The first serious rain of the winter was blowing across the island. The Waihee-Kahakuloa coast line was getting drenched and the Central Isthmus was getting soaked. Up in Kula, much-needed rain came and went. The skies stayed gray.
The rain caused some hesitation. The plan called for going to town and visiting a friend, Rich Zubaty. Actually, he was two friends in one. One I had known for something like 10 years, and the newest was a man who had lost his memory due to a weeks-long coma brought on by a massive heart attack.
A long-held island tradition is to never cancel due to rain. The water coming coming down is a blessing. Old-time Hawaiians knew it. Their word for wealthy is waiwai, literally water water. Onward, even though it might mean getting wet somewhere along the line.
A growling stomach dictated a stop for lunch. Besides, Rich was probably having lunch at the care home where he lives. He calls it a prison but recognizes he is far from being able to care for himself. Stillwell's was on the leading edge of its noon rush. It was too wet to sit outside.
As the bakery-restaurant filled up, there was a gnawing guilt for being the only person at a table for two. A single patron arrived and stood off to the side, checking his smart phone.
"You can sit here if you don't mind sharing."
He sat, said "thanks" and went back to checking his phone. It's awkward to sit a couple of feet from someone and not talk. It turned out he was a malihini still not used to ad hoc conversations with strangers. Between bites, we passed the time with idle comments about the weather, where home was and what we did. He was a young doctor who had interned in Dallas and was delighted to be living in Haiku with his family.
The after-lunch drive down Kaahumanu Avenue coincided with a heavy downpour that lasted only a few minutes. Turn down Papa Avenue into the confusing welter of curving streets in "Dream City," Frank Baldwin's development to give plantation camp residents fee-simple homes of their own.
The rain had tapered off to a persistent mist. The truck was parked in a puddle along the street. Head up a drive to the large house where Rich was slowly going through a return to his former self. It's been a depressing journey. His memory is a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces floating around. Now and then, he'll connect two or three of the pieces. He has the most trouble with recent memory, forgetting stuff from minute to minute.
"Want to go for a drive?" He answers enthusiastically but needs to hit the lua before taking off. As he walks back into the courtyard of the big house, a voice comes from inside. "Comb your hair, Rich." It's his caregiver.
She comes out and we talk about the progress Rich has been making. "We stopped at the beach the other day," she said. "He walked into the water and came out looking very calm and happy. Does he know how to swim?"
"Yes. He loves the ocean and used to do a lot of snorkeling and fishing. He's painted several marine-life pictures." But does he remember that? Maybe.
"On the drive, we were singing. He joined in," she said. Music was a big part of his life only a few months ago.
Rich had combed his hair. In the truck, headed nowhere in particular, he asked questions about his life and smacked his forehead when told he was wrong about this or that memory. The big one today was about getting together with some others to play music, He'd been thinking about the session and worried about his ability to take part in another one. He thought I'd taken him to play but it was someone else.
We ended up at Kanaha Beach Park. "I know this place," he said. "I used to come here." What he didn't remember was that he had spent a couple of years living in his truck. When told that, he said, "I couldn't have slept here. The police would have rousted me."
He was pleased to hear his memory was improving. "I get flashes of things when you talk about my life," he said. "There are times when I think I'd like to be dead but when you and my son (who lives in San Francisco) come around, I have some hope."
"Be patient. You've been this way only four or five months." He liked hearing that. When he was back to where he lived, he said "tell me again. What I should do?"
"Be patient. Be patient."
The sky was clearing. On the drive home, I thought about what would happen to Maui if its collective memory disappeared. It was a depressing thought.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.