Monthly Archives: September 2013

Hibiscuses and Roses

Hawaiian Hibiscus

Hawaiian Hibiscus

Today I admire white roses instead of hibiscus blooms or white plumeria festooning rounded trees, enchantment of the past ten days. I’ve come back, from Hawaii, to my California home with its roses. Now I sit beside the white roses of Cocola Cafe’s front patio. Cocola makes and supplies delicate, French-style pastries to its large eatery at Stanford Shopping Center. The Redwood City storefront and patio are tiny, designed for workers who carry their pastry, coffee, sandwich or salad back to an office, machine shop, or flooring or furniture store. No tables inside; outdoors, two tables stand. Only four blocks from my home, this Cocola Cafe lies closer than any Starbucks and, more importantly, it’s local.

Oak leaves and acorns pattern the golden mosaic table by which I sit. Gone are the chirps of lizards that I heard in our rental home in Kailua. Here the zoom of cars buzzes my ears, but this is my neighborhood. I’d rather be here than at Stanford Shopping Center among the well-heeled toting huge bags or others lounging near fountains, among abundant roses.

I think of the lovely people of Hawaii with whom I spent vacation time before my return home last night. People showed grace in big ways, and sometimes small, but always meaningful. At the Honolulu airport the worker who brought me a wheelchair (I’m still struggling with after-effects of bunion surgery: inflamed sesamoid bones) offered to let Collin push it out to the gate, whereas—here at the other end in San Francisco—the worker curtly refused my husband’s offer to wheel me. Was it because of the tip she would earn or airport policy—we don’t know.

On a more personal side, I appreciate the elderly Auntie and Uncle who made five beds available to us on our last night in Hawaii and “talked story” with us evening and morning. I’m grateful for the sister-in-law who treated all five of us to lunch. I’m amazed at the other sister-in-law who, after giving two fifty-dollar bills to my daughter as a grad present, wanted to give yet more—a book on Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams in Hawaii (the current exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Art). I remember, too, the flower leis given to me and all the other Park relatives who traveled across the Pacific for the 90th birthday celebration of Collin’s father. So much generosity from those we knew and from many we met only briefly.

Coming home to Hawaii brings out the Hawaiian in my husband Collin. It’s fun to observe.

When I was contemplating whether or not to wear hose for the birthday party in a restaurant banquet room, I asked Collin whether there’d be air conditioning. “Probably not.” He called the place and his Hawaiian intonation, so different from Standard English, immediately kicked in. He doesn’t talk this way with his family in Hawaii. They all speak in standard English to each other. But, when out and about, he frequently switches the pitch pattern of his speech to a more lilting sound. Sometimes the grammar, vocabulary also change as he talks to locals. So when he phoned the Treetop Restaurant, he didn’t blurt out, as I would, “Do you have air conditioning?” Instead he phrased the question differently. “We’re coming to dinner tonight. You folks don’t have air conditioning, yeah?” His question, phrased in the negative, conveyed to the staff person that he’s not expecting AC. Collin presumes that the personnel care about their guests and would feel badly about not supplying what they desire. Such gentleness and sensitivity to others’ feelings prevails on these islands.

Another example of this manner: at the Honolulu airport, the service staff person noticed how I’d seated myself in the wheelchair: from the front, angling myself in over the foot rests—rather an awkward action that could lead to a fall for an elderly person. He raised the chair’s armrest out of the way and said, “If you come from the side and sit down, it’s safer. You can’t get tripped up by the foot rests. It makes us feel more comfortable.”

In contrast, on an earlier trip, SFO personnel told me, “Don’t sit that way—it’s not safe. Sit down from the side.” It didn’t stick. The Hawaii approach—less confrontational and appealing to my empathy for the staff’s concern for me—worked better. My defense mechanism (I can handle doing it this way. I’m agile) didn’t kick in. So, after this gentler mode of instruction, when I debarked our plane in SFO and again seated myself in a wheelchair, I remembered to do it the “safer” way.

Lovely people in Hawaii with lovely manners. Their flowers don’t have thorns.

Often I’ve regretted my words to people during my time there, feeling myself an awkward, brash white American whose passionate and direct way of speech exudes sharp points. I’m comforted by knowing my husband’s family still extends kindness and warmth to me. I don’t deny the strengths of my background and culture: sometimes a more direct way relating brings needed clarity to the table, but I want to keep learning from the manners of the beautiful people of Hawaii.