Journal » Trout 14 » Luau At The Moloka`i Shores: 1 [Kirby Wright]
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Luau at the Moloka`i Shores: 1

Kirby Wright

I knew my hapa haole grandmother had a crush on a local guy named Merv Machado when she said he was "the spittin' image of Engelbert." Gramma loved the Engelbert Humperdinck Show and she'd told me Engelbert had better lips than Tom Jones. Merv had a good tan and liked flashing his capped teeth. He flirted shamelessly with women and girls and rarely appeared in public with his Hawaiian wife. Gramma smiled coyly whenever she ran into Merv and she always told him he should be on television.

Merv was the new GM of the Moloka'i Shores. A year had passed since the resort's official opening and the word was out that it was a bust. The resort was having trouble selling its condos so Merv advertised the vacant ones as "luxury vacation rentals" in local papers. Then he sent postcards inviting everyone on the east end of the island to a Grand Opening Luau.

"I'm ono fo' kalua pig," Gramma said after reading her postcard.

Moloka'i Shores was ten miles west of Hale Kia, Gramma's ranch on the east end. The resort was built after two years of backbreaking ground work. The developers had chainsawed a 20-acre kiawe forest, burned the stumps, and flattened the earth with bulldozers. The site was across the street from an abandoned Union 76 station and there were rumors the 'O'io Marchers, night-marching ghosts, walked the land on their way down to fish Ali'i Fishpond. Sarah Naki told Gramma she wasn't going to the luau. She said sacred land had been violated by greedy developers and that eating their food would bring bad luck.

* * *

On the day of the luau, my big brother Ben and I slicked down our hair with Brillcream and put on our Aloha shirts, slacks, and loafers. Ben had our mother's blonde hair and fair complexion. I had the dark hair and eyes of our hapa haole father. We'd spent every summer with Gramma at Hale Kia since I was four and at times she seemed more like a mother than a grandmother.

Gramma strolled out of her bedroom wearing a purple dress with a slitted skirt, heels, and a jet black bouffant wig. A transsexual named Kimmi had stopped by that morning to style the wig and the smell of hair spray permeated the beach house. Gramma applied rouge, mascara, and red lipstick. She had fair skin but you could tell she was local because her eyes slanted. She asked Ben if she should get contacts and Ben said glasses made her look more sophisticated.

* * *

Ben and I rode shotgun in the cab of Gramma's International Scout. Ben had the window and I sat between him and Gramma on the bench seat. She kept both hands on the wheel and sang She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain and Oh My Darlin' Clementine. Her voice cracked when she reached for the high notes and she hummed where she'd forgotten the words. We passed a Hawaiian woman picking limu out of a suji fishnet hanging off her clothesline. We waved at a Filipino man as he bicycled east balancing a pole across the handle bars. Gramma got tired of singing after the Puko'o Fishpond so I belted out The Marine's Hymn and followed that up with Caissons Go Rolling Along. "Good boy," Gramma said when I finished. She asked Ben to sing but he said he didn't want to. Then he told her she'd put her wig on backwards.

"You don't wanna look like a kua'aina," Ben said.

Gramma pulled over beside Ah Pong's and spun the wig around. "How's Gramma look now?" she asked.

"Like a movie star," I said.

Gramma raced through Kamalo. It was three when we reached the Union 76. The station's plastic sign had been shattered and it looked as though a big rock had hit it judging by the size of the splinters lying on the dirt. Gramma pulled the Scout off the road and we followed a caravan of cars and trucks into the parking lot. A wisp of white smoke from the imu curled into the sky. We parked in a red cinder lot where families paraded over the cinders. Children with rubber slippers ran ahead of parents and kupunas used canes or leaned against relatives. The only time I'd seen as many locals was when Lord "Tally Ho" Blears brought Honolulu All-Star Wrestling to Kaunakakai.

"Hot as blazes," Gramma said rolling up her window.

I got out behind Ben and shut the door. The heels of my loafers crunched the cinders. The trades carried the aroma of kalua meat. The lot was full and drivers parked along the road. Ben and I walked on either side of Gramma. At first she had trouble negotiating the cinders in her heels but she got used to them after a few baby steps.

"Oh, Auntie Brownie," came a woman's voice, "you look so no ka oi!" A heavyset Portuguese woman in a green muumuu climbed out of the cab of a truck and marched over.

"Hello, Pearl," Gramma said and put on her fake smile. She introduced us as "Norman's boys." Gramma had said Pearl was a wealthy cattle rancher who'd married a school teacher half her age. Pearl talked about taxes, the price of beef, hoof-and-mouth disease, and how my father made good and what a great example he'd set for the kids on Moloka'i. Pearl spotted Kitty and charged across the cinders to gab with her.

"Fo' the luva Pete," Gramma said as we followed the crowd, "neva thought we'd get away."


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