Most people under 60 don’t even remember ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation. It was famous for the twin orange and white banded smokestacks of the mill. They were the only thing you could see on the entire ‘Ewa side of Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor) from Honolulu. Sometime in the last twenty-five years they were torn down. My Dad was the manager during its last decade of existence as the ‘Ewa Sugar Co.
A pretty nice house came with the job. It was a gracious old two-story colonial on a couple acres of beautifully landscaped yard. White, with dark green shutters, guest house, and a cottage. Other structures included a poultry yard, mother’s orchid and anthurium hothouses, a laundry yard with clothes lines and a big sand box for my sister Mapuana and me. We had patches of banana, papaya, sweet potato, cherry tomato, watermelon, and spinach–besides the large herb and vegetable plots. Even some of the garden flowers were edible, like nasturtiums (eaten only when Mapuana dared me or I lost a bet.) Finally, but importantly, there was a dilapidated Quonset hut which was my dad’s “ham radio shack.” Pure Manspace.
Sounds idyllic, and in many ways it was. Not only my birthplace, ‘Ewa imprinted the fundamentals of the s word on me: sustainability. It was just normal life then.
As you can probably guess, my parents were not hippies, and no one had even heard of a locavore. But we did live in large part off our land, and local goods. My brother, was (and still is) a cowboy. We would get a side of beef at a time from him. Besides what we procured on our own, our greater community rounded things out.
Mr. Ornellas was our source for pigs. Mom would take us out to his place, thick with corrugated iron, and choking hauna (stink) smell. Never mind, she would talk story forever, and then pick out the lucky bugga for the imu.
The beekeeper kept his hives in a kiawe thicket. His odd costume and smoker for chasing the bees fascinated us. Along with the bottles of honey, we also got a few combs. Mapuana and I just tore off chunks, sucked out the honey, and chewed the wax like gum.
The milkman came to the kitchen door and replaced the empty milk bottles twice a week. Mapuana and I were the morning egg gatherers, but when our chickens weren’t laying enough eggs, he left some of them, too.
There were other plants which ended up on our table in some form: Meyer lemons, chili peppers, poha, starfruit, lychee, macadamia nut, coconut, Suriname cherry, limes, figs, guava, and one big Chinese mango; great for chutney and shoyu mango, but not the best eating. Mother spent days making pickles and relish from cucumbers we grew, jams, jellies, and chutney. We even made our own mango and poha ice creams, unbelievaby delicious. Mapuana and I made shoyu mango with green mangoes.
Mother took us on outings for other specialties. Catching ‘opae in the ditches out toward Ma’ili was a favorite. We brought them home and put them in the outside cast iron bathtub (mostly used for washing dogs and freshly killed chickens.) Soaking overnight in clean water flushed the mud out of them. Mauka hikes up Palehua meant mountain apples and liliko’i. Makai outings meant fresh ogo salad.
We shared what we had, as did everyone else, and all lived pretty well.
Even when we went to the grocery store we bought local brands. ‘Ewa Shopping Basket, the general store, was a block from our house. It carried a little everything. Along with supplemental produce, fresh meats and fish, we could buy dry goods, fishing supplies and Icees. We purchased only C&H sugar, of course. Meadowgold dairy products. Coral (Bumblebee) Tuna. Aloha shoyu. Dole and DelMonte. Love’s bread. S & S saimin. One Ton Pi and Lays potato chips. It wasn’t a political statement; we knew where it came from, and it was better. What happened in the last 30 years? Grass from America, Japan, China, is greener and cleaner than ours?
The Shopping Basket’s fish supply was limited. Grandmother lived on the water, so sometimes fishermen would stop by and share. Sometimes it came from the hallowed Kalihi hall of Tomashiro Market. We only went there on special occasions, and if there were other town errands to do since it was a long hour’s drive into town.
Once I remember a boy about my age, shyly (well I was anyway) watching the live prawns (?) wiggle around in their giant glass tanks. The tanks were well within child’s reach. The cute boy with curly dark hair stretched his hand over the tank, giving my freckled face a daring look. Not to be outdone, I reached to grab a nice big one just behind its pincers. Quickly he pulled my hand away. I hadn’t seen the even bigger guy below my target with claws spread. We smiled, and then mother called me to the checkout line.
Thirty-something years later I met a man who lives in Holualoa, who told me the same story, except the prawns were bigger. That would be Joe, my pilialoha.