I will always associate Hawaii with plumeria.

My friends and I used to sew together leis with the milky sunset blossoms that fell around our Army barracks in Ft. Shafter. It was 1972.

I remember my father warning me not to put the milky white sap in my mouth or I would die. “It’s poison.” I think I put my tongue on a wet finger decades later, on my fourth or seventh visit — as a grown-up.

On the last visit, my husband almost died of bladder cancer. We caught it in time. The nick of time. He and our son went back home to Seattle after a week in paradise, leaving me to deal with the ghosts of my childhood for a few more days.

I couldn’t believe how much my island home had changed. Where were the plumeria? I hunted around for them in the streets of Waikiki. One pinkish-white blossom, absolutely no floral scent.

My childhood had gone, died in fact, somewhere between 1972 and today.

When I gazed up into the sky, all I could see were flowers of another kind, man-made flowers that gave off no pleasant smell and felt hot and hard to the touch.

I can hear the Honolulu Boys Choir and Jimmy Borges singing their hearts out, somewhere over the rainbow — far, far from my diminished return.


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