The view of Shipwreck Beach from the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail.
Once upon a time I was so new to Baltimore that the words Pikesville, Timonium, Towson and Woodholme — and of course, Cockeysville — almost made me laugh, they were so strange. That was in the 20th century, close to the end of it. I was scheduled to do a reading from my book about single motherhood at bookstore called Bibelot, which had locations in several of those places.
The night of the reading I met a man I ended up moving across the country to marry. We never lived in Baltimore together, but during the period that he and my kids and our new baby resided in South Central PA, the children of his first marriage, Emma and Sam, were living with their Pikesvillian mother off Reisterstown Road, and we drove back and forth to get them on weekends, meeting at a gas station in Hereford.
That blended family lasted about ten years. Since it fractured, new step-families and domestic partnerships and boon alliances have formed, and it happens that last week I was with a number of those people in a place called Kaua’i, whose parts make Baltimore’s place names look staid: Po’ipu, Koloa, Lihue, Waimea, Hanapepe, Kapa’a. If you know Puff the Magic Dragon, Kauai actually is the land of Hanalei.
When Emma got married in Hawaii last week, the guest list was small, and even among the chosen there were many who could not make or afford the trip. Some elders in Baltimore were doing poorly, which meant that several members of Emma’s large Jewish family would not travel. But because Emma and I bonded so firmly and quickly back in 1999 that our connection has survived many years with little contact, and because her half-sister Jane is my daughter Jane, I, her ex-stepmother, made the cut. I asked if I could kick in some money for the reception and hoped to perform some additional quasi-parental duty at a later date.
Unlike most destination weddings in Hawaii, where everyone comes from the mainland, in this case the bride and groom already live there. Emma and Chris met in Boulder, Colorado, both members of the mighty Boulder mindfulness community that Emma has been part of since she enrolled in grad school at Naropa Institute in 2011. After a few years of unfolding drama which I only know about from the wedding toasts offered by the best man and woman (there were multiple Chrises, she said; a love addiction spiral and three nights of passion, he said — you can always count on these toasts for excellent TMI details) the two moved in together.
By this time Emma had become a mental/spiritual health therapist and started a business offering somatic trauma counseling, a form of treatment that combines nervous system science with mindfulness practices into what must be a very powerful package since when the pandemic hit and world trauma spiked, this business did quite well. She was able to hire Chris and later, others as well.
Now we are up to March 2021, when the couple decided to look for a nicer place in Boulder. Prices were so high that Emma thought she would make herself feel better by checking real estate ads in Hawaii. Surprise — Hawaii was cheaper! By this time, of course, their entire counseling practice was on Zoom, so they made a working trip to the islands to check it out. They spent a month on Oahu, a week on Maui, and a week on the Big Island. Though they liked the Big Island best because it had the most beautiful untouched nature, Chris was worried about how the ‘vog’ (volcano fog) would affect his asthma. Kauai, people told them, is like a mini-version of the Big Island, sans vog, so they chose it sight unseen… with a video walkthrough for a house on Craigslist.
The gig economy has made visiting Hawaii somewhat more affordable, since both lodging and transportation can be booked through individuals rather than corporations. I rented a cute Airbnb apartment in a house in the resort area of Po’ipu for what ended up being about $210/night. It had a comfy king-size bed, a roomy closet, and nicest of all a screened-in kitchen that opened on a luxuriant backyard. (Luxuriant is a word you find yourself using a lot in Hawaii.)
The deeply tanned, silver-haired host, Cam, was a former Christian rock star who had also climbed Mt. Everest — plaques and photos attesting to this were in the hallway. During the day he softly picked out melodies on the piano in his apartment upstairs, a fantastic place with verandas and a billiard table and a giant pantry in the gourmet kitchen. I know this because when I texted him to ask for paper cups, he told me that he was not home but to go right up there and take anything we needed. Now, that’s hospitality.
