It became quite clear to me that life in a house in Hawaii was going to be different the first night I went out to dump the garbage. Shuffling through the flower petals that cushioned the front walk, I edged my way past beds of plumeria and finally found the garbage cans screened behind a line of yellow Allamandas. Having got rid of the refuse, I paused to look mauka—inland, or "toward the mountains" in Hawaii—and there were the jewel-lighted houses running up the slope called Wilhelmina Rise, a tilted runway of gleaming marcasite leading to some heavenly upstairs hall. Beyond, a similar rise called St. Louis Heights offered, despite its beer-and-pretzel name, a show of equal splendor under the velvet sky. It struck me then that in the 50th state, where the garbage collectors make their rounds with flowers tucked behind their ears, people think that other people live like this everywhere. If the islanders think of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn at all, they think of it as a stream where orchid petals float, not sewage.
From that first evening I began to reflect on this botanical garden that I had rented for a month as "the villa in Kahala." It was a phrase that didn't exactly lack class and it was great euphonically. We had arrived that afternoon and already had a fair notion of what Kahala was like. It is the elegant residential section of Honolulu, a sort of super suburb-on-the-sea. But the advantages over any other commuters' retreat were apparent at once: there were no railroad tracks and no station anywhere. The villa had a swimming pool, and by standing on the diving board and looking over the pink glow of a neighbor's oleander I could see the scow-shaped outline of Diamond Head, the lofty cape southeast of Honolulu. It was the first time I had seen it so close and the only time I had not seen it from a supine position on the sands at Waikiki or over the mint-and-pineapple-stick foliage of a mai tai served in a Waikiki bar. It was Diamond Head all right, but it looked different from the villa in Kahala.
There is no relation between the home life of Hawaii that I had now entered on, if only temporarily, and the rum-washed, luau-stuffed, package-tour version of Instant Hawaii served buffet-style in the palaces along the beach. The villa was only 15 minutes away from all that, but the distance couldn't really be reckoned in either minutes or miles. A breadfruit tree burgeoned over the lawn, destined to become in the weeks of our tenancy a sun umbrella for children's picnics and a jungle gym. Singapore plumeria bloomed like a blizzard in front of the neighbor's house across the street, and when the blossoms fell in the neighborhood the young sons who would be shoveling snow on the mainland were mobilized to gather up the petals.
Our first night it had been almost more than the family could bear to go inside to bed; it was more than anyone could bear the next morning to stay inside for breakfast. A bridge table was set up by the pool while a myna bird chirped from a roost on the telephone wire. My son Andy was dispatched up a spindly papaya tree to pick the first course. It was an exotic errand for a city-bred 7-year-old, and I wondered whether he would remember it as long as I remembered a hike up to Blueberry Mountain when I was an 11-year-old intermediate at summer camp. We had pitched our bedrolls in fields of blueberries on the cool summit of a Maine hill and had awakened in the morning with fruit within arm's reach. I was so enchanted by the experience I wrote a letter home without being told.
Although we were growing our own papaya and hoped before the summer was out to be able to produce a breadfruit that we could bake in the electric wall oven, we were not, after all, wholly self-sufficient, and we made frequent forays to the shopping center five blocks distant. Far from being a chore, going to the store in Hawaii was like taking in a modernistic tropical side show. There were the lady shoppers in their muumuus scurrying down the covered walks and the shoeless kids careening on their bikes around a giant plumeria tree that grows through a hole in the ceiling that shades the sidewalk. For 20� a stalk you could buy orange bird-of-paradise blooms looking like party favors that have just exploded, and once we filled a vase with an armful of orchids for 35�.
Small boys from the mainland don't have to be persuaded to have their hair cut in Waialae-Kahala's five-chair barber shop, where every barber is a Japanese lady in a long white robe. But Garden City, a combination plant and pet shop where two flaring white orchids growing in a pot cost $2.95, was for me a giant floral frustration. Some of the world's most exotic blooms were being offered at giveaway prices but, no matter how tempting the bargain, how do you carry back to New York a tree fern seven feet high ($3.50), a lichee tree ($4.29) or five feet of frangipani for $4.95?
The supermarkets seemed larger than the ones at home. They carry not only the standard mainland labels but, depending upon the neighborhood they serve, they also stock masses of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Philippine fare. The vegetable bins were full of the produce grown by Chinese and Japanese farmers—white-stem cabbage and mustard cabbage, chop-suey yams, lotus root called hasu in Japanese alongside an odd mutation of watercress called unchoy in Chinese. You could buy your own taro and pound it into poi or buy the poi all pounded and prepared, done up in plastic bags and stamped "PRESSURE-COOKED STRAINED POI—Produce of the Honolulu Poi Factory, 1603 Republican St., Honolulu."
Sending Father to the store soon proved an unreliable move, for there was the wonder of the Oriental canned-goods department to get lost in: tins of octopus, your choice broiled or baked; cellophane bags of dried squid; dried seaweed; dried dali dali; seasoned red cuttlefish; and persimmon leaves for the brewing of persimmon tea. Fried spotted fish is put up in cans by the Kwong Hang Heung and Fook Kee Canning Co. and imported from Hong Kong. It rested in stacks just opposite the tins of Maine sardines and Bumble Bee salmon. Gerber's oatmeal looked across at the jars of salted red Japanese plums. The shoyu sauce put up by Higeta and Co. and fetched all the way from Tokyo carries the compelling testimonial which reads in English, "Patronized by the Royal Household since 1616."
Those who drink foreign beers at home—Tuborg from Denmark, L�wenbr�u from Germany—will find imported beers in high favor here, too, especially Swan Lager, fetched up from Perth, and San Miguel from the Philippines.
Many mainland ladies who come to Hawaii take courses in Oriental cookery. Cookbooks like Wiki Wiki Kau Kau (quick snackery) will tell you how to bake a breadfruit, make banana waffles or mix sake on the rocks (add vermouth and lemon juice). The Hawaiian Homemaker's Favorite Island Recipes goes through everything from pancit luglug (Filipino noodles) to pineapple spareribs to veal parmigiana � la Oahu. However, some packagers aiming at the haole (Caucasian) market take no chances and lapse into long English-language discourses on their labels. One of these for shell soup I submit in its entirety: