4.5   The Ladies Who Supp

Auntie Grace, Pastor of the Church of our Savior in Pahoa, was in her kitchen chopping scallions for poke.

“I don’t know why you don’t buy it from KTA like normal kanaka,” chided Auntie Lulu, who stood authoritatively at the center island having a bite of mac salad.

“This is the last of it. All I have to do is toss them in and—.” Using the blade of her knife, Grace scraped the scallions off the cutting board into a bowl of cubed, ruby red fish. She stirred it all together and then presented it to Lulu. “See?”

“Seems to me an awful lot of trouble, what for having spent the day at church already—.”

“Cooking for family is my other religion.” She tilted her head toward the ceramic dish that Lulu was nibbling out of. “Shall we?”

Lulu set her spoon in the sink. “OK, then, but keep things nice.” She picked up the mac salad and followed Grace into the dining room.

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At the table, Grace said grace.

Lulu, Violet, Prudence and Auntie Ruth all concluded with a resounding “Amen.” The least convincing of these affirmations belonged to Cousin Violet, who was there partly under protest. Auntie Lulu had asked her to referee the dinner event and, not wanting to come, she tried to get out of it by enlisting Prudence to come in her place. That might have worked had it not been for a small matter that Prudence would hold over Violet’s head for as long as it would conceivably yield benefit: that matter being the potion that Violet slipped her before Manu’s luau.

Wine made its way around the table, and “only a splash, please, I have to drive back up the volcano” went into Ruth’s glass. Ruth wasn't one to speak a great deal, nor with volume or authority except when she was running things in her hotel. She certainly restrained herself in the presence of Lulu, Pele’s earthly stand-in, and the diminutive but inflexible Cousin Violet. However, on the matter of geothermal Auntie Ruth had one and only one firm opinion: No way.

Grace, on the other hand, was secretly opionated on everything but saved her opinions for her sermons. In front of the congregation she felt she wielded some authority. There, she felt confident, assured. The voice of authority. In the presence of Violet and Lulu, however, she became a shrunken flower. She almost exclusively deferred to them, except when it came to the matter of cooking. She wasn’t a very good cook but she insisted on making almost everything from scratch. It was her “holy burden,” she called it.

(“Or something to that tragic effect,” Violet would remark whenever the subject came up.)

On the matter of geothermal, she was diametrically opposed to Ruth. Grace was all for it. One hundred percent. But because of its volatility, it was one of the few opinions she kept out of the pulpit.

Mind you, the dutiful Cousin Violet was correct in this regard: geothermal drilling is no topic for a casual dinner. However, it was the impetus for that evening’s dinner, and it wasn’t a surprise for anyone. Lulu had made it quite clear when she extended the invitation to the other three that the rift it was causing was something that had to be dealt with.

The dinner was held at Grace’s house for a reason: decisions were made more quickly there, agreements were arrived at with greater haste, because nobody wanted to linger over Grace’s cooking; it was meant to be eaten quickly and in filling bites.

Poor thing.

Never one to mince a moment, as soon as napkins were in the ladies’ laps Lulu dove right in: “Wahine – other than Grace, who is wena, blood relative, you are all hale aikāne, my ‘ohana. You always will be. It’s because we’re good strong women who care about our ‘āina, the land, which is our mother, and because we care about each other and our grandchildren that I asked you to come to dinner.” She looked over at Grace: “Thank you, Auntie Grace, for cooking for us tonight.”

“Yes!” said Violet with feverish gratitude. “Mahalo nui loa for the meal.”

“We have a sensitive topic come between us,” said Lulu, “and it does no good to let it fester. There is a stranger in our midst and he’s signing up people to give away their land along the rift zone so that the power company can drill new geothermal wells.” As she said this she passed around the platter of Grace’s chewy chicken with mango. “I don’t fault anyone for trying to make a living, but this Rinpoche—.” She took a healthy spoonful of macaroni salad and raised her eyebrows.

During the pause as Lulu chewed, all eyes turned towards Prudence. In an instant she felt the target upon her forehead. She was guilty by association, even though she’d done nothing wrong. (In fact, the best thing she’d ever done in her life was leaving Kyle in Mexico. The second best thing was refusing to rent her ‘ohana to him even though, and she was terrified that anyone would find out, she had considered it for a moment – less than a moment really – half a moment: in the split half second before coming up with the lie that she’d rented it out to Lau Lau she had considered renting it to Kyle. She considered it out of kindness. Pity maybe. Oh but God, how grateful she was that she pulled that lie straight out of the strength within her during the remaining half second before she opened her mouth. Kyle’s presence had nearly drawn her back to the dark days of when she was young and impressionable and easily deceived, never mind that two decades had passed since her free-loving escape from Rhode Island ended up as a flight from Mexico and the Rinpoche. It was Lau Lau. No it was Hawaii. It was Puna Pru that saved Rhode Island Prudence from making what would have been a terrible mistake: to confuse kindness with stupidity and to have allowed Rinpoche the Serenely  UnMagnificent to carry out his misconceived plans there on the sacred floorboards of Manu’s benevolent cottage.)

“First of all,” asked Violet.  “Are his intentions noble?” After a glass of red wine she was willing to volley up a serve, to throw herself into the match.

