When Lily asked me to accompany her to Hawaii to say farewell to her sister, I immediately accepted. I packed with an eye to respectful attire while preparing my heart to support and encourage my friend through a potentially difficult moment. I concentrated on what I could give. But as I have found over and over again, the gift of friendship and love spills a bounty of blessing right back onto me.
In meeting Susan a year ago I gained access to a personal side of Lily that had been previously unknown. Though stricken with Alzheimer's that robber her of short-term memory, Susan had free reign of memories from long ago and shared them freely. We learned how Susan, the first-born, battled sickliness as a child, thus Lily (second-born) received instruction from mom to always, "Take care of your sister!" Setting off for places like the Catholic boarding school they both attended in Taiwan brought about the regular call to care for Susan. Throughout childhood and beyond Lily "Took Care" of Susan even to the final days and beyond.
Lily's devotion and love shined brightly for all to see as she clutched a portrait of Susan and herself amongst the flowers of my gardens (formerly resting on the casket) and watched over the last details of Susan's burial.
Lily took care of her sister . . . and did it well.
After the ceremony, we gathered at an obscure looking restaurant in a typically-Hawaiian strip mall. All admonishments against "judging a book by its cover" applied to this unassuming little place that rolled out the most FABULOUS gourmet Chinese feast I have ever eaten!! Seriously! The taro duck ranked as my favorite, but the chicken, fish, scallops, beef and many many vegetables (like fried spinach -- Delish!) that poured forth in each new course caused me to gasp at the thought of dessert . . . until it arrived: A platter of delicacies including ice creams, puddings, chocolate decadence, and even red velvet cake (my favorite!).
We celebrated Susan's life with smiles, laughter, a few tears, and lots of good food. She may have been attending the wedding feast in Heaven without us, but Chef Raymond of Pah Ke's did his best to compete without a bit of complaint from us.
Now that the tasks had been completed, we bid farewell to the family and returned to our hotel to rest. The day had taken its toll. At day's end we slept soundly and awoke Wednesday with a full day on this Island Paradise stretching out before us, as we didn't leave until Thursday afternoon.
And so I entreated Lily to show me her "Blue Hawaii." She complied, and the stories and places came together wonderfully as Lily walked back to days long ago when she first came to the Island of Oahu, proudly clutching a fresh degree from Michigan State in Hotel Management (even today she has a school pennant hanging in her Grass Valley office). Well-acquainted with Elvis' film Blue Hawaii, Lily took a position at the elegant Ilikai Hotel (as seen on Hawaii Five-O, she always reminds me) in the heyday of Hawaiian tourism of the 1960's.
The islands attracted a host of celebrities and stars and Lily's job in management kept her in steady attendance to some of the greatest celebrities. She is quick to note that Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O fame was soooo vain that he would only allow photos of his "best side." She recounted meeting Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, and countless other delightful "stars" who were really just nice people. She mentioned that Don Ho drank too much, but entertained everyone with genuine enjoyment. Her greatest praises fell on Elvis Presley. "He really was nice . . . the nicest I met," she would recall. "He had to stay in his hotel room a lot, because the fans really gathered around and he signed autographs and gave kisses or took photos as much as they wanted. He was never rude." Lily also believed that his movie, Blue Hawaii, really captured the spirit of the Hawaii she came to in the 60s as tourism mushroomed.
In this Romantic Paradise, Lily met Chef Karl and they married (complete with a three-week honeymoon to romantic Kauai). Their careers took them to Hong Kong and on around the world to work in some of the finest hotels. Their high-profile careers brought them back to Hawaii, wherein Lily became a manager in the Halekulani Hotel's 5-star restaurant, La Mer.
The hotel resembles a rambling plantation from Hawaii's golden days of pineapples from Paradise. The beauty literally spills out unexpectedly from every place imaginable.
The rolling greens and open verandas invite one to step back in time and live with genteel grace and T-I-M-E to spare for drinking in the tropical splendor wafting on a balmy breeze. I happily played along with the magic . . . and it felt WONDERFUL!
Luxury waits around every corner. If the warm waves of Waikiki do not entice you, maybe this sparkling blue beachside-pool will do the trick. Such choices . . . I love choices.
I tried to convince Lily that a table at La Mer would suit the mood and it would be my pleasure to have her as my guest, but she wouldn't budge. Lily doesn't fancy French food with all its sauces and fats . . .
Instead, she directed me to the tropically-infused option of dining under the swaying palms and setting sun. The magic continued as we made our way to The House Without a Key. Smitten with the charming name, I followed her lead to another facet of Lily's Blue Hawaii.
A Blue Hawaii for Lily (naturally) and a Chi Chi for me (only our bartender knows for sure if we imbibed fully or not -- *snicker*), paired nicely with some Maui chips while we awaited the arrival of our Sashimi and Beef Satay.
The tradewind-swept stage hosted crooners in the traditional style, while a lovely Miss Hawaii of yesterday swayed gently in the telling of her Island's special beauty. More fairytale than ever, we sipped and sighed and enjoyed the sheer beauty of this tranquil moment.
The sun gently slipped low on the horizon, igniting the sky with that every-day event:
As murmurs of "Ooh" and "Aah" floated amongst those gathered together, our attention focused on an announcement by the Hawaiian trio. By special request they would be reaching back to share two timeless favorites. As the intro to Tiny Bubbles floated our way we all smiled that silly smile associated with those little bubbles. But then a hush fell over the veranda as we heard the gentle singing of the words by a patron. Seated next to his long-life love, this romantic man sang every word into the tear-sparkled eyes of his darling wife. When he belted out "I'll love you 'til the end of time" I felt my cheeks glisten. (I missed Gary; I know Lily missed Karl.)
The next song caused everyone to grab a hankie, as the trio crooned The Hawaiian Wedding Song to the still-in-love couple. My writer's mind ran a jillion scenarios for this couple, but none matched the brilliance of his smiling face gazing into her deep pools of love as he promised all over again to love her to the end of time.
We breathed deeply, feeling so relaxed and happy to be enjoying a moment of such joy -- thankful that once upon a time Gary decided to celebrate one of our our anniversaries at a Swiss Restaurant in Grass Valley and that day has led to all of this . . . and more.