On December 3, 2002, after a few frustrating years of trying to make a connection at Kalaupapa, I got an e-mail from Valerie Monson, a reporter for the Maui News. She had been writing articles about Kalaupapa for 14 years and had come across my new website while doing research, and was intrigued by my mother's story. She wondered when we would be coming to Kalaupapa and if she could interview us and oh yes, if there was anything she could do to help...I was jumping for joy.
On January the 19th I met Valerie Monson for lunch on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Val and I arranged to meet at Longhi's restaurant in Lahaina at 1:00. I arrived a little early and got us a table by a window. I knew her the moment she walked in the door. She was exactly what I had come to expect from our e-mail correspondence: sunny, warm, capable, and very certain our visit to Kalaupapa going to be a great event.
I still have the e-mail in which she asked if I knew that my mothers' footprints were in cement by the State Kitchen. She had found them there by accident and had always wondered about the "Footprint Girl" as she called her: what her life had been like, and where she was now. I told her my mother had just recently told me about the footprints. Now we were finally talking face to face and we talked for hours about the people of Kalaupapa, my mother and uncle, Wilhelmina, Doc, and the footprints in the sidewalk. Most exciting of all, Val had organized a "Welcome Back" ceremony and party for The Footprint Girl!
We were going to be able to stay two nights at the Visitor's Quarters because Father Joseph Hendriks had agreed to sponsor us. There is no restaurant there, so we had to bring food for two days.
My parents were flying into Maui on Wednesday the 22nd, and on the 24th we would fly to Kalaupapa, where Val would be waiting for us. It was finally happening!
January 24, 2003. Our flight was at 7:00am, and I hadn't been to the Kapalua Airport before, so I set my alarm for 5:30am, then proceeded
to lie awake, listening to the wind as it increased in force with every minute that ticked by. By 5:30 it was howling, by the time we drove up the hill to the airport at 6:30, it threatened to knock us off our feet as we carried our boxes of supplies into the terminal.
A business man was the only other traveler in the small terminal, and as I tried to convince myself it really wasn't too windy to fly, I heard him on his cell phone telling his office that he had cancelled his flight due to a small craft advisory warning.
My parents looked perfectly calm, but then so did I. We smiled, took photos, watched the windows flex and bend; palm fronds skidding down the runway. My stomach was begging me to call the whole thing off, and my mind was debating whether this trip was worth dying for. I decided to wait until I met the pilot before making any drastic decisions. And maybe he wouldn't even show up. Maybe Val would call my cell phone any minute to tell me the pilot said "Only a suicidal maniac would fly in this weather!". Yeah, that's it.
A small cardboard airplane pulled up on the runway outside our gate. A suicidal maniac in a leather bomber jacket hopped out and walked sideways in the wind to the building. He wrenched the door open and said (smiling, and with a British accent): "Hi! I'm Nik, Paragon Air. Are you going to Kalaupapa?"
He sounded sane. As we shook hands, I said: "Nik, tell me you fly in this kind of weather all the time." He casually waved my worries away with his hand: "Oh sure". We each grabbed a box and overnight bag.
As we walked out on the runway, the plane got bigger and I could see that it was actually made of metal. Things were looking up. Then I saw that Val was waiting in the plane for us. Don't ask me why, but the fact that she was flying with us erased any of my remaining fears.
We climbed into the 6-seater and were off. As soon as we were airborne I could see that Nik wasn't a maniac at all, but an experienced pilot who knows his plane and skies. He probably went home that night and told his wife that the day was "a bit breezy".
I have flown in small planes in calm weather, and felt more turbulence than I did on that day. Flying just below the dark clouds, rain pelting the windshield, the ocean churning below us, the sun broke through the clouds onto the water and I felt a great, swelling sense of adventure.