Celebration of the Life of Grandma Rose Mahelona

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(Photo: Great Granddaughter Chloe Rose Nanea Storm)

April 2013

The first things I saw upon arrival at Grandma’s Memorial Celebration were the handwritten signs reading “No Parking on Wildflowers ~ Mahalo.” Beyond the signs, Malia’s & Matt’s spread was awash with Texas’ annual bloom. Grandma the Lover of Flowers is surely pleased with them on this day. As we make our way to the far side of the house, Kelli and Nanea are setting orchids afloat in the cement pond. Before the day was out, many a keiki would tightrope along the edge, hoping to accidentally fall in. Grandma’s photo is draped with maile from Hawai’i, and Nani has returned red-eyed and sneezing from the pollen-laden meadow with a box full of pickings. The small centerpieces created from this collection of weeds and blossoms were works of art.

The arrival of guests was like watching an old reel-to-reel of the family’s 41 years in Texas. Close friends, family really, from every era of these four decades turned the day into one big family reunion. Everywhere I turned I found another face to make me smile and laugh at the remember-whens. Some I hadn’t seen in ten years or more; others I saw just the day before. It was both a memorial to my Grandma and a tribute to my Mom and Dad. They’ve touched so many lives and we kids have been the beneficiaries in so many ways of the relationships our parents have formed.

There is nothing that can make me homesick more quickly or choke me up so completely as a hula dancer. Nothing holds my attention like the sight of my Mom and sisters on stage. On this day we were blessed with the presence of hula girls and musicians representing the many years my folks have been involved with Hawaiian entertainment. Musicians and dancers from their earliest professional incarnations in the 1970s to the dancers of Mom’s current halau, Na Pua o Ku’ulei. Hawaiian music and dance offer the quickest way home.

There were many special and memorable moments during Grandma’s passing and during her Memorial. But the most poignant for me was the appearance of Mom’s youngest dancers, among them her granddaughter/our niece/Grandma’s namesake: Chloe Rose Nanea Storm. When, during the introduction, I saw Nanea reach up and wipe away a tear, my emotional control was lost, as was that of many others, I suspect.

And then the little hula girls danced and made us all smile again.

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Rose Mary Ku’ualoha Landon Mahelona 9 August 1929 – 3 February 2013

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3 February 2013

Rose Mary Ku’ualoha Landon Mahelona August 9, 1929 – February 3, 2013

Some memories can be painfully pale, flat and just beyond my frustrated grasp, while others are brilliant, substantial and intense. They can be molded to serve as a means of escape or formed into something that amounts to nothing more that wishful thinking. Isolated memories merge with others to become something greater, more meaningful, more gratifying, more perfect. But my favorites are those that remain simple, the ones that require no analysis and exist neither to enlighten nor absolve, but simply to make me smile and laugh all over again. Today, my Grandma died and my memories of her are bright and colorful like the flowers she grew, musical like the tunes she hummed and rhythmic like the Hawaiian she spoke. Rose Mary Ku’ualoha Landon Mahelona was the Grandma who delighted in song and sweet things to eat; who sang her sweet songs to us, wrote poems about her grandchildren, and nurtured our mixed heritage with stories of Bible heroes and Ka’ahupahau, shark goddess of Pearl Harbor and her childhood home Waiawa. She was the Grandma who pressed military-grade creases into my Kamehameha Schools uniforms and taught me to drive stick shift on the rolling foothills of Diamond Head, my giggling siblings in the backseat; who took us to The Mainland, to Disneyland and to The San Diego Zoo, with its two-headed snake; and who coaxed beautiful orchids from rusty old coffee cans, plucked tiny pakalana blossoms from the back yard to be strung into leis upon our return to Hawai’i, and who always left a vivid lipstick print on our young cheeks before catching the Waikiki bus to work at her beloved PK, The Princess Ka’iulani Hotel. My kind of memories, my kind of Grandma. Aloha Grandma.

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(Photo: Spreading rose petals on White Rock Lake)

Dad’s Letter to His Uncle Gus Describing the Speading of Grampa’s Ashes

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(Photo: The young David Mahelona, Jr.)

