TRAVELING WITH A TEEN-AGER
Since my grandniece Shelley was an infant, we had a special relationship. I absolutely adored her, and she thought I was a wonderful playmate, despite a forty-year difference in our ages. She grew up, of course (I merely grew older); and when she was fourteen, her parents reluctantly agreed to let me take her to Hawaii. I signed us up for a group tour hoping it would include at least one other teenager. Preferably a girl. I wasn't ready to cope with incipient romance -- on Shelley's part, that is. However, I wouldn't have objected to an attractive unattached older man for me. I was disappointed on both counts. We got our first glimpse of our traveling companions when we arrived in Honolulu. Only five of them, all middle-aged, and only one man -- accompanied by his wife. I whispered to Shelley, "Don't worry, Honey. We don't have to spend a lot of time with the group." "That's okay; I don't mind," she answered gamely.
Right from the start, however, I knew it would be fine. They all, with one exception, immediately loved Shelley; and she, in turn, responded beautifully. The exception was the man -- Robert, a grim grump, who was married to Jean, a delightful, bubbly lady. We loved her, hated him.
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived and settled in so we opted to walk and shop instead of hitting the beach. Then it was time for our first dinner in Hawaii. We were on our own-no tour group activity planned for night No. 1. I suggested various exotic dining rooms in the glamorous hotels on the beach, but Shelley had ideas of her own. "No," she said, "We're eating here!" and she led me into Wendy's. I could not dissuade her. She was not going to let me spend a lot of money, she said. I finally agreed but said that for the rest of the trip we were dining in style. Nothing wrong with Wendy's, but somehow it doesn't say "Hawaii" to me.
Our few days in Waikiki were wonderful. Hawaiians are among the nicest, funniest, most considerate people on earth; the weather was spectacular; and the beach a paradise. One day we hopped a local bus to Hanauma Bay where gorgeous, colorful fish swam all around us and jumped up to the surface to catch peas which people were throwing on the water. It was worth the price of the trip to see Shelley's delight.
After a couple of evenings of dinners and shows featuring Hawaiian music (which I love and Shelley hates), I insisted that we see The Society of Seven, a contemporary group I knew she would enjoy, even though she worried about the cost. She had earned it by groaning only very softly up until then whenever I requested the ubiquitous ukulele strummers to play "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" or "Beyond the Reef."
We visited Pearl Harbor where, like the rest of us, Shelley was visibly touched by the Arizona Memorial, even though the attack had happened long before she had been born.
On another day we joined our group for a visit to the spectacular Polynesian Cultural Center and walked to Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, and even New Zealand --or reasonable facsimiles. There were street parades, boat parades on the waterways that interlace the park, and a wonderful show with dances and songs from all areas of Polynesia with spectacular effects, including an erupting volcano, waterfalls and rainbows. This was followed by an incredible buffet. Shelley had been overdosing on pineapple (there is nothing like Hawaiian pineapple fresh from the fields) since we landed-a very good influence for me. I began to forgo the gooey desserts myself in lieu of the luscious tropical fruits.
From Oahu we flew to beautiful Kauai, where Shelley and I had our first disagreement of the trip. After unpacking at the lovely Coco Palms hotel, we walked to the beach where the surf was mountainous. Not a lifeguard in sight and very few people in the water, all hugging the shore. Shelley, however, insisted that she had to go beyond where the waves were breaking in order to be able to swim. I was frantic. She was adamant. I couldn't drag her out physically, so I said, "I know you're a good swimmer; but good swimmers sometimes die on vacation. If you insist on drowning, I'm not going to watch; I'm going back to the hotel." And I turned and walked away. It took all my will power not to look back; and I can't describe my relief when I heard a meek voice behind me saying, "I'm sorry, Rosie. I know I could have been killed out there." I didn't even mind when at the luau that night, she moaned out loud when I requested "The Hawaiian Wedding Song."
The next day we joined the group for a trip to breathtaking Waimea Canyon where we had a bonus: Among our fellow tourists were The Supremes! Minus Diana Ross, but The Supremes, nevertheless. Shelley was very impressed, especially when I snagged us a a ringside table at their show that evening.
From Kauai we flew to Maui.one island more gorgeous than the other.and checked into the beautiful Maui Surf Hotel (which I'm sure has had several reincarnations since then) on the shores of Kanapaali Beach. Shelley was even more impressed by the Maui Surf than she had been by The Supremes.
It was here that we had our second disagreement. No, no problem with the surf; just a difficulty with a balky door. I had washed my hair and went out on the balcony to dry it in the late afternoon sun while drinking in the ocean view. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.a short time later, I was afraid I was actually going to die and go, hopefully, to heaven. It got very hot. I needed air conditioning. Quick. But the balcony door had locked, and I couldn't get in. Shelley was taking a nap. I pounded on the door and woke her. She couldn't open it from inside either. I told her to call the desk and have them send someone up, but she refused. "I'd feel stupid," she said. It's amazing how little it took to embarrass a fourteen-year-old fifteen years ago. I begged, pleaded, threatened; but she wouldn't do it. Fortunately, our next-door neighbors (two of the ladies in our group) came out onto their balcony, saw my plight, and rescued me.
