This past Wednesday would have been my mother’s 99th birthday. Her birthday is close to Mothers Day, and we would always celebrate the two events in some form or fashion. This year, no mother, no celebration.
But I did find myself in the living room of my parents’ old house in Kahala, not to celebrate her birthday, but to get serious about deciding whether we can avoid putting the house up for sale.
To be more specific, we need to figure out whether there’s a way Meda and I can buy out my sister, Bonnie, and her children, who are inheriting just over a half interest in the property, and still be able to afford enough renovation to bring the 1942 house into the 21st century.
The house is along Kealaolu Avenue, literally “the cool road,” a reference to the cooling trade winds that come off the ocean, across the golf course, and across this first row of homes. The wind sets this part of old Kahala off from the interior portions where the wind is rarely felt.
The mid-day light through the mango trees in back of the house triggered all kinds of sense memories, nostalgia mixed with a certain awkwardness, a feeling we’re suddenly having to pretend to be grownups and in charge of what had always been our parents kuleana.
And that’s in addition to the awkwardness felt whenever family and finances are talked about in the same sentence.
We’re relying on a good friend and former neighbor who happens to be a gifted general contractor, and an architect he highly recommended, to help us do a “conceptual” redesign of what could be accomplished without breaking the bank.
At that point we can decide whether there’s a way to finance such a deal, or whether we stand back and sell the property on the open market to be replaced by another Kahala McMansion.
Bonnie captured an important part of the equation when she observed: “We’ve never been without this house.”
Our parents bought the house in 1942, before either of us were born, and this was where their very long lives played out.
We’ve never lived without this house. Even while our own homes were elsewhere, we always knew it was here. A psychological base camp, perhaps, even if only in a background, passive sense.
The first question by the architect, after he walked into the house and looked out into shaded lanai and back yard, immediately hit a nerve.
“Are there any sacred trees?”
Yes! One mango, a Bombay Pirie, was planted when Bonnie was born. It’s fruit are extraordinary. The other tree, a Haydon mango, was planted when I was born. Bonnie has been picking mangoes from it this week.
Sacred trees. These two trees really form an anchor of sorts, linking us to the property. It takes a long view of life to plant a tree at a child’s birth and have that sense that it might make a difference many decades in the future.
That much misused phrase, “sense of place,” seems to describe what they’ve come to mean to us both.
At this point, we don’t really know what’s going to happen in the end. Although we’re hoping to hold on to the house, it would be very hard to leave Kaaawa, which will have its own psychological cost.
In any case…Happy birthday, Helen. We were thinking of you.