“You’re bringing those?”
My sister questioned me with some genuine curiosity and just a hint of nag, as I stuffed my iPad and my portable Nintendo gaming system into my carry-on luggage. Despite the fact that she was the younger sibling by four years, she had a way of occasionally borrowing the maternal tone of our mother.
“Yea, why?” I replied with just a tinge of annoyance.
“When are you going to use it?”
“I don’t know. We might have some down time. You’re not bringing yours?”
“No…,” she answered, this time adopting that same annoyance.
I guess I could see her point; we were only going to be in Hilo for two days. But this was my vacation. I came back home to Maui for a temporary get away from my life on Oahu, a life of two full-time jobs and only just enough free time to eat and sleep, sometimes not even that. I spent so much of my normal day-to-day always doing something that, for my vacation, all I wanted to do was nothing — nothing except lie around, watch Netflix, and play video games, which was usually most of what I did on my vacations at home. So if my Maui vacation was to be interrupted by a short family trip to the Big Island, I was bringing my entertainment with me. Much to my surprise, this “short family trip” would reveal to me my own dependence on technology and give me a new-found appreciation for a life unplugged.
My mom had been bugging me about this trip for a while. “Aunty Terry hasn’t seen you since you were little. You just absolutely have to see their place, and they’re getting old so you won’t have many more opportunities to do so,” she would say.
Finally, I agreed and conveniently worked it out to coincide with my week-and-a-half vacation from both jobs. It’s not that I didn’t want to visit my Grand Aunt Terry and Uncle Ed, but these were relatives I hadn’t seen in fifteen years, so I didn’t know what to expect. The last time I saw them was probably during my grandma’s funeral when I was only ten, and even then I couldn’t remember meeting them. My mom and sister had gone to visit just a couple of years earlier without me, so this time my mom made sure that I was coming along.
As we made our way off the plane and out toward the road, my Aunty Terry was there to greet us. Although I had no memory of what she looked like and no way of knowing it was her, upon first sight I knew immediately that it was. From the warmth of her smile to the glow of her eyes, I saw in her the image of my grandmother, her sister. Uncle Ed drove up to the curb to pick us up, and after some hugs and handshakes we were off.
We rode up the Hilo coast under a clear, blue summer sky. As the midmorning sun cast shadows of lush trees and brush over the quiet country road, I pondered what our final destination would be like. We passed mom-and-pop style convenience stores with color-faded ads and posters in the shop windows. We crossed one-way bridges over mountain streams that flowed from out of the valley and into a clearing of open ocean. There were times during the ride that, for a moment, I would forget there was such a thing as traffic or rush hour.
The car slowed and stopped at a large black gate. Gated? Impressive, I thought. As we pulled into the property, the opened gate revealed a large warehouse with an abandoned-looking school bus and tractor parked beside it. My body rocked along in sync with the rhythm of the car’s wheels as we slowly rolled over the rough, gravel-laden lot. An assortment of roosters, hens, and their chicks scurried out of the way as we passed the warehouse and pulled up the driveway. As we began our ascent up the shallow slope of driveway, I noticed a small field outside my right passenger window filled with fruit trees I could not identify, ranging from saplings to fruit-bearing. A wall of tall pines separated the mini orchard and the house, which was barely visible behind all the greenery. Turning the corner up the last few yards of driveway, the house came into plain view: a simple cottage smaller than I was expecting, painted in a classic white with stone walls around the base, long glass windows across the front, and an unassuming but prominent tower poking out from the back.
We took off our shoes in the traditional local Japanese fashion and entered the house. My ears were the first to notice the tranquil sound of babbling water, until my eyes caught up and noticed a large koi pond in the middle of the living room. Further back against the wall stood some scaffolding and paint cans strewn across the base. I dropped off my suitcase at what would be my bedroom for the weekend and gazed out the window to be greeted by hilly fields of grass before a vast endless horizon of glossy blue.
“Wanna see the tower?” asked Uncle Ed, as my sister and I nodded in response. We headed up the stairs to the second floor of the house and down the hallway strewn with family pictures. Almost hidden from view was a small opening that began a flight of narrow spiraling stairs like something out of a medieval fantasy. Up the stairway, we ended up in a circular room illuminated by the sunlight through windows lining the circumference of its walls. The room itself was filled with white sheets, tools, and more paint cans; the whole house seemed to be in perpetual beautification and reconstruction. Uncle Ed narrated the various home improvement projects he was working on as we exited onto the balcony of the tower and gazed upon the uninterrupted three-sixty view of the surrounding forest and ocean. Just above us, the roof of the tower held an American flag, freely flapping in the coastal breeze. As we headed back down through the house to the first floor for lunch, it occurred to me that I had yet to see a single television or computer anywhere.
We spent the rest of the day touring the property in Uncle Ed’s truck, helping him feed the cows, chickens, and donkeys while he told stories and trivia of all the trees and plants we passed. That night, I was in bed and knocked out before eleven, much to the astonishment of my body that was not accustomed to sleeping any earlier than one in the morning. I energetically woke up the next morning with ease at a bright and early eight o’clock, also much to my surprise. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the airport.
Sitting at the gates waiting for our plane to begin boarding, I felt as if my vacation was coming to a close. I quickly realized that I had, in fact, another full week on Maui before I had to return to Oahu and smirked silently to myself at my mistaken thoughts. It seemed that what started as more of a detour from my Maui vacation had become a vacation from my vacation.
“Did you play on it at all?” my sister remarked, referring to the never-unpacked electronics tucked deep in the depths of my suitcase. The confident tone in her voice and the expression on her face told me she knew the answer. I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction, but I knew she was right.
“Huh? Oh. No I guess not,” I replied, chuckling just a little mid-sentence. Until she brought it up, I had forgotten I had them with me.
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