardly breath. That lady came out repeatedly, really mad at the birds (who were simply greeting morning as birds do). Dad discovered the native orchids growing out in the old a'a lava fields, and we took a short hike to enjoy those.
Neither mom nor dad had ever been four-wheeling for fun, though dad drove two-wheel-drive trucks often in places where many four-wheelers wouldn't dare go. Also, he did a lot of off-road driving for his job in the Army Air Force during WWII, putting antennas in high places. We took them to the summit of Mauna Kea, and then all around it at around 9,000 feet altitude. We chose a spectacular day, with perfect weather for such a trip – and they got a rare treat, because even on the northeast side of the mountain we had perfect visibility. This trip was full of exotic scenery for mom and dad, with the ocean-and-landscape vistas everywhere you looked. Mom loved those views, especially when we got to the north side and were traversing the old Parker Ranch, looking over emerald-green rolling hills and broad, sloping sugar cane fields. Dad liked that area as well, for the koa forests and the frequent little pu'us (old, small cinder cones grown over with greenery).
We had some memorable meals there as well: fresh seafood, Thai food, and stuff we cooked, often using the unusual things available in the supermarkets there. Mom particularly enjoyed the food there – so many things that she liked, and had never had before. One example: a custard dessert she had at a Thai restaurant that she liked so much we went back twice more just for that. Another: mahi mahi sandwiches at Cafe 100, which she declared were the best fish sandwiches she'd ever had. We went back there a half dozen times for more :)
The very idea of my parents in Hawai'i is still sort of mind-boggling for me. They seemed very out-of-place there; it's not the sort of thing one would ever imagine them doing. Even during the trip, though, we knew we'd be happy we took them. Afterwards, separately and years apart, both my mom and dad went to some pains to tell me just how much that trip had meant to them. Dad wanted to go again, but didn't think mom would be able to. We even made tentative plans for another trip in the late '90s, but the efforts around selling the farm and building a new home made him cancel it. On my first trip to visit mom and dad after dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, mom started talking with me about that trip. She got very emotional, choked up and crying, in the course of telling me how much she and dad cherished that trip to Hawai'i. That's a memory I hold onto these days. It makes the four years we spent paying off that damned credit card seem quite trivial...