And now was time to go and meet Olivia! Val had told her that we were going to be in Kalaupapa and she had agreed to talk to us about her memories of Doc and Wilhelmina.
Olivia Robello Breitha came to Kalaupapa in 1937 as a lovely young woman. I read her book when I was researching Kalaupapa, and was gratified to see that she mentioned my grandfather, and that she spoke highly of him.
I think perhaps our time with Olivia was the most wonderful part of our visit to Kalaupapa. To be able to talk to someone who had known my grandfather was like breathing the air of the past.
Her memory is incredible, she remembered everything we asked her about, and she laughed often while telling us her stories. She had liked Doc and Wilhelmina very much, and recounted how he had helped her and her husband John start their chicken farm. She also told us about the day my grandmother came back from taking Abbie and Biffie to the ship that would carry them away to the mainland, where they would remain with her parents, and she said that Wilhelmina had looked so sad, and that "Her face was never the same after that". How amazing to be there with my mother when she heard the other side of what had to be one of the most painful days of her life.
As we hugged goodbye, I felt humbled by this little woman who's strength and sense of humor had withstood so much adversity, yet remained intact. She doesn't usually like her picture taken, but when I asked she graciously said I could. I was so nervous I forgot that I had my camera on manual focus, and so the picture came out blurred! Pretty ironic, considering how sharp Olivia is.
That evening we shared the visitor's kitchen with the family of one of the residents. One gin and tonic and I was singing "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" in Hawaiian, as I had learned it for my grandmother when she gave me her old ukulele. I had the good sense to stop before "My Little Grass Shack" and no one seemed the worse for the experience.
We went to Father Joseph's house and watched another movie about Kalaupapa and Father Joseph once again gave us milk and cookies, and Leslie and I nodded off on the couch. We said our goodnight's and went back to the Visitor's Quarters and SLEPT.T
The next morning we went to Father Joseph's service at St. Francis Church. The acoustics are wonderful, and the singing of the Hawaiians soared up to the ceiling and then came swooping down through the room and enveloped us. Afterwards we took our time with our Aloha's.
B.J. stopped by in the park service truck to say goodbye, she is so lovely I had to take her picture by the sea, in her blue jean jacket with the wind blowing in her long dark hair. Val and I took Cathrin's van back to her house and I got to see her collection of wind chimes. We went back to the Visitor's Center and cleared our remaining groceries from the kitchen and then loaded up our things.
Then we were off to the runway and there was Nik, waiting to take us back to Maui. It was a beautiful day, and as we climbed on board the plane I couldn't believe our visit was really over, and that our time at Kalaupapa had passed so quickly.
We came away so enriched....my father has seen a part of my mother's past that he had never known before. My mother revisited her childhood and was welcomed back with open arms.
And now for the first time in my life, I feel I have a real sense of who my grandfather was. The photos had already burned his face into my memory, now I have walked where he walked; listened to Anwei's taped interviews with my grandmother; heard Olivia's, as well as other's memories of him; and heard his voice so clearly in the letter Pat sent me.
As we soared into the clear blue sky and looked back on the rugged Molokai coast, I wondered if Doc and Wilhelmina had somehow been there with us. I wondered also what she had intended when she gave me the Kalaupapa photo album. I guess I'll never know for sure, but I hope she would be pleased with the outcome.
What had started out as a wistful daydream had evolved into a quest, and the quest into an adventure. Now the adventure will work it's way back into my daydreams as I relive my Kalaupapa memories and wish her and her people a fond Aloha.
~ Jean Marie Mayer
I wish to thank my beautiful daughter Jean and her husband Dan who spent hours of time and research and love, for making my impossible dream come true. I once said, "Someday before I die I would like to go home to Kalaupapa again”. She never forgot my wish and arranged the trip for my husband and I to take this journey back in time to realize that you can go home again.
With Gene, my loving husband of over 50 years we made the journey, and memories of my childhood flooded back to me. There we met the wonderful people of Kalaupapa who welcomed us. They gathered there to see me place my foot alongside my footprint and my brother's, that were placed in the cement walk over seventy years ago, and they named me “the footprint girl”. The welcome and love of the people of Kalaupapa will never be forgotten.So I say to Jean and the gracious people of Kalaupapa,Mahalo, thank you for making my wish come true.
Mahalo nui loa, Val.