Today’s column, the first “Sharing Mana’o” of 2019, is my 417th offering in this space. Eight years of weekly musings and memories and mom stories; 291,200 words, give or take a few hundred. That’s an educated guesstimate; I didn’t actually count them all.
Many of those words were about words. I indulged my logophilia in perhaps a dozen columns, pondering the meanings and origins of the tools of my trade, in both standard and pidgin English (that’s Hawaii Creole English, if you like act all high makamaka).
More often, I wrote about people: family, friends, famous folks and unique Maui characters. But mostly, I’ve shared memories of the sleepy little island that I grew up on. And I’ve tried to spread aloha while sharing mana’o.
My first column, published on Jan. 12, 2011, was basically a love letter to The Maui News, recalling the happy hours I spent as an employee of KMVI Radio, which was then owned by The Maui News/Maui Publishing Co. It was my first job in broadcasting — my first real job, period — and I literally came of age there. Mrs. Nora Cooper hired me fresh out of broadcasting school, at the age of 17.
But, as my letter stated, our relationship began even earlier than that.
I was 10 years old, just one of thousands of Maui kids you’d featured in local interest stories. You were 67 and the only game in town, albeit just twice a week back then. I still have the clipping from that issue — No. 11,420, Oct. 4, 1967. Along with the article on my winning the Maui County Fair jingle contest, you ran a photo of Fair Director Garner Ivey presenting me with a $50 check and passes to the fair. You even printed my jingle: “Fair time is fun time for every girl and boy; Fair time is happy time in Maui no ka oi!” Hey, I was 10, OK?
Since that first column, each year’s inaugural column has been about New Year’s traditions and celebrations. Six years ago, also on Jan. 2, I wrote about spending New Year’s Eve at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, co-hosting festivities with Wilmont Kamaunu Kahaialii.
For me, the best part of the evening was its theme: “Ka wa ma mua, ka wa ma hope – The future is in our past.” So in between the magic and the music, we talked to the mostly tourist crowd about the importance of knowing our history and our heritage. When I say “our,” I mean all of us. For, as Wilmont is fond of saying, every one of us here shares a common bond. Whether you’re Hawaiian, descended from Polynesian pioneers, or your ancestors came to the islands as contract labor from Asia or Europe, or you just got off the plane from the Mainland, we all came from somewhere else to be here in this special place. That makes us family, ‘ohana.
I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Wilmont several times over the past few years, but I’ve spent a lot more time, on and off stage, with his brother William — better known as Willie K. Like I said earlier, this column has featured family, friends, famous folks and unique Maui characters. Willie falls into all four categories.
Last February, I devoted a column to Willie’s announcement of his lung cancer diagnosis.
At a recent gathering thrown by Willie and his wife, Debbie, for the folks who helped with his 2018 Blues Fest, Willie talked about the challenge he faces and asked his friends to support him with positive thoughts. With humor and grace, he acknowledged the sometimes bumpy road to deep friendship, “I know some of you guys have had thoughts of ‘Ho, dat Willie K, he can be such a . . .” He continued with a plea for forgiveness, a request to join him in putting aside anger in favor of healing, not just for him but for all hearts involved.
Willie is nearly as famous for his tempestuous nature and deadly stink eye as for his immense musical talent. While I’ve witnessed a few unpleasant incidents, and heard stories of many others, the Willie I know and love is the one who has given countless hours to supporting charities, Hawaiian culture and native rights, fellow performers, and individuals in need . . . I’m just one of many who have benefited from Willie’s friendship, and one of hundreds of thousands who have gained joy from his talents. Please, if you have ever been touched by this man or his music, keep him in your prayers and your hearts.
And please join us this Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center for Willie’s 2019 Blues Fest. Prayers and aloha still welcomed.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.