For many island families, holiday is synonymous with flying. In the old days, that meant driving down to the airport, getting a ticket at the counter and walking out to the airplane. For the uninitiated, it's a little more complicated today. OK. Fire up the computer. Search for the airline website, plastic money at the ready. Fumble through the promos obviously aimed at off-island travelers. Ahhh. Here's the stuff needed to buy a ticket. Follow the directions.
At the airport, stuff the truck in a parking stall. Hand the printout to the ticket lady. Nope. She says use the machine in front of the counter. Follow more directions. The machine spits out a boarding pass. Head for the TSA security check da kine. Oops. Wrong line. Doing stuff at home ahead of time apparently qualifies the passenger for "priority" clearance. Zip through the metal detector. Nope. Belt buckle sets off the machine. TSA guy smiles. Pull off the belt. Try again. The machine sayeth not. Wait at the gate. Kill time with a little conversation with a young couple headed home to Oahu. A bag with boxes of Krispy Kreme pastries give them away. Suggest the next time they try Maui's Home Maid Bakery apple fritters or Komoda's cream puffs.
Onto the plane. It's the end of the day, but the stewardess still has a smile. Find the right row of seats. Hmmm. Which is which? Guy sitting in a row behind explains. "Don't get off the island much, do you?" he says with a laugh.
The plane flies out of the darkness over Maui into the last rays of sunset over Oahu. The holiday is underway.
Christmas actually began a couple of days before at the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. The off-island jaunt forced gift-getting ahead of the usual, last-minute buying. The center stores had just opened, but Santa was already on hand. A line of parents with small and not-so-small children waiting to have pictures taken with a Maui representative of the man from the North Pole. He's impressively authentic, right down to a real beard the more inquisitive, or skeptical, children can tug on.
Don't tell the kids, but this Santa is Charlie Silva. He takes the job seriously and is proud of the fact he is the only pidgin-speaking Santa who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Since he retired from the county, Charlie has spent 12-hour days leading up to Christmas with children in his lap. The gig gets underway some months before. It takes time to grow a Santa beard. Somehow, he's turned his normally brown face fur a snowy white. His Santa charm takes no preparation at all. It's natural. Ask anyone who has known him in any of his various incarnations.
Tourists were charmed when they stopped at Rice Park. Charlie, the park caretaker, spread aloha while answering questions and telling island stories. Various homeowners were charmed by Charlie, the weekend landscape maintenance guy. (As with many Mauians, one paycheck just wasn't enough.) Visitors to the historic Makawao Cemetery were charmed by Charlie, the guy who kept the grounds neat and tidy.
Charmed might not be the right word to describe the bikers who knew Charlie as a member of the Alli Motorcycle Club, but they certainly could appreciate his organizational abilities. At one time, Charlie put together the only motorcycle show ever held at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. And, there was a much fabled party at the old Puunene Club House around 1980. The biker bash included a bikini contest emceed by Liz Janes. The T-shirts promoting the party have become coveted by collectors of Mauiana.
Charlie's motorcycle days came to a close - at least for now - not so long ago. He was out riding this new Harley when he was hit by a car. Charlie was banged up but escaped serious injury, mostly due to wearing a helmet. The bike, however, was totaled. It wasn't his first crash, but it was the first in several decades of riding. For the time being, Charlie is sticking with a truck hauling landscaping equipment for most of the year and a sleigh during the Christmas holiday.
During the long hours with a succession of kids in his lap, Santa Charlie never failed to listen carefully to the kids. On at least one occasion, he spent a few extra moments with an older kid who seemed to have some sort of problem. The conversation ended with Santa giving the kid a big hug. The memory of the kid's smile eased the humbug of needing to get a plane to share Christmas with a loved one. There's more than one way to give a gift.
I hope your Christmas was joyful and the new year brings you peace and love.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.