Tonight, my family got to see the video we’d all been dreading: one showing that the beach houses we used to go to every year growing up have been completely, utterly destroyed by the recent Kilauea eruption. A month ago, watching lava videos with a mixture of horror and fascination, I didn’t think the lava would reach Kapoho, but it has, and the homes of so many families in that area have now joined the many of Leilani Estates.
It’s a weird feeling, knowing that not just a house you knew is gone, but an entire area. Houses get sold, demolished, renovated, but you never really think the whole surrounding area will be erased from existence. You kind of always just assume everything else—the rocks, the roads, the ponds, the fish, the bay, the ocean—will always be there when you finally make time to go back.
I’d always wanted to take my kids there. Maybe plan a reunion with the cousins’ kids and let them swim in the pond—during high tide ONLY, unless you like shishi water (that had to be a family myth, right?).
That said, it was just a house we rented every Labor Day, some Fourths, and the rare Christmas. My family’s “loss” isn’t real—that belongs to the Kimura family—and so this post isn’t about loss so much as it’s about gratefulness. I’m grateful I got to experience Kapoho and form memories. I’m grateful that I can still remember a time when you could truly get away from it all.
Back when we used to go, there were no cell phones, no smartphones, no Wi-Fi or air-conditioning. Heck, the place didn’t even have a TV. The only provided entertainment I remember was a pile of old Reader’s Digests sitting on the dresser next to the crappiest bed, which my brother and I used to get stuck with a lot cause “Kodanis are always late.” I used to page through them to get to the joke pages and the funny stories columns.
Other than that, you swam, you ate, you slept, and you fished. Then you ate some more, and after the marshmallow roasting over the coals that had cooked the oysters and teriyaki meat, after you’d eaten the menpachi miso soup made with the fish Jichan caught and Aunty Cheryl’s Portuguese bean soup, after the pillow fights and endless giggles, you tried to fall asleep despite the sting of sunburn, all to the vague noise of the uncles and aunties talking out on the patio.
Only it wasn’t. It was true escapism. It was a time to soak in real, quality time with family members you really only saw a handful of times a year.
I grew up in the floral industry, and if there’s one thing to say about it, it’s that you don’t get holidays very often. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s—most of these times were spent working past midnight, either at “the store” (the florist) or at “the farm” (the flower farm). I’d deliver flowers from early morning to well into nighttime, with my favorite delivery run being to the hospital’s maternity ward. Point is, we all worked our butts off, and it was hard to find time to just chill.
Except for Labor Day. My parents would always pack us up and take us down to the yearly family gathering at Kapoho, probably cause nobody really needs flowers for Labor Day. (lol) It was a long drive from home in Mountain View. We’d have to go through Kurtistown, then Keaau, then Pahoa, then all the way down to the shore. To be honest, I never really paid attention, and I couldn’t get there on my own without a map or specific instructions. I just got in the car, fell asleep, and got out of our white Land Cruiser when we’d arrived.
I remember a lot about the place, though. Like the time Grandma freaked us all out by forgetting her dentures on the bathroom sink. I remember Jichan at the tiny stove, laughing about teaching us how to cook chicken in the chicken fat so that the “chicken cooks the chicken.” Or playing Spoons, listening to my dad’s cackling laughter as he slammed his bigass farmer hands down, sending spoons flying everywhere. Playing UNO with my cousins. Aunty Kathe making us sit on the side for twenty freaking minutes (or maybe it was less?) so that our sunscreen would actually work, something I always suspected was just some nefarious scheme to get us less swim time. Because I was a snotty kid. Like all snotty kids.
I remember watermelon-seed-spitting contests.
I remember screaming when I saw my first rock fish.
I remember Jichan bringing back opai after walking across the reef.
I remember thinking tsubu was too frustrating to eat.
I remember the old bread in the freezer to feed the fish with.
I remember my aunty teaching me how to freeze pickles there.
I remember forgetting my favorite pair of red rubber slippers somewhere, and that I never saw them again.
I remember being fed white-sugar donut holes like I was a dolphin.
I remember being too scared to jump less than a foot down into the ocean. How I used to float to the lagoon 100% sure that a moray eel was going to come up and bite me in the ass, and why the hell did I have to get stuck with the partially deflated black rubber tube, which was sure to increase those odds? Never mind that I always had to borrow it to get there because for some reason, I just never had one of my own. I remember closing my eyes at night, feeling the cool breeze wafting through the homemade curtains and hitting my hot skin. Feeling the motion of the waves, like I was still floating out on the ocean.
Yesterday, I tried looking up beach houses here on Oahu, wondering whether a place like the Kapoho of my childhood still existed. It’s probably out there, but at the same time, it isn’t. We live in a different time with a different generation in a different world. But there’s something to be learned, and that is that the time spent making memories like the ones I still have is so important.
And although the Kapoho I knew and loved is gone, I take the memories of the place with me.
Many thanks to my cousins for the photos.