New Memoir Tuesday! This week’s RemembeRED memoir prompt asked us to write a memory of sand.
We were scheduled to depart Seattle the morning after our High School graduation day and spend three weeks being shown the islands of Hawaii by my career ex-military grandfather who was proud to show me a place that held so much history for him. I had in my head only the usual things about the islands; sprawling white beaches, warm crystal clear waters, leis and tiki torches on the beach and surfboards. Departing the plane I was hit in the face by the expected dazzling sun and a lei even more fragrant then I had imagined. I could already smell suntan oil. And for the first few days this Hawaii, the expected constructed one was the only one my eyes were able to take in.
Then I noticed the market that had sprung up wedged between two Japanese skyscrapers, the boxes of nearly rotted fruit with hand written signs saying please take. I learned pineapples grew upside down and the depth and breadth of the remaining military presence. I took in monuments to the dead and more bases than one would think possible on those tiny pieces of land sprinkled in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The further inland we traveled, the further from the white sand and suntan oil, the more rustic the setting and underneath the veneer of tourism, lurked colonization.
My grandfather not missing a beat had set out to show me it all. In resistance to the required trips to the bases I clothed myself in peace tee-shirts and Birkenstocks, but even armored in this gear I could not help straightening my back and saluting back to those young men as I had been taught from the age that I imagined myself a princess in my grandfathers white Cadillac. It is easy to forget the strategic importance of the Hawaiian Islands, unless your guide is a Second Lieutenant Colonel in the army. At the Polynesian educational center I saw something else he was teaching me about a people and a culture buried underneath American military need and Japanese business. Something now only a whisper in the cacophony of existence.
In a final lesson he drove us through an area where locals lived and allowed me to soak in people living in makeshift barracks from World War II and homes made almost entirely out of found materials in nearly third world conditions. Shocked at the contrast of shiny retirement condos, and glittering resort hotels we slowly drove by a new two-story home with a front lawn and driveway, ala anywhere suburbia, mainland, USA and my grandfather said, “See, even in the midst of all this poverty some people can and do make it out.”
“Or they are flaunting their success to their neighbors,” I replied.
He winced at that, and it felt like a victory until I was able to admit to myself that he was only trying to soothe my troubled heart. He was trying to soften the impact of understanding some of the price of paradise and who actually foots the bill.
All these years later, the lesson that he wove into the fabric of me was to look, never flinch from what is front of you, and that our world is complicated. He started the invaluable process of breaking down my blacks and whites, inserting the notion of gray. During that dense summer of sun, sand, sun block, history, power, poverty, waterfalls and wild landscapes I left in his hands the last vestige of my childhood, knowing it would remain safe in his care.