by EMILY ORTON
May Day Epilogue: The 6th-grade king showed us Aloha at the May Day –Lei Day celebration. Then, his family showed us 'Ohana.
In the strange way social media works, a May Day attendee posted a video of Lily and the king on Youtube, our friend texted me a link, so I commented on the video with a link to our Facebook page. Within 24 hours of Lily crashing the court, Erik and I were texting with the king’s mother, Julia. His grandmother asked, “What are they doing for Mother’s Day?” Whatever we were doing, we changed our plans and arranged to join the king’s local extended family.
We met most of the Ah-You family that day. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and so many cousins along with the king's parents, Kingsley and Julia. As soon as we arrived, the younger cousins called, “Lily! Lily! Lily!” They wanted to play. Grandma presented me a beautiful orchid lei. We gathered on a covered patio lined with picnic tables for a modern Polynesian family luau complete with feasting, singing, dancing, funny skits and hula.
King Manulele and his older brothers performed the hula from May Day. It was a hula their father did when he was younger. It was the first time the brothers performed it together. Their cousin sang for them while grandma lip-synced the words. She was the one who spent hours after school making sure her grandchildren were ready for the May Day performance.
We were on the program. Grandpa invited us to stand and share our family story. After that, our kids joined us for a ukulele version of one of our favorite homemade songs. We stumbled through key changes and missed lyrics, but the Ah-Yous applauded anyway.
Then Grandpa asked each family member starting with the youngest child of his youngest child to share some thoughts about their mother. After the children, the father’s spoke about their wives and then the mother’s spoke. Some were funny, some poignant, some promised to be more appreciative, and there were a few tears.
In the place of highest honor was Grandma. After Grandpa spoke, she stood and began singing a song about family love. The whole family joined her. I knew this one. By this time we realized we all practiced the same faith and this was one of our children’s songs from church. We all sang along. Then Grandma shared her thoughts on family and motherhood. Every idea circled back to gratitude for her husband.
Throughout, Grandpa praised individual family members for their efforts that day and remarked on their increasing talents. The speeches were punctuated with a sung couplet of gratitude. Clearly, the whole family knew this song and when to sing it to show support for each other. Our family has a shout and a clap to express impromptu gratitude or praise, but I’d never heard this song. I loved how this tradition echoed through the three-generations surrounding us.
Popcicles marked the end of the program. The kids scattered. We learned Kingsley and Julia’s oldest daughter, Mapuana or Maps, is a lot like Lily in friendliness and confidence. She won the personality lottery vividly displayed in her hip-hop dance tribute to her mother that day. She also has cytomegalovirus, While not familiar with this diagnosis, I know some of the worries and joys shared by parents of children with special needs.
"Do you think that's why Manulele gave Lily his throne?" I asked Julia.
She said, “No, he just thought Lily might think it was fun to sit on the throne.” Who goes around thinking up what might be fun for other people? That they’ve never met? Let alone in the middle of their school performance? Julia continued, “Manulele didn’t think it was a big deal. He didn’t even know the audience was clapping for him.” Having met so much of the Ah-You family, I was beginning to understand how this impressive young man came to be so unconsciously thoughtful.
Grandpa asked when we would leave the island. We still had a few weeks of house sitting. “So, we’ll see you again,” said Grandpa. “We don’t have to ‘Aloha 'Oe’ you today.” That’s a song commonly sung for farewells when someone is leaving for a long time or you don’t know when you’ll see each other again.
When we finally gathered our children to go, Lily was missing. (If you’re sensing a pattern here, welcome to my life.) One of the cousins said she was in the house with Maui. Maui from the Polynesian legends? Sure enough, she emerged with one of the king’s uncle dressed as Maui. I should know better than to be surprised by anything from this family. Still, I couldn’t believe this dad changed from his shorts and t-shirt into a Maui outfit just because he thought it would be fun for Lily. Classic Ah-You family.
Julia texted me that we would always have a place at their table because we’re in their ohana now. Over the next couple of weeks, we bumped into cousins, uncles, aunties and friends from our new 'ohana.
A few days before we left Hawaii, I got a text from Julia that started, “ALOHA FAMILY…” asking how we were doing and what our plans were. We stopped by to say goodbye. I couldn’t see where the cousins were playing, but as soon as we pulled up they started shouting Lily’s name inviting her to play. Grandma and Julia came out for hugs, a visit and a quick photo. Julia handed me two giant loaves of warm, buttery, homemade bread.
'Ohana means family – blood, adopted or intentional. And family means…so many different things. Family looks so many different ways. Every family has its own unique culture. Not every family is going to dance and sing or bake. Not every family gathers weekly. But I think everyone wants to be part of a family that cares, supports, praises and tries to fix things when they mess up. I think everyone wants to be known and appreciated by their parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We crave that connection so much that when we don’t find that at home, we tend to create it elsewhere.
Being with the Ah-You family helped me realize that ohana transcends differences and distances. Their example inspired me to want to be a better daughter, a better sister and a better auntie. Good news! This summer my parents, brother, and sisters are holding our first-ever family reunion. We probably won't’ have fresh buttered bread, but I’m looking forward to our reunion with fresh eyes that see more clearly how important we should be to each other.
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