She could have run into the arms of a dozen other young fellows that were there that day. But she didn’t. Later I would tease her that she’d made a beeline to the nearest warm body. Once she was there, I knew I’d never let her go.
She had the morning shift that day; it started off slow like any Sunday morning should. She wore a long sleeved button up shirt that buckled at the wrists, shunning the sun that wanted to make her browner than she already was. With that was a wide brim lauhala hat, ankle length denims and rubber slippers. Some might have wondered what was under all of those layers, but I was an eighteen year old boy; I knew there was a well rounded seventeen year old Hawaiian girl beneath it. And, it was just fine with me that she covered up that secret. Little did I know that I would have a chance to tightly hold those curves.
She had one job to do - hold a stop sign to keep cars on Mokapu Road from crossing over the landing strip when planes came in. Between planes, she played her ukulele, waved at the cars and flashed her wide happy grin.
Once the planes had landed and the cars slowly passed the little bench she called “my station,” the people would shout their alohas to her and flash the shaka sign.
“Eh, howzit, Pua! You coming to Auntie’s Nani’s luau?!”
“Yeah, Keoki; I coming. I gone bring da poi.”
“Eh, no forget da ukulele!”
She answered with the laugh I learned to rely on. It would go on like that while the cars passed; most of them not missing a chance to talk story with their favorite girl.
I was partially deaf from a work accident and a man of few words. Sometimes, I nodded to her as I passed through on my way to my civilian job on the base. She’d blush so bad her milk chocolate skin turned a rosy glow.
Sometimes you don’t need words.
That day everything changed. I waited my turn to drive passed her station and then pulled up next to her. That was when we heard a sound like the buzzing of a thousand hornets; Japanese Zeros blackened the sky. Large bombs dropped one after the other all around us. Cars that were crossing the strip were blown into the air.
Pua screamed, dropped her sign and ran to me as I jumped out of my truck, flinging her arms around my neck. I picked her up and tried to heave her onto the bench seat of my ‘38 Ford truck, but she wouldn’t let go and we both stumbled halfway across it. I struggled to pull her arms away so we could right ourselves but gave up and wormed myself around toward the steering wheel, all while gripped by a screaming young girl.
I drove like lightning to a remote part of the base where we found the only shelter not being bombarded; a patch of dense keawe trees near the beach. We huddled there as she sobbed on my neck, until at last the planes were gone.
Within hours, we were working alongside the medics, helping with the wounded, covering the dead. She finally let go of my neck, but never left my side.
From then on, we were inseparable and married six weeks later. We made it through the rationing, the blackouts…the fear. We made it through five kids, Statehood, the assassination of a president, and the 60’s. We worried as our sons went off to Vietnam and cried grateful tears when they came home. We clung together through the Cold War and when our grandson died in Dessert Storm. We survived a changing world that we no longer recognized and we made it through the years when neither one of was the best person we could have been.
Seventy-two years. We made it.
And nothing changed that, not even the ugly thing that crept inside her and couldn’t be chased away by clinging to my neck. There was no keawe tree patch to hide in; only I.V’s, the beeping of machines and the sense of her life slipping away.
“I going with Jesus, Old Man.”
“Not without me, you won’t.”
This time, it was me that hung on her neck, willing myself to follow her all the way home.
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