My New Friend
To: A Future Generation
From: Randy C. Horne
As I left Waipi’o Valley I took a slight detour on the way home, a small scenic road that I had not yet driven. I saw a sign for a cemetery off to the right up on a hill and having a fondness for old cemeteries had to check it out. Some people find old cemeteries creepy but I find the peace and serenity to be very calming. There are old cemeteries all over the island, some dating back well over 100 years, almost all are near the coast with ocean views and I like to walk around and look at who, what, etc.
As I crested the hill I saw the cemetery off to the left, small and humble with an amazing coastline view, and two women with folding chairs folding what appeared to be a picnic blanket. I drove about 100 yards past to turn around and as I approached I was filled with conflict. They had obviously been there for a while, were they having a picnic, would I be disturbing them if I stopped to look around? I saw a huge Plumeria tree growing near them and felt that would be excuse enough to stop and “smell the Plumerias”. I parked and cautiously approached them, gently lowering a branch and inhaling the beautiful aroma of a white Plumeria flower close to 2 1/2” diameter. As I gently released the branch, the shorter woman greeted me in Hawaiian with a big smile. Not having a clue as to what she was saying all I could think of was to smile back and say “Aloha”. She explained her greeting and asked what brought me to this spot on this beautiful day. I told her about my fascination with old cemeteries and having seen the sign felt the need to stop and explore.
A Hawaiian tradition is to “talk story”, sharing life and catching up on recent events, and dates back to before written language. A very important tradition and is considered very rude to cut short and leave, it takes priority over anything else going on even going to work, sometimes lasting minutes or hours and I am not one to be rude. She began by explaining about her ohana, (family) and showed me the graves of two of her relatives and explained their connection to her, a grandfather and uncle. The ladies had chosen this day to tidy up the grave sites of her relatives, remove fallen leaves, weeds, and in general show respect for the deceased by making their resting places presentable once again. She told me of being born near Hana on Maui and her memories of traveling back and forth to the big island by canoe when she was two years old. She told me about lineage, how important it is to the Hawaiian culture to know one’s ancestry, who they were and what they did. She expressed concern that the old ways were slowly being forgotten and with that would be the death of traditional Hawaiian culture. As we talked, the other tall woman was slowly packing up their belongings preparing to leave, their grave site cleanup completed. As she put their chairs into the back of her pickup, she suggested her friend show me the soldiers grave up the hill. During our talk the shorter woman picked two flowers from the white Plumeria tree and gave them to me explaining the white Plumeria flowers begin to die as soon as they are picked from the tree (making them unsuitable for lei making) while the yellow ones last much longer and are used mostly for lei making. I carried my flowers up the hill on our walk while she told me about the young soldier. She asked me if I knew any military songs to sing, apparently it’s tradition to sing a song for the deceased while visiting their resting place. I explained that my singing voice left a lot to be desired, the water in the shower stopped when I sang, she laughed and told me not to worry about it, it would be fine. The soldier had been killed in action in 1995 at the young age of 41 and was considered a hero in the community. His headstone stood about 2 1/2 feet tall made of polished red granite and featured a color picture of him. Quite handsome and very young looking it struck me such a shame that his life had been cut so short. Again she asked me about a song saying Mary Had a Little Lamb somehow just wouldn’t work in this case.
She took my hand in hers and began to sing the Star Spangled Banner which I sheepishly joined her in, and yes I sounded less than wonderful. About half way through our song tears began rolling down her cheeks, wiping her eyes with her free hand we continued singing. Completing our song she began speaking to him almost prayer like, giving thanks for his family and their loss, spoke of the ultimate sacrifice he made, his life cut way too short for his ohana (family) and country so she and I could stand here together on this beautiful clear sunny day, on this hill overlooking the ocean enjoying the freedom he had died for. I had never before experienced anything like this, sharing such a personal and touching moment with someone I had never met. This is what is meant by Aloha, the giving, sharing, and complete enjoyment and celebration of life and all it has to offer. As we started to leave the grave side I placed one of the two flowers she gave me on the headstone and the other one brought home to enjoy.
We slowly walked back to the truck, she still wiping the occasional tear from her weathered 75 year old cheeks while we talked story. She asked about me and my life and how I came to be here in Hawaii. As I told her of life in Tehachapi and the events and ordeals that recently brought us here, I noticed I felt completely comfortable with her, like we had known each other for years and were just taking advantage of this beautiful day to catch up on recent events in our lives. I told her about losing Niblet just before leaving and how with the help of someone I had never met was able to get her back after 2 weeks. Again Aloha, people doing nice things for someone they have never met for several reasons, because they want to, it makes them feel good to help someone, and because they posses the ability and choose to do it. She told me the world depends on people helping each other, and it costs nothing to be nice. Life, she said is full of choices and it’s up to us to decide how we choose to live our lives and this will determine how we are remembered.
She told me Sundays were her do nothing days, no advanced plans, no working on Sundays. She sat home waiting for someone to stop by and take her out for the day to see what adventures awaited. This Sunday morning her friend picked her up and they came here to tidy up the grave two sites and were off to do more at another cemetery down the road. As we were about to part company she hugged me, gave me a kiss on the cheek and thanked me for sharing and being a part of her Sunday adventure.
During the 45 minute drive home I couldn’t help but think of her and the hour we spent together on this perfect afternoon, up on a hillside overlooking the North Kohala coastline. Her friendly openness and gift to me of our time together and our talk story time is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. Stopping to look at graves I had no idea what was in store for me, this sweet lady who took time out of her day to spend with me a complete stranger, talk story, and enforce my love of life. Our paths will again cross someday and I look forward to that day. Mahalo my new friend!