My mother and I spent a lovely hour in her hometown last Saturday, visiting the Makawao History Project. Housed in the old Randy Jay Braun gallery on Makawao Avenue, the exhibit offers a fascinating glimpse into old-time Upcountry, with artifacts and photos dating back to the 1800s. It's an eclectic collection, from The Maui News article about the three Balthazar generations of postmasters, to Haku Baldwin's saddle. An impressive paniolo display dominates the little museum, as it should, given Makawao's long-standing identity as Maui's "cowboy town." But it was the assorted photos and accounts of town life from the 1920s through the '60s that held Mom's attention.
Mom was literally born and raised in a tiny wooden house on Baldwin Avenue, near the center of town. Her childhood home is now a cool little clothing boutique named Goodies, and the last time we stopped in, Mom said the building looked pretty much the way it did back in her day. Standing in the middle of the main room, I could hardly believe that anyone could raise five healthy, rambunctious children in such cramped quarters, but that's what Oji-chan and Obaban did.
One of my grandfather's skills was vegetable carving, Japanese style. I'm told that the local Japanese families would ask him to carve fishnets from daikon to adorn the customary red fish served at weddings and other special occasions. I've also heard that my grandmother made excellent bathtub gin.
Mom's favorite Makawao memories include Saturday movies at the theater across the street from her house, 5-cent loaves of warm, fragrant bread from Komoda Store & Bakery, and good times with friends at Makawao School.
A generation later, attending the same school, I relished my afternoon walks to Makawao Hongwanji for Japanese language school, stopping first at Iwaishi Store for a 6-cent chocolate Coke, then pausing at Ichiki Store and Komoda's for more treats. Yick Lung seeds came in 10- and 25-cent packages then, and a Sugar Daddy cost a nickel.
Sometimes, on Saturdays, my aunt would treat me to a juicy burger, dripping with melted Velveeta cheese, at Iwaishi's soda fountain. Or we'd have dinner at Club Rodeo, which always included a hearty bowl of Portuguese bean soup, served at tables covered with red-and-white checkered tablecloths.
Club Rodeo is now Casanova, Iwaishi's became Makawao Steak House; except for the venerable Komoda's, all of the old establishments have been given new identities. Thankfully, the cheer and charm of Makawao have been retained in the buildings that once housed Matsui Store, Yoshizu Market, Kitada's Korner, Crossroads Gas Station at the Makawao-Baldwin intersection, and homes like Mom's. They're all depicted in a delightful series of Eddie Flotte's paintings at the History Project.
The display doesn't include Eddie's depiction of Goodies, but that's OK; he gave Mom a print years ago, when he learned of her connection to the house and chose it as his subject for one of Makawao's Paint the Town artistic showcases.
Mom was especially pleased to see the photos of Mrs. Minerva Kalama and the Rev. Theodore Schulz in the Pookela Church historical display. I remember her taking me to visit Mrs. Kalama in the big house on Kalama Hill, the first two-story house I'd ever entered. I was a bit intimidated; from the outside, the house looked like a Gothic mansion to me. But inside, it was warm and cozy, with family photos and dainty doilies decorating the sitting room.
After the Rev. Schulz and his wife moved to California, our families continued to stay in touch. Uncle Ted and Aunt Esther sent me a new book every Christmas, as well as on my birthday each year. That's how I acquired the entire set of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books that filled so many of my childhood hours and convinced me of the magic of reading. Aunt Esther and my mother carried on their written correspondence for decades, and after both Schulzes passed on in their 90s, Mom, in accordance with their wishes, had their cremains returned to Maui and scattered at their beloved Pookela Church.
The hour spent at the Makawao History Project wasn't enough for either of us. Mom's going to look through Oji-chan's steamer trunk for photos and memorabilia to donate to the cause. I'm returning for a Christmas story-time session at this month's Third Friday celebration.
Whether or not you have personal history in the town, the Makawao History Project is worth exploring, and, I believe, worth supporting. Project coordinators hope to establish it as a permanent museum. For now, it will be open daily until Dec. 31, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Sundays, when it opens at 11 a.m. Admission is free; donations are gratefully welcomed. With enough support, the Makawao History Project could become the Makawao History Museum. What a great gift to ourselves that would be.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.