Last spring, my family decided to take my grandpa to Oahu for our vacation, but also to visit his hometown where he grew up as a kid. My grandpa was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in the 1930s, and his family had immigrated from Japan as farmers looking to work in the sugar cane fields on the island. Whenever he tells stories to me and my family, it is almost always about his time spent running around on the island as a kid with his older brothers and other siblings.
My grandpa hadn’t visited Hawaii in over a decade, with airport technology, security, and travel becoming much more complex over the years. Even still, my 92-year-old hardheaded grandpa had previously insisted that he could make the journey alone from California to Oahu with no help. Knowing that my old-fashioned grandpa has a hard time operating a smartphone and using other new techbology, my family understood that he should come with us on our vacation to Hawaii so that he can see his relatives and the island again.
As soon as we had landed at the Honolulu airport, my grandpa was shocked by the sheer size of the airport itself and how much it had grown since he last visited. There were electronic signs pointing you in every direction, stories and stories of parking structures, and all kinds of buses to take you to car rental stations and other sections of the airport. I felt a bit of sadness imagining my grandpa walking with his cane trying to navigate the airport alone by himself, but felt resolved knowing instead our family was there with him throughout the whole trip.
Filled with hunger, we knew that our first stop before the hotel had to be a place to eat. While we were on the plane, my grandpa showed me a list of all of his recommended local spots to eat, and rated the different restaurants’ food qualities in depth to me. He had already decided on the flight to Honolulu that we needed to stop by his favorite saimin place in Kalihi that was still around to this day: Palace Saimin.
We all ordered their wonton min soup, and I still remember how simple yet flavorful the dish was. When I sipped the broth of the saimin, its comforting taste reminded me of my grandpa’s food taste and cooking style: quality, simple dishes, that he can get at a great price.
After we had all finished our saimin till our bowls were empty, we wanted to drive around Kalihi to explore more of grandpa’s hometown. My family and I were all shocked by my grandpa’s astounding memory. He could recall all of the street names nearby, what streets were coming up next, as well as the different stores that used to exist in certain places. As we drove around, he detailed to us his childhood days of walking to his local high school, the names of his old friends, and all of his other memories that came flooding back to him. It had warmed my heart to see my grandpa be able to come and see the place he was always reminiscing about to me, and to see how happy he was.
One place that my grandpa wanted to stop by in Kalihi was Alicia’s Market, a small, local, family-run grocery store he remembered visiting when he was a kid, it a couple blocks away from where my grandpa had lived. He had told us that the owner, Alicia, had previously helped take care of my grandpa and his siblings when he was a toddler while his mother was busy. As my grandpa spoke to us, we noticed a store employee exit the store, and my family stopped him for a brief moment to ask if he had any whereabouts about the owner or their family. He had informed us that his dad was the owner of the store, and that he was the grandson of Alicia. It felt as if everything had come full circle, standing there watching my grandpa speak to the grandson of someone he knew from his childhood. My grandpa asked the man if he remembered any of the markets and buildings that had previously existed on Mokauea street. Even though there was a generation gap, my grandpa and the grandson of Alicia connected with each other, reminiscing over their memories of the local area. I found myself crying happy tears seeing my grandpa so excited to talk to a local of his hometown.
After that chance meeting, we checked into the hotel and spent the rest of the day finding other good eats and relaxing. The next morning, we had gotten Leonard’s malasadas, and ate at the Hawaiian staple restaurant, one of grandpa’s classic favorites: Zippy’s. He said that, “all food should be made as simple as Zippy’s,” as my family laughed at the remark. We visited the bay where my grandpa used to camp on as a Boy Scout, and headed over to my granduncle’s house to have a family potluck. My granduncle, Uncle Frank, is my grandpa’s younger brother, who is much like my grandpa in his hardheaded nature and opinionated discourse. Sometimes my family gets the special opportunity to read the emails sent between my grandpa and my Uncle Frank, which contain a plethora of details about their childhood, as well as lots of funny pidgin English expressions. Seeing my family that still lived on the island was so comforting, and helped me feel more connected to myself and my relatives on the mainland who were born in Hawaii. My grandpa bantered with my Uncle Frank about their childhood, and my Uncle Frank told me and my brother stories of what a wild child my grandpa was like growing up.
The next day we had gone to visit Punchbowl and another cemetery that my grandpa’s brother and relatives were buried at. My grandpa’s older brother William, who served in WWII and whom my grandpa looked up to the most, was buried at Punchbowl, with a Buddhist wheel on his gravestone and a title that read “TEC 4 US ARMY”. We helped place flowers in the grave while my grandpa talked fondly about his brother William. I knew that my grandpa’s memories of him were precious and I listened intently. In the afternoon, we had driven my grandpa back to our relatives’ house, and he stayed with them for the rest of the trip.
I came back from Hawaii feeling sentimental about the whole experience and I still remember all of the stories my grandpa told on the trip. This trip was more than just another vacation to Hawaii, it was my family’s chance to walk through my grandpa’s memory lane alongside him.
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