I forgave Shelley in time for our early morning group tour to the dormant (we hoped) volcano, Haleakala. In sharp contrast to the heat of Kanapaali, it was cold at the 9,000-foot summit as we gazed on the crater that is over twenty miles in diameter-large enough to enclose the entire island of Manhattan. Another transcendental experience, which I enjoyed even more seeing Shelley's awe.
After a couple more days of heavenly beach time and lavish feasts, we had to leave Maui for our final stop-Hawaii, the Big Island, where our oceanside hotel, the Kona Hilton (at least that's what it was then), looked like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon-pyramid shaped, with dazzling, multicolored tropical blooms cascading from each balcony. With the group we toured Volcano National Park, amazed by the vast lava fields that spilled down the mountainside and were pounded by the surf to form black sand beaches.
We planned to celebrate our final night in the land of Aloha by joining the group on Captain Bean's Dinner Cruise. After paying for it, I read the pamphlet that stated no one under eighteen would be admitted. Oooops! However, the group rallied round. Making Shelley look four years older became the project of the day. First I took her into town and bought her a dress that was a bit more sophisticated than anything in her suitcase. Then one of the ladies pulled Shelley's hair back to one side with a barrette, while another applied lipstick and mascara. We then gave her a pep talk about walking tall and not slouching or looking as though she was trying to hide. We made it to the boat and were waiting in line when an announcement about the age requirement came over the P.A. system. "Oh, oh," I thought; "It's all over." "Quick," said Shelley, "What year was I born?" I was appalled. "You don't know what year you were born???!" "No, what year would I have been born if I were eighteen -- they may ask!" Hmmm! Had she done this before? But no one asked, and we all surrounded her, so all she had to do was stick out her arm when handing in her ticket.and we got her aboard! The boat pulled away from the dock. Whew! Shelley tried to melt into the woodwork, as the waiters ("guys in skirts" as Shelley described Hawaiian male garb) started pouring Mai Tais. I kept sipping both mine and hers so hers wouldn't look untouched. Hey, it was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.
Suddenly, the music started and the entertainers hopped up on the long tables, which also served as a stage. A cute "guy in a skirt" pulled Shelley up to dance the hula with him. So much for trying to keep her inconspicuous. But we were now well underway. I figured they wouldn't go back to the dock or throw her overboard, so I tried to relax. And surprise, surprise! Guess who else relaxed? Yes, uptight Robert, the grump. Two grass-skirted lasses took him and some other men away; and when they returned, the men also wore grass skirts, long black wigs, and coconut shell bras inscribed, "Hang Loose." They started dancing, and Robert really got into it. We couldn't believe it. Neither could Jean. But she said she would have enjoyed it more if she weren't so nervous. It seems Robert had had a near fatal heart attack a year ago. But he was in no pain that night. "If my cardiologist could see me now," he chortled, "he'd have a heart attack!"
Meanwhile, Shelley's partner, Rick (short for an unpronounceable long Hawaiian name) kept her dancing all evening, with a brief dinner break. When we pulled back in to the dock at the end of the evening, he took his flower lei from his neck and put it on Shelley with a kiss on the cheek.a very nice Aloha on the last night of our trip.
We faced a long travel day in the morning, flying first to Honolulu, and arriving in Chicago at 5:00 AM, where we had a four-hour wait for our flight to Boston. It was exhausting. When we boarded our Boston-bound plane, Shelley said she was going to sleep and requested that I not wake her for food, drink, or anything; and she immediately nodded off. We started taxiing out when suddenly I noticed a flurry of activity a few rows ahead. The flight attendants were administering oxygen to someone and asking if there was a doctor on board. Then the pilot announced on the P.A. that we were going back to the gate because of a medical emergency. A passenger had to be taken to the hospital. It was Robert. Jean was distraught.
By now, Shelley was awake and very upset. Tired though she was, she announced, "We're going with them; we can't let Jean go alone! What if he dies?" If I were alone, would I have done that? I don't know. At first Jean protested, but then sobbed, "I really would be so grateful if you could come." So we did, following the ambulance to the hospital in a cab. When Robert was stabilized and Jean had phoned her daughters who were going to fly in, Shelley finally agreed to leave. Robert survived, and we both kept in touch with the ever-appreciative Jean for years.
I thought I couldn't love Shelley more than I did before our trip; but she became even more precious to me during the good times we had and the near-tragedy of a stranger that she handled so graciously. Her compassion, thoughtfulness and caring were extraordinary for a fourteen-year-old; and those same qualities have made her a wonderful wife and super mom of two adorable daughters today.
I've traveled extensively, with friends, family, and alone-both before and after my Hawaiian sojourn with Shelley; but that experience remains the highlight of all my trips, even though I'm still not allowed to play "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" when she comes to visit.
Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.