My daughter and I took a short trip to Hawaii just after New Years. She has never been and I haven’t been in over 20 years. I haven’t been on a vacation at all in at least 14 years! Not a real one anyway. You know, the kind where you actually put your clothes in the drawers and hang them up because you will be there long enough to need to see your clothing, not just grab them out of an overnight bag! The weather was gorgeous, to be expected, but the emotions were unexpected. Both my daughter and I have fathers, who have now passed away, that lived in Hawaii.
Her daddy was a surfer who would surf the big waves on the North Shore. He lived there with Jay Adams back in the 80’s, 90’s and told me all sorts of stories about living there. Including the one where he got air lifted to the hospital after a wave almost ended his life. My father went to High School there (the same as President Obama) and also was stationed at Barbers Point as a radio man in the Blue Sharks PC2 plane in the late 50’s, early 60’s. Both were emotional visiting the two places, but my dad, having passed away just a month prior, took the cake. I just wasn’t expecting the water works, and such obvious, what seemed like signs, everywhere, that he was there.
I knew I wanted to visit Barbers Point, but I wasn’t sure what to expect since my dad told me in prior conversations (which in his dementia disease all seemed to lead back to) was that Barbers Point was no longer there. My dad couldn’t remember if he had breakfast that morning, but he still remembered the Morse code alphabet to the Tee. He remembered those days so well that it was important to him during conversations to be able to hold one and for him that meant going way back. He felt important again. Dementia as I learned by observation is a terrible thing that steals not just your memories, but your dignity. My dad led a very dignified life. First in the Navy, then as a HazMat Fire Captain. Not to mention father and grandfather. When I came to Port Townsend a year and a half ago, it wasn’t to save my dads life. It was to do my best to keep him healthy and happy. That meant, meals cooked, someone to talk to, bedding changed, laundry done, lunches together, movies, conversation and the three of us bonding as grandfather, daughter and granddaughter. It wasn’t easy at first, in fact, it was extremely challenging. Our love for each other overcame any obstacles and we learned how to cohabitate together, respect each other and learned so much from each other. I learned it was very important to him that people understood what he had done in his life because he had lost so much of it. I think he knew, but would never admit, that he was losing his memory. He quickly learned how to manipulate conversations that would lead people away from suspicions, but years went by and even that was becoming increasingly impossible for him. Bless his heart, he always had a smile and the same story to tell. The kinder people he ran across daily came to understand and were always willing to entertain his stories. It’s those people who have my heart. I’ve had many a battle with people in this town, but that’s a different story and this isn’t about me.
The bartender, Sun, at the Ilikai Hotel heard my story and was gracious and kind and gave me a bag full of beautiful flowers to toss at Barbers Point. My daughter and I set out one day after renting a car and plugged in “Barbers Point” to the GPS. Google led us to some school. Although, the sign did say “Barber Point”, there was no sign of a military base, old or new. So I made a U-turn and my daughter, who is an I-phone girl, asked Siri which led us to an even more remote space near some shipyards. Distressed, sad and frustrated we parked and threw our flowers into the water, marveled at the beautiful tropical fish that emerged from the rocks when the flowers landed and said a few words. Crying, I got back into the car, but not willing to give up, I stopped by where Siri ended our trip at an Energy Plant and went inside. As most Hawaiians are the gentleman at the front desk (wish I got his name) was very helpful in explaining to us where Barbers Point was. So, once again, we set off. As we are making our drive and I started to get confused again, suddenly two fighter jets roared over our heads as if to say, “you’re going the right way”. I kept going and found the traintracks he spoke of and turned. We saw before us some very old buildings easily 60 – 70 years old. I pulled in and, as usual the alohas were flowing and the information was well thought out and useful. They told us to go to the museum but that we might not have any luck because “Brad” who runs it is not there all the time. I almost turned away, but again, something kept me going. I kept driving down this road which had closed roads jetting out from the sides and you could really get a sense of days gone by with the terrain, the small roads, the skeletal buildings, etc. I suddenly stopped at this fence where I could see old planes through. I debated, but reversed and parked. I got out of the car and banged on he chain link fence yelling, “excuse me”, to the three men standing off in the slight distance in uniform. One came towards us and asked if they could help us.
I quickly explained, through my tear stained face, that my dad had been stationed here in 1958 and that he had passed away and talked about these times here daily. To my surprise, they were so warm and inviting and yanked open the locked gate and brought us into some sort of pilot training room with plane seats and a large screen. I started talking and they finished my sentences for me and before I knew it they had pictures up on the big screen of the plane my dad flew in and then proceeded to walk me around talking about this is where my dad would have been. They had long torn down the buildings, but he would have slept there, the planes were there, and I cannot describe the feeling to you of knowing I was walking on the same asphalt my dad did back when he was 18-22. The guys talked for what seemed like hours and as I thanked them profusely, they thanked me humbly for caring so much. What a great three men, Brad, who ran the museum, Lt. Col. Mooch, and the historian who also worked for Paradise Helicopters,. I’ll never forget what they did for me that day.
I’ll never forget that. And I know my dad was there, so proud that I cared enough. The bond we shared, he now fully understands, even if he couldn’t at the end. I love you so much dad. You are my ohana. Mahalo for everything you are.