“Unlikely,” asserted Ruth.

“And to what extent is he a steward of the land?”

Prudence didn’t have to think hard on this one: “Not so much.” Point in fact: after she left him in the Yucatan and went back to Rhode Island, she’d gotten wind from a friend of a friend that Kyle was trying to convince locals to give up their rights to cenotes on their land – these are large caves filled with water – so that some Japanese group could come in and build resorts around them and he could yield a commission on the land sale. 

Like so many details about life with Kyle Weatherly, this particular memory had escaped her until it was rekindled over dinner that night.  Now that she’d remembered it, she was all the more unimpressed with her past.

“Regardless, the decision is not a haole’s to make.” Ruth, who had descended the volcano for tonight’s affair, looked politely at Prudence. “No offense, young sister. Prudence shook her head: No offense taken. “But who is he to come here and tell everyone that the keys to the kingdom of self-rule are lined with toxic wells dug into the precious earth?”

Grace, self-ordained voice of the people, vollied back: “Well, for heaven’s sake, tell me why the kanaka of this district shouldn’t take advantage of a chance to earn something back from their land – land that is a fraction of what is rightly theirs. If the haoles come and make money off the land, rob it and work it until it can be worked no more, then run off to the next cheapest place they can exploit—.” She too looked at Prudence and said, “No offense, miss Pru.” Then to the others: “Why not get something back for all the connivery and deceit?”

“Because,” interjected Lulu, “they drill and they spew chemicals, and lord only knows what they pump into the ground without telling us—.”

“So you agree with me!” said Ruth.

“No, sister, I’m saying it has to be the people’s choice. I don’t like that this so-called Rinpoche, teacher, false kumu, whatever he claims to be, is here on clearly what is somebody else’s behalf, talking down to and trying to scare my family with stories of, Oh the boats they gonna stop coming. Gasoline is too expensive; it’s only gonna to get worse, and how you gonna pay for it? No way! Not on the graves of my kupuna. If Tita Pele thinks it’s ok to drill a mile into her core and make use of the fire inside, then she gotta tell us so. I don’t mind my family making a dollar, but I tell you this: this Rinpo-chit, whatever he is…it isn’t him who’s gonna tell my people how to benefit from the land beneath our feet.”

Not long after that, as the too-salty poke sat sweating in its own liquid and the large dinner plates sat in the sink awaiting the dishwasher, pie was served: Ruth’s home-made lemon meringue pie. Along with lemon tea.

By now there was general consensus, personal opinions aside, that it should be the decision of each family whether or not to allow geothermal drilling on their lands. There should be no coercion or undue influence from outsiders. Each family would follow its conscience. They would do what they believed to be pono for themselves, their community, and for the ‘āina.

It was during this mostly unconfrontational conclusion to the meal that Ruth cleared her threat and said “Excuse me” so she could offer up “one more thing.” She levvied an accusation – “Out of politeness I will call it a rumor” – that Grace had held a secret, unadvertised geothermal roundtable in her church, with the Rinpoche in attendance. Essentially it was a sales pitch brokered by Pastor Grace to members of her flock.

“Furthermore,” added Ruth, “Grace was allegedly to get a commission on each new lease that was signed.”

The dining room fell absolutely silent. All eyes focused on Grace.

“Is this true?” asked Lulu. There was fiery gravel in her voice.

Grace nodded gently, the edges of her deeds tinted with shame.

(The Rinpoche, by the way, was a big fan of Grace’s mango chicken.)

Tempers flared and the discussion progressed into a verbal brawl. Miles mauka, Kilauea’s caldera fumed. The long tall column of smoke that rose from its crater Halema’uma’u surged into the night sky as if stoked from below. Down at Pu’u O’u, the lava flowed out with new vigor, enlivened and hungry on its long oozing quest to reach the sea.

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When no more could have been said or done, and the chaos in the dining room had been restored to order, Ruth left and re-ascended the mountain. Lulu stood in the kitchen counseling Grace as the two of them cleaned the dishes. Outside in semi-darkness Prudence stood with Cousin Violet in the driveway. Dogs were barking. TVs murmured in the surrounding houses.

Said Violet, slightly perturbed, lighting a clove cigarette: “I told you so.”

“Couldn’t you have done something?”

“You mean, interfere?”


Violet recoiled at the suggestion. “Heavens no! The preacher I can handle, certainly, but the other two? Not on your life.  One has the ear of the goddess and the other is her representative in the flesh.” She looked at Prudence obtusely. “What are you, pupule?”

During the resurgence of the discussion during dessert (after Grace’s subterfuge had been exposed), a torrent of hot wind drove through Grace’s house. It came in ferociously through the screened porch, upsetting everything in its wake, toppling things, blowing linens and every scrap of paper and objet de crap upwards and whirling them into a miniature cyclone. As the wind surged past them, the four women could feel its heat as their hair and clothes blew wildly.

It was a sudden and fast moving gale, invoked by Lulu’s anger. It passed through the dining room and left through the screen door and open windows of the kitchen. Half an hour later, while Lulu and Grace were cleaning up, the curtains in the kitchen were still warm to the touch.


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