Written by Chester E. Mahelona

The following part of this letter is perhaps the toughest to write for me; Lord knows I’ve started it so many times. It’s about Daddy and his passing and its effects on me. It’s been a year since he’s been gone but time hasn’t diluted any of the imagery. I say “imagery” because it was just that – beautiful, poetic imagery. I’m referring to the scattering of his ashes at sea. The enclosed flyer was sent to all his friends & relatives because the experience was something that had to be shared. Stephi and I made it up in place of the standard mortuary “thank you” cards. Daddy wasn’t your “standard,” ordinary human being. I wish I could write my impressions for you, but these are mine only, so you must share them thru my mind’s eye. This is my last memory of him; and it’s one of my most precious . . .

. . . the morning broke warm and sunny with the wind barely a whisper, unable to wrinkle the glass skin of the waveless sea. No twisting, squirming reflections of undersea coral gardens, just colors frozen under glass. The ancient gods were there; a conspiracy of wind and sea to preserve this moment of last rites in becalmed splendor.

Slipping silently from the shore, the catamaran pointed to the cut in the reef, where, in mid channel, the Hawaiian Village Hotel motorboat, its engine silent, glided alongside with a wooden calabash brimming with fragrant gardenias – a final aloha from his friends (and sweethearts) at the Village. Beyond the confines of the reef, aquamarine deepened to blue, then deep blue. Veering to port, we had Waikiki to our left, the open sea to our right and Diamond Head between the twin bows. The hotels stood tall in rising morning light, so splendid in their dress whites and framed by the verdant Koolaus. Daddy was making his last parade.

There was no sensation of forward motion but the barely perceptible nudge of swells reminded you that you were suspended in time and space. The first plumeria blossoms over the side put a smile in the sea – plumerias have always been a happy flower for me. Passing astern it gave a reference to motion. It was unbelievable that we were moving at all, but the casual trail of plumerias made it true. As I watched the plumerias, I thought about what my Japanese friend, the florist, said when I asked for tuberose blossoms, “All my best plumerias for yo’ foddah; they mo’ bettah, brah, they float; the tuberose sinks.” He was right, they were a parade of life; of children merrily trailing over the meadows of the Pacific. I couldn’t help but visualize them as his grandchildren and his great grandchildren to come. We’ll never run out of plumerias; or the essence of them. The visual experience was overwhelmingly beautiful and simple and pure – I found myself smiling and feeling good for Daddy. There was nothing that could make me feel so good for him – other than his being here, alive, strumming his uke with a cold Primo close by.

In moments the ocean was a garden of flowers; flowers with roots of white ash that spiraled to the depths below. I whispered, “Aloha, Daddy, I love you” and eased a vibrant carnation lei into the deep blue ocean. The striking color contrast of red against blue was surreal – more vivid than life itself. As a professional designer/artist I’ve never seen colors more beautiful. I sat in awe at this moment of classic Hawaiian elegance and remarked to myself that this was a proud and sacred moment of final filial devotion for me and I hoped he would be as proud too. I thought nothing could be more meaningful, when suddenly off our port bow 5 porpoises surfaced in graceful unison – a wonderful omen in any nautical culture, but the ultimate blessing in our Hawaiian heritage as they twice more surfaced to complete the triad. The ancient Polynesian powers had bestowed a magnificent Aloha – a fitting tribute to a son’s hero. The memory is personal and ours to keep forever.

That’s the way I would have wanted it to be; that’s the way it was.

Days with Dad

IMG_47355x7(Photo: Portrait of Chester E. Mahelona by Jim Curtis, 1965)

The Artist I was born the son of an artist. Not just a talented guy. A real artist. The beatnik living in a San Francisco garage, subsisting by selling his mod paintings. The kind that could do it all – draw, paint, carve, sculpt, sing, play and write. The kind for whom women would remove their clothes so that he could render their bodies in charcoal. The kind who brought forth the images of gods and goddesses from stones and trees.

The smell of mineral spirits and oil paints infused my childhood world (that and the Johnson’s Baby Oil that Mom slathered liberally over her first-born), and in breathing the fumes I was doomed to follow in my father’s footsteps. I was awed as he showed me to see things in the world as the really were, rather than how they were portrayed in coloring books. Wow, the sun doesn’t always reside in the top left corner of the sky! Eyes and lips are shaped nothing like footballs! Flowers don’t all look like daisies! Dad demonstrated that art is more than mere portraiture. It is laughter, and anger, and sound effects, and motion, and discovery. Best of all, it is boundless. There are no rules.. Color the bunny army green. Color inside and outside and on top of the lines. Go up and down, sideways, diagonally. Then peel the crayon like a banana and see what army green tastes like. The world is yours to create in whatever fashion you visulaize, in life as it is in art.

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