I rented the King Cam Suite, as it was called, soon after receiving the wedding invitation, but realized fairly late in the game that I would need a rental car. By the time I started trying to get one, the prices of the regular rental companies were through the roof. This is when I found out about Turo, which is the Airbnb of cars. We rented a nice Nissan Sentra from a guy named Will for about $100/day, and he agreed to get us to and from the terminal (because Turo cars are at the owners’ houses rather than at the airport) for $20 each way.
Though Will wore board shorts and an unbuttoned floral shirt and said he had retired from a corporate banking job to move to Hawaii, Jane observed that there was a tightly-wound undercurrent to his vibe. Well, perhaps running a Turo operation isn’t exactly surfing and coconuts. But it’s getting huge in Hawaii. Emma said she’s thinking of getting a car to rent!
Emma asked Jane to be the wedding photographer.
Jane and I got in early so we had one day all to ourselves. Cam’s place was close to the coast, rimmed by one sprawling resort after another as well as public beaches and hiking trails with breathtaking (like, almost scary) cliff views. The Hyatt had the most exquisitely landscaped and gigantic saltwater pool you can imagine, and we were able to slip into it on several occasions before I finally got too bold, posted up on a chaise lounge, tried to order a drink, and got kicked out. Oh well. We also hit the Sheraton and the Marriott as well as the nearby pool and hot tub that came with our rental. We traipsed along golf course paths to get to these places. We shopped at the Big Save in Koloa and I made breakfast chalupas and caprese subs and various salads in our adorable kitchen.
The first organized event of the week was the rehearsal dinner, held at the home of the bride and groom, where a Mexican buffet had been set up in chafing dishes in the garage by a man who calls himself Uncle Stoney, and tables and chairs borrowed from the neighbors were arranged under a tent on the front lawn and in the driveway. There were a lot of people there, and I only knew a handful of them. So here it was that I performed one of the quasi-parental duties I had been hoping for.
I got permission from Chris, who was running the show and orchestrating the playlist from his home deejay booth, to spearhead a round of introductions. I kicked it off by introducing myself as the second ex-wife of Emma’s father, also the mother of her half-sister. Then, to thwart shirkers, I made my way, person by person, around the group of guests, accosting them individually and encouraging them to speak. We met the parents on both sides, of course, as well as a few of the more complicated relations you might expect in the post-blended-family world. The groom’s sister’s husband’s little daughter from his first marriage. The bride’s mother’s second husband’s adult children. The roommate Emma had found on Craigslist. Her intern from a Boulder publishing job, and the groom’s best friend John, from Australia. The great Josh Fu, an ex of Emma’s we all loved, was there with a fiancée he will wed next month.
Like that bat mitzvah, the ceremony was long, but fortunately quite interesting, an unusual combination of New Age, Jewish and Hawaiian traditions that was summed up beautifully by the bride’s father — “Well, *that* wasn’t total bullshit.”
There was a whole table of neighbors from Wailaau Road, the ones who had provided the chairs and loaned their driveways for additional parking. As I said, the Pikesville contingent was somewhat reduced by the failing health of Emma’s Bubby, but there were still plenty of Baltimore Jews in abundance, myself included.
It went well.
The programs were lovely.
Emma and Chris’s wedding was a cellphone- and alcohol-free event held at Kukuiolono Park and Golf Course in Kalaheo, which has a promontory overlooking a spectacular arc of ocean. (The bride confided that the rental of the venue cost $100. Since I used to write about destination weddings for Brides magazine, I can confidently state that this is roughly 1/87th of the typical fee.) The altar was a large circle that framed the view, trimmed with tropical flowers and a prayer shawl the bride’s mother had made her for her bat mitzvah, held at Bolton Street Synagogue in 2001.
The bride and groom entered separately, unaccompanied, to the sounds of Pu Pu Hinuhinu by Rene Paolo (the groom is a Hawaiian music maven). We did mindfulness