It was late Sunday afternoon; Danielle and I had just arrived at her parent’s townhouse still smelling of dust from the swap meet, where we had collected a few yellowed paperbacks and three packs of Silly Bandz. Her mother was on the computer trying to repair the router, refreshing Facebook to see if her efforts were baring any fruit. Her father, Elani, was in the kitchen, waiting.
          He had already done most of the work, waking up at five in the morning to harvest the Ti leaf that was now drying in the dish rack.
          “Sorry da lu`au leaf stay kinda small, had fo’ go Times fo’ buy 'em, Wong’s stay closed on Sundays,” He said, pointing to the taro leaves piled in a section of the disassembled pressure cooker.
          “I didn’t know Times sold lu`au leaf," Danielle remarked.
          “In the produce section, wrapped up in plastic bags,” I reply, thinking about when I worked at the grocery store.
          “How much?”
          Elani had already begun wrapping the laulau—four medium-sized bundles sitting on the side, waiting to be cooked. “Like two-thirty-nine a bag, but da leaf kinda small, ah? Wong’s stay fifteen dollahs fo' like triple dis.”
          I try to watch him, but he moves quickly, from tray to tray, instinctively measuring in his head how much of everything he needs. “Where do you start?”
          He finishes another, then joins me near the oven. “First, grab one big leaf, like da biggest you can find,” He turns a few over, finally pulling a monster from the bottom. “Den,” He says, “Take some of da smallah leaves, put 'em in da centah.”
          I find a leaf and follow his lead.
          “Grab a little of dis, Haha,” He reaches into another bowl, picking from the stems that he had separated earlier. “And den come, take some pork, some beef, couple cubes fat.” He plucks large chunks of each and puts it in the center of his lu`au leaves.
          “Thought there was only pork inside?”
          “Cheapah ah? Jus' pork. Beef too expensive, but my faddah one ching, not chang li’dat. He liked some beef, an’ da fat help da leaves stay moist.” He carries the bundle to the cutting board.
          “How come you don’t put a piece of fish?” Danielle asks.
          He smiles, “'Cuz of you.” Referencing her distaste for seafood.
          I watch him take one of the Ti leaves off the rack and lay it down.
          “Usually you gotta start early, ah? Go outside fo’ get da Ti leaf ready, clean off da dirt, make sure you have enuff.”
          “How do you pick 'em?”
          “You usually wanna get da ones near da centah, da green ones, stay mo' pliable, y’know? Strongah.” He holds the bundle and wraps the leaf around, gripping it near the top. He takes another leaf and lays it the other way. “See, you gotta hold 'em tight,” He says, “den you wrap 'em li'dis, get da oddah side, covah 'em all.” The bundle is completely concealed, the stems of the two Ti leaves sprouting from his tightened grip. “Den you gotta bite 'em.”
          I watch as he tears the second leaf’s stem with his teeth, splitting it down into two pieces. Carefully he takes the smaller of the pieces and wraps it twice near the top, tucking his finger and then sliding the piece inside.
          “Keep 'em tight, y’know?”
          While Elani watches, I begin to choose my meat, taking small pieces of beef and pork, a single cube of fat.
          “I want a laulau with just leaves,” My wife says.
          “Try put couple mo' pieces,” Elani tells me.
          I add a few more chunks, but my laulau still looks manini compared to his.
          Danielle comes in the kitchen and starts taking pictures with her iPhone. “That one’s mine," She says, pointing to the bundle I just made. "Almost vegetarian."
          Her mom laughs from the living room, reading the paper while checking on the computer after every other page. “Not even a year into the term and the governor’s already breaking campaign promises.”
          “Why what’s it say?”
          “Nothing, just talking about the furloughs.”
          “One ting you learn, no mattah what, politics nevah change, same ol' shet, y’know?”
          I watch as he finishes another bundle, while I struggle to tie mine. He sees me and repeats the steps, watching over my hands.
          “Y’know my faddah was so fas’, could do like ten to my one.”
          “Jesus,” I said, finally putting my laulau in the tray with the others. “So how are we gonna cook this?”
          “I gotta go get da gas from up Kurt’s house in Kahalu`u, could cook 'em on da stove but da ting eventually burns, ah?”
          “How would you normally cook it?”
          “Before, you put 'em in da imu wit da pig, take like one whole day fo' cook 'em. Nowadays, not li’dat, no get da time. Dis way, take only like tchree hours.”
          After making a few more, I go to sit with Danielle in the living room. Elani is still in the kitchen, humming melodies of Hawaiian songs neither of us know. On the table is a Haleakala Dairy bottle that her parents had bought at the swap meet, destined for the entertainment center where it will join old Primo's, and glass balls netted by Elani’s hands; the same one’s that knotted the netting of the Hokule`a decades before.
          It’ll be hours till the laulau is finished steaming, before we sit with our hapa rice and Taro Brand Lomi salmon. I will peel back the layers for the first time, for so many years afraid of the dark leaves, the color so much like the lush veins running down the Ko`olaus. Sprinkle the Hawaiian salt over the meat, like Elani had been taught by his father, and taste the ocean washing over my tongue. We will talk story like we always do, like has always been done, and years from now, I will wake when the sun rises and gather Ti leaf, preparing with my hands a story so old.

Talk story

  1. BetweenWatersUnseen says:

    Talked to the wife about it, she agrees, and I think with the change to the last paragraph it's less on the nose.

  2. BetweenWatersUnseen says:

    I also appreciate all the comments and thank you for your input. The wonderful thing about Bamboo Shoots is the interaction, and I really enjoy it.

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