The Social Hall walls are covered with posters, paintings, drawings, newspaper clippings, and wall hangings, all about Father Damien and Kalaupapa.
We had set the tables up in a square, and optimistically put 18 chairs around them…we ended up with 18 people exactly. We mingled for a while and had a chance to talk. I enjoyed talking with Pat about his historical letter collection, and I also got to meet Danny Hashimoto.
Danny has lived at Kalaupapa since 1942. He delivers the mail and newspapers, and is quite an authority on the island cemeteries. He saw my father and me looking at some of headstones the next day, and came over and showed us some of the more interesting inscriptions, and talked about some of the correlations he’s drawn from looking at headstones in different parts of the island. We had been talking for over an hour when it started raining, so he gave us a ride back to the Visitor’s Quarters in his truck.
Being an avid reader, he had to clear a huge pile of newspapers and books off of his front seat to make room for us. I’d seen his picture in some of my books about Kalaupapa, and I was so glad he had come to the party, and that we had a chance to talk.
We all sat down and ate and talked some more, and then it came time for cake. As Leslie prepared to cut it, the ladies all starting to sing a lovely Hawaiian song. I wish I knew what the song was, it was so beautiful, and their sweet voices echoed off the walls and filled the room. When they were finished we asked them to sing it again. Leslie was deeply moved and thanked them all, telling them how happy she was to be back home, and then she cut the cake. It was, in my mind, one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten.
I don’t know, maybe it was the tropics, or maybe it was a sugar high (Coke and cake!), but I looked around the room, at these people: all of them busy living their own unique, involved lives. And yet here they all were, taking time to honor one person’s desire to reach across an ocean of time and touch a part of her childhood. I felt buoyed by the compassion and generosity of the human spirit and I had the sensation of watching a wish come true even better than I had ever imagined it.