But it's really a much longer story than that, one that begins with my grandparents.
They started off their lives together in 1944, during the war, and were married with a $10 wedding band down in Texas, the day Pa got his wings. They lived frugally, bringing up their four children with a plethora of casseroles, a garden out back, and lots of love. They both decided to make frequent travel define their family, and because of this, instead of staying close to home, Pa chose his post-war summertime naval reserve duty all over the country. He worked as a counselor for a middle school during the year, but during the summer, the family packed up the Airstream and headed off. One year they did the Northeast corridor, apparently there's a photo album floating around somewhere with a picture of my mom and her brothers at the start of the Freedom Trail in Boston.
To this day, my mom is proud of her visits to all fifty states, and more than a little befuddled at the death of the family roadtrip, and everyone's seeming insistence to "go see Europe!"
"Europe is fine. It's not that. It's more that there is so much to see in your own country! I just don't get why people don't pick a random state and go, instead thinking that the streets of Brussels would be more 'exotic.' I promise you, driving through small towns in Georgia is just as exotic, but in a very different way."
Anyway. All this leads up to the the fact that travel has been an integral part of my childhood, something my mom and grandparents deemed incredibly valuable. New places, different experiences, a flexible attitude - not to mention all of the educational opportunities that present themselves along the way.
To continue in their lifelong pursuit of travel, my grandparents took a month each year to visit Hawaii and stay in the military housing in Waianae on Honolulu. We'd get coconuts in the mail, postcards of beaches, and real from-the-beach puka shell necklaces strung with fishing line. Pa made friends with all of the locals, he started to bring all of the islanders exotic plum jam from Minnesota, something from his not-so-tropical homeland.
When I was nine, we traveled to Hawaii with them over the summer. And it was...amazing. The ocean, the beach, the fish, the smells, the skinks (lizards), the pineapples, the people, I didn't know quite what to do with it.
One of the experiences I remember with incredible clarity is the first place we stayed after we arrived, a little apartment/condo close to Honolulu so we didn't have to drive all the way to Waianae the first evening. The next morning, I woke up, went outside, and couldn't believe the smell. It was heavenly. I think if I had understood what the word intoxicating meant, that would have been my word of choice. Being underneath a plumeria tree was just the start of a vacation that was all kinds of wonderful.
After returning from Hawaii, my love affair with all things Hawaiian continued. Between puzzles of whales by Wyland to red anthurium notecards, there was always something Hawaiian around my room. And in eighth grade, when we had to play a character from history for Night of the Notables, who did I pick? Queen Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii.
But I wasn't the only one that adored Hawaii in the family, so during his last winter, when Pa was too ill to travel, our family brought Hawaii to him as a surprise. In the middle of a cold Minnesota winter, we all dressed up in tropical shirts, wearing our puka shells, anything we could to bring a smile to his face.
Because of all this, Hawaii has become more than a place that I write about sometimes. It's become something so infused with my grandfather that I can't think about Hawaii without thinking of him. It's just not possible.
And beyond traveling, he's someone in my life that was always there, at every play, concert, Camp Fire event, always cheering me on...and telling me to have more fun. (I was...a rather serious and friendless young child, better at making friends with teachers than people my own age).
So, all I can think about in the quiet moments before a party I'm hosting, or as I take a deep breath on blind date number you don't want to know, or whenever I've really accomplished something, whether a sublime blueberry muffin, a garden to reckon with, or engineering the perfect way to make an obscene amount of Swedish meatballs---all I can think is he would be so proud of me for being brave, for making mistakes, for learning, for taking risks, for doing well but doing good, for working so hard, but taking time to laugh and play.
So when it came time to think about something fun to do, the combination hit me all at once...my friend the third culture kid (and graduate!) spent a good deal of time growing up in the tropics, so it's a perfect graduation-style party to hold with her...not to mention my own high school graduation party was tropical themed (and awesome, I'd like to add). I also wanted to hold the party in the beginning of summer, so everyone's craving a bit of beach-style celebration. And I happen to adore tropical tiki cocktails like the Singapore Sling, and my foray into the options at a Carnivale party was a blast. And...it came right back to Hawaii. And celebrating the things in life that deserve a celebration, whether I'm graduating or not.
And if there's any year that deserved a celebration, this was it. The fifth year of your PhD? It is no joke.
And when I thought about celebrations, plumerias came to mind. And with the internet, anything is possible. So, an order to Molokai Plumerias was made, and the flowers were shipped from Hawaii, arriving a little brown, but smelling just like I remembered. And that was all I could ask for.
The leis, ready for the graduates (and me!) to wear.