Full confession here: I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my family holiday traditions. The tradition composes of Christmas and New Year’s to be celebrated quietly at home. The kids and I would spend our days lazily on the couch enjoying a marathon of Harry Potter movies, as well as, the Lord of the Rings movies. The nights were spent playing Monopoly (that often erupts in war), Scrabble (that often reveals those who can’t spell), and Mahjong (reveals those who are hustlers). I look forward to these days because they were free of any extracurricular activities. The focus became solely on family time.
This year, those traditions were put on hold as we decided to travel to Hawaii to celebrate the holidays–island style. So, there we were on a trip: my husband, my two kids (minus the eldest, Tommy, and his girlfriend, Meghan who were both stuck in Denver working for Denver7) Braeden and Chloe, and Braeden’s girlfriend, Allison. We were to be joined by my mother and father in-law, my youngest sister in-law, Tammy, and my other sister in-law Kim, along with her three daughters: Courtney, Kailey, and Kendall. Mind you, this was not everyone.
My husband and I have a lot in common when it comes to family members. His mother is one of nine siblings–same with my mother. His father is one of three siblings–same with my father. Both our dads are the middle child. My husband is one of five siblings–so am I.
When we combine our family sides–we look like members from a Benetton Ad.
Our holiday vacation in Hawaii taught me many things about this one life. I saw and appreciated a beautiful sunrise on Christmas Eve and found a peaceful moment to myself. Above all else, this vacation reminded me how easily I have taken the most simplest of things for granted.
There are moments where I or we often forget what makes us rich in life. I don’t mean rich in the most materialistic sense or financial status–but rich in the most simplest, yet most profound sense of family.
What we forget and take for granted are the very people who reveals to us the delicate importance of relationships. I say delicate, because in a way, relationships often are. It can be severed by a person who no longer wishes to partake in another’s life, and just like that the relationship will no longer exist. In the same token, there is also strength in relationships rooted at the very core of familial foundations.
I believe the saying goes, “the family that binds us will hold us together” does not ring true for many people, and for those who are bound by such truths–are the most luckiest people on this earth.
“I believe that family–ohana is the most important thing in life. Yess. Yess, it is,” Auntie Charlene said as she nodded her head and smiled from her eyes. Auntie Charlene is my mother in-law’s younger sister. She is one that many of us seek–a comforting presence that envelops you whenever she’s around. You can sense how much of a nurturer she is by watching her with her grandchildren, and her nieces/nephews. Her husband, Uncle Pat, with his beautiful made for radio voice is also the same way: nurturing, but also a disciplinarian. Auntie Charlene is always aware of everyone’s needs, and always gentle and kind. Mind you, she will set you straight should you step out of line. Her grandchildren, the boys that I’ve decided to call P1, P2, P3 (since all of their names began with a P), follows her every instruction (or so I think):
“Payton, don’t sit that way on the couch. Sit properly, please.”
“Paxton, please make sure to eat your dinner at the table.”
“Preston, please put that tree bean down! You might hit someone else in the eye with it!”
The tree bean was a controversy on Christmas night where one of the Ps, the youngest one with an amazing arm threw a tree bean which hit Chloe straight in the eyeball. The boys’ Dad and Bryan’s cousin, also named Pat felt horrible–but I reminded him that it’s not a family reunion without a trip to the E.R. As Chloe’s mother, I attempted not to laugh at the situation, but as Chloe and I sat in the Emergency Room that evening–we couldn’t help but laugh at how quickly and fast it happened. We left the ER with an ointment for the minor scratches in her cornea, and discussing how P3 will one day become a baseball pitcher.
Auntie Charlene’s comforting presence is balanced by the other sister, Auntie Antonette–who’s crazy antics made for the non-stop laughter and bellyaches. Her own laughter is so contagious that you don’t realize you’re laughing at yourself.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Auntie Antonette asked our niece Courtney whose blue-eyes and blonde hair would have made it difficult for people to believe that she’s 1/4 Filipino.
“Yes, I do,” Courtney answered.
“You know what you tell him when you get home?” Auntie Antonette tells her, “you tell him not to park in the C-lot, but park in the Bilat!” Bilat for those of you non-Visayan speakers is the word for vagina (Google it).
Courtney, like the rest of us, laughed along with Antonette because–it was funny as shit–most especially coming from an Aunt. In another instance on New Year’s eve, before the town exploded with the non-stop fireworks, I turned around and found Auntie Antonette with a mask over her face because according to her it gets too smoky. I captured a photo of her laughing beneath that mask.
For the record, she was the only one crazy enough to put a mask over her face–but, yet, quite practical and correct–because it did get smoky.
We all have that one crazy Auntie, right? I often wondered why that has been the case, and I’ve arrived at the conclusion that it’s because they’re a reminder to never take ourselves too seriously in this life, and in fact–to remind ourselves to laugh a little, or laugh a lot–or even for that matter to feed our soul with so much laughter that we don’t even realize that we are gifting ourselves the gift of happiness.
While we were surrounded by my husband’s side of the family the entire time, I also had a promise to keep to my Aunt Lucy who had passed away in 2011. I promised years ago that whenever I am in Kailua, I would visit Chebby. Chebby was Lucy’s wife (although their relationship was not legally recognized during the 60s and throughout the 90s) for more than 20 years before they separated. Chebby and Lucy were very much a part of our lives (my siblings and I) growing up. When we had dinner with Chebby, the kids and the husband saw what it may have been like for me growing up: manners at the table, and always expressing filial duty to the elders.
“This one right here,” Chebby said pointing at me as she spoke to my husband and the kids, “is one of the best Arnuco’s. You should all know that. She is the best example of the good in the Arnuco’s.” The Arnuco family is my maternal family where a long line of strong women were considered the pillars of strength from my grandmother, Vicky, my mother, Lucy, Lola Esther, my sisters–in particular, Jackie. All of them, except for my mother, and my sisters–have all passed away. As happy as I was at that moment, I was also reminded of a great loss: Lucy should have been seated right there with Chebby. I should have been visiting them both and sitting down at the table eating dinner. Chebby is family, and I always keep my promises.
As a writer, and one who has majored in too many English degrees, I am always cognizant of the overall theme or message of a story, and I found during this vacation that the theme of “family” wasn’t merely within my own familial relationships.
My husband and I decided to take our daughter to the Polynesian Cultural Center because it has been our plan to always take her to places where she can acquire some knowledge. We’ve taken her to museums at every city that we’ve ever visited–just so she can acquire an appreciation for the arts.
At the Polynesian Cultural Center, every “island” had a re-occurring theme that went with their cultural identity, and it’s centered on, you guessed it, family. How one nurtures, feeds, protects, and honors family contributes to the person’s overall identity.
We’ve all heard this before, right? The Disney movie Lilo and Stitch first gave us a glimpse of it: “Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind,” Lilo told Stitch. Lilo also said “but, if you leave, you can. I’ll remember you though.”
Here’s the undeniable truth: there are moments where in our busy lives, and our quest for our ambitious goals that we forget what makes us real, what binds us to the salt of the earth–and that is the stronghold of the family.
We forget because we become tunnel visioned in our journey of self-evolution that we sometimes fail to acknowledge the familial relationships that have existed in our lives from the very beginning.
Every now and then, it’s good for the soul to remember.
To remember that family is beautiful, and beautiful is the Ohana.
I wish I was able to capture them all. We are so many. But, alas, a few highlights..
Mahalo to our Ohana: the Lum’s, the Pelekai’s, and the Quitog’s.
Till next time… here’s the shaka: