Nowadays Not Like {Before} For Sure

Nowadays Not Like {Before} For Sure
“Nowadays not like before for sure,” I thought as I looked around at the people scattered across the backyard of my tutu’s old house. Back when I was a little kid, there were always plenty of people: aunties, uncles, cousins, cousins of cousins, friends and neighbors. For all I know, there were tourists who got lost driving around, stopped for directions, and were invited in. There were so many people laughing, talking, greeting each other with hugs and honis – bone bruising hugs and sloppy, wet kisses. Lip smackers we kids used to call them— yecchh, even just thinking about them, I raise my hand to wipe my mouth.
{Always before, when Grampa’d call for family luau, everybody come. No matter from however far away they stay, they come. One time, one cousin hapai, gonna have baby anytime now, but still she come. Bimeby she eating and make one big “OOOOOF!” and bend over double. Her plate drop onna ground, and all the dogs come running for eat the food, but nobody seem kea, just help her inna house. Somebody wen call for one ambulance but it neva come in time and the baby born in Tutu’s bed.
I neva know everyone, or remember some I usedta know cause they wen get older or fatter or balder or just plain growed up and no more kid-size like me. Get bosoms some the girls, yeah? One aunty, she from Maui I think,  I remember her when she hug me near to suffercate cause she smell like puamelia. But maybe not; maybe someone else use same kine toilet water. An hows come they call it toilet water anyways? Who like use water from the toilet even it smell like flowers? Some cousins from Kauai I one time hear about them before we ever meet, all about how good they do in school and why can’t I get good grades like Aunty Leinaala’s boys? “Maybe cause I no get twin,” I tell. “No be smahtass,” my father tell back to me. But they turn out to be reglar guys, and after that when they come to luau is  like we neva been apart more than one year. And then was the relatives from the Big Islan.  OOOooeee so many them.  I think even they live O’ahu, I never know everyone. I think maybe they charter one Aloha Airlines plane for bring all them. There was one, one wrinkly,  bent up near double old lady who, when I ask her how old is she, look me inna eye and says, “I was born on same day  Kamehameha wen make.” And then she wink at me and cackle-laugh until she cannot catch her breath, and someone gotta pound on her back but not too hard cause she so old, yeah. Shoots, got one other old uncle, he from Molokai, he look at me – lease I think he looking at me but no can tell for sure because one eye go mauka and the other makai—but I pretty sure he looking at me and tell me he baptized by Father Damien. In St Joseph’s Church. By the Kamalo Cemetery. Yeah, for sure everyone come when Tutu say come.}
And the food back then! Where do I start with what everyone brought to the family feast? I see it all; smell it, that first whiff of burnt pork as the pig is lifted out of the imu.  {Platters piled high to toppling with someone’s special recipe, no two alike. And every time a plate is less than full, its guardian aunty comes running over for pile on more of whatever because she Pake if her food run out and no more left. That food like the family, stirfry: Hawaiian-Korean-Puertorican-Chinese-Portuguese-Pilipino with maybe just a little haole thrown in for color. Kalua pig, squid luau, lomi salmon, laulau, pancit, poke, pork adobo, sushi and sashimi, chop suey, chow fun, mandoo, baked yams and breadfruit, pickled mango, bowls of poi (three finger kine), potato and macaroni salads, and one humungous mountain sticky rice. And Haupia for dessert, all jiggly and neva cut in same size pieces. You name something, anything, and I bet was on the table. Was so much food, the table wen sag inna middle, near to broke, and Uncle had to get one board for prop im up. Maybe two boards. Da kine paper plates sag, too, from so much kaukau pile up on top each other, but no can say no to one aunty who put too much food on you plate because hurt her feelings. But the dogs get plenny treats unna the table, yeah.
Evrybody dress comfortable in mu’umu’us, shohts, and open, tail-out aloha shirts. Woven palm hats, too. My mother’s uncle wore one malo even. An if anyone wore shoes, was flipflop slippah kine,but mostly everyone stay barefoots. We kids wen run all over the yard, climbing coconut trees (but only the short, Samoan kine; the parents all say no can the 70 footers and we was glad because we was a little scared try the big ones.), throwing stinky, fallen mangos at each other for make pretend war, and then after, jumping in the water for splash and fool around and get unsticky. But neva, neva we go near where Uncle fishing.
The grownups sat around onna ground, onna grass on tatami or lauhala mats, under the tree shade, eating and talking family story, catching up on alla comings and goings and doings. “Hey, Rosie, da little one ova deah” (pointing)”you say Lani’s youngest? Hmmpf, no look anyting like her or dat good-for-nutting she marry to,” one aunty might say. “Eh, Leo, you get one opu nui since I seen you las year. You new wahine one good cook o’ wha’?” from one uncle to another. “You hear? Josie’s boy got accepted Kam School,” and whoever say that sound one little bit jealous? “Huh? Hapai? Who hapai?” Evry famly get someone just gotta know everything.}
But nowadays? Not like before for sure. Tutu’s gone. Uncle Charlie’s the grampa now. Great grampa even. Now almost nobody comes to the luau. I mean, sure, there are people here, but not like before when Tutu was alive. Those who can come when Uncle Charlie calls, but there just aren’t that many who can. The Maui aunt who smelled of plumeria? “Too old” to make the trip, she says. “Cannot sit so long” in an airplane seat, she says. And the old, old, old one from the Big Islan? And the uncle from Molokai who was baptized by a saint? Both gone. Long, long gone.
They are different, the people who are here now. Still family, but…. The adults cluster around the newest addition to the backyard, a swimming pool. Its too-blue water shimmers in the afternoon light, but no one uses it, not even to dangle feet. They sit on plastic chairs and lounges under shade umbrellas – some of the old trees had to go to make room for the pool—looking uncomfortable trying to look comfortable in their too tight Calvin Klein jeans, their tucked in aloha shirts, their feet swelling in their Gucci loafers. The women, especially, are over-careful of getting grass stains on their silk dresses and water on their shoes. They sip their drinks and nibble pupus, white wine in long-stemmed glasses and marinated mozzarella and humuus on wafer thin rice crackers. The desultory talk is of golf scores and business opportunities and the ever escalating price of gas.
There are no kids climbing trees or strategizing mock battles, splashing in the sea, or even in the pool. They are all individually and independently preoccupied with their iPods and Gameboys. One youngster came out earlier, but just as he was about to jump in the pool, his mother called out, “Junior! No make spl… I mean, don’t get us wet.” He looked at her, and then the pool, shrugged his skinny shoulders and went back into the house to watch more cartoons.
And the food? Well, everyone brought something, of course, and understandably there is less of it because there are fewer people to feed. But now it comes neatly boxed, bagged, and packaged from COSTCO’s coolers instead of coddled in Tupperware and still warm  from an aunty’s kitchen. From the babyback ribs and spiral-cut ham that substitute for the kalua pig to the rotisseried chickens and cut veggies and dip, and ther potato salad with one third the fat and calories of real mayonnaise, it all comes to the table hermetically sealed and without the love flavor of sweat. There’s still haupia for dessert, but it’s in a cake now, not a pan, from Sam’s, perfectly symmetrical and firm, not like Aunty’s that was always just a bit lopsided and wobbly. It’s all very delicious, just very different. Made with the best of care but not the best of caring.
I think back, and then I think Now. And I think that maybe one day the children will return, come home from their wars, their schools, their jobs in faraway places. And then maybe, maybe Nowadays can be like Before. For sure.

Talk story

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