A recent trip to Hawaii fulfilled yet another item on my bucket list, touring four islands and ending with a long-anticipated visit to Pearl Harbor.
The 12-day adventure began with an exercise in endurance –sitting on a jet plane for nine and a half hours. We watched eagerly as the monitor displayed the plane’s location, causing me to grow a bit anxious when I saw that we had left California and were flying over water. However, we ended up spending much of our time on the water anyway as we boarded a cruise ship in Honolulu and set sail for Maui. There we did two excursions on buses, the first was the “Road to Hana,” another exercise in endurance, and the next day it was the “Best of Maui” tour. In the evenings we and our traveling companions enjoyed fine dining aboard the ship before walking to the theater for entertainment. My favorite group was four men who looked and sounded exactly like one of the greatest in the 1960s, The Four Seasons. Frankie Valli’s “clone” sent me back to that era, causing me to remember where I was and what I was doing the first time I heard some of those old songs, especially “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” I remembered that song from my freshman year in high school and how it soothed my broken heart when a senior boy left me standing alone at a sock hop. Those words and my mother’s constant advice to “buck up and be strong” have played in my mind a thousand times since that night, reminding me that strength is a virtue.
From Maui, it was on to the “Big Island” where we saw several volcanoes, one still emitting steam. Standing atop and looking inside those giant craters certainly humbled us all as we realized the power of nature, even the might to belch out what was to become those beautiful islands in the Pacific. The pictures I had seen in books did not compare to the magnificence of that sight, along with so many others I saw in my 12-day tour. However, I will have to say that the most meaningful event came near the end of our journey when we gathered at the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
I can remember those familiar signs I saw as a child, those that hung in many stores and restaurants in the 1950s and 1960s which simply read, “Remember Pearl Harbor.” I also recall the stories of how my Uncle Henry was just a skinny kid aboard the USS Pennsylvania on that fateful day in 1941. It would be six weeks before the family would receive a telegram saying, “I am alive,” and it would be years before my uncle could voice the terror he felt on that morning and how he went to his position as gunner on that ship and began firing at the small planes that flew but 30 feet above the water. All the while I was in Pearl Harbor I could see his face, the picture of a young soldier that sat on my Aunt Maxie’s dresser until the day she died a few months ago. Here was a man who epitomized bravery, and beneath that memorial lay hundreds of young men equally brave, ones who have never left the harbor but lie there as reminders of a great war, a grave mistake made by the Japanese empire, and one for which they would pay dearly some four years later.
While some exhibited a very casual attitude as they looked over at the rusting remains of the USS Arizona, many of us did not hold back our tears. Yes, it was okay now for this “big girl” to cry, especially when I saw the oil still seeping from that old ship that had been resting there beneath the water for 70 years.
The plane ride home was actually easier than the one over, but maybe I was just too tired to think about it. I sat there with my eyes closed, but I did not sleep. It was a time to mull over in my mind the sights and sounds of Hawaii, hitting the “save’ button in my brain for the most special moments, hoping to bring them up again on those days when I need some pleasant thoughts, or in the case of Pearl Harbor, a reminder of the high cost of freedom.
And so, my bucket list is getting closer to full, leaving me with just a few more experiences, one that I promptly took care of after returning home. On Saturday I went to the animal shelter and rescued a puppy, a shepherd mix with adoring eyes and the softest fur. It has been many years since we lost our faithful golden retriever, Crystal, and I decided it was about time we had another little creature in our lives to love and enjoy. While it was also an emotional experience going to that shelter since I want to rescue all of those little guys, I told myself that at least I would be saving one of them. And so, I scooped up the 3-month-old puppy, wrapped him in a towel and headed home. On the way my grandson asked me what I was going to name our new dog. I tossed around a few names, but none of them sounded right. Finally, I pulled up a memory from my recent trip, remembering that while many perished at Pearl Harbor my Uncle Henry was spared, given the opportunity to live out his life. It was then I turned and answered, “His name is Henry.”
If you have not been to Hawaii, I urge each of you to go, especially to Pearl Harbor. And, if anyone is wanting a pet, please consider a visit to Frankfort’s animal shelter. There are dozens of little creatures just waiting for someone to adopt them, love them, and offer them a new and better life.