“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
~ Maya Angelou
“Is it time to go home yet? I keep clicking these damn shoes, but nothing happens.”
~ Robin Hecht
I grew up in Honolulu. Moved there with my family when I was eleven years old, spent a few years away, then lived there with my wife and kids until I was in my mid-thirties, when Hollywood started calling.
Moving away from Hawaii was difficult for all of us. I’m not a talented enough writer to describe the feelings we had then or the feelings my wife and I have now whenever we think of Honolulu, other than it is simply “home” to us. It is, as Maya Angelou says, a “safe place.” A source of comfort.
We try to visit every year and stay with family, but because of a whirlwind of conferences over the last few years, it had been a while since I’d visited. So this year I decided to forego ThrillerFest and RWA and go home with the wife and kids. I spent a lot of time doing nothing – which is just the way I like it.
But I also discovered, for the first time, I think, that the old adage is true: you can’t go home again.
There’s an expression in Hawaii, a term used to describe the good old days and the feelings of nostalgia that arise whenever we think of them. We call them hanabata days. “Hana” is Japanese for nose, and “bata” is pidgin (local slang) for butter. The days when we were little snots and all was good with the world.
During this last visit, as we drove around town, I was constantly reminded of those hanabata days, and how much things have changed since then. The most disconcerting thing, besides the horrendous traffic that makes a six mile drive last an eternity, was just how many of our favorite old eating establishments had disappeared. Ones we grew up with.
There was a time, not long ago, when we could get up early in the morning, take a short drive into Kaimuki and stop in at Kwong On, a little hole in the wall Chinese delicatessen that sold the best baked manapua and chow fun you could ever want. You’d walk in, take a number and wait quite a while to get served. That’s how popular it was.
But when the owner got sick – or so we’re told – his children decided not to continue with the business and closed the doors. We spent several days hunting for a replacement and soon discovered that there is none. Kwong On was one of a kind. Gone, just like that.
Another favorite place, Washington Saimin, disappeared a couple years ago. This was a terrific little restaurant where you could slide into a booth, order a large bowl of saimin (a local version of Japanese noodle soup) along with a couple of barbecue sticks, and soon be in nirvana.
But it’s also gone, without a trace. As is Alex Drive-In, where the waitresses would take your order as you sat in your car, bringing your food on a tray that they mounted on your window. Or many of the Chinese crack seed stores, full of industrial-sized jars containing dried mango and lee hing mui and other delicacies.
Like many places around the world, Honolulu is slowly losing its character – character that’s been replaced by cookie cutter strip malls and shopping centers. The same corporate megaplexes and fast-food psuedo-restaurants we see wherever we go nowadays.
Call me crazy, but I just don’t feel quite the same getting a bowl of saimin from McDonald’s as I did getting one from Washington Saimin or Tanoue’s, another favorite that has disappeared. These were places were you could sit down with your family and feel the spirit of old Hawaii, a spirit that is rapidly losing ground to that runaway train called progress.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love Hawaii and always will. But there was a time when my wife and I were certain that we would one day retire there. Go back home to grow old.
But this last visit had me wondering if I’d ever want to live there again. It isn’t just about missing restaurants, but that feeling that no matter how we try, we’ll never be able to recapture those hanabata days.
They’re gone for good.
And I’m sure it’s the same for many of you. You’ve gone back home — wherever that may be — only to discover that it’s changed to the point that it’s become a place that you almost don’t recognize.
So tell me, on your trip back, what did you find missing? What do you long for that you’ll never be able to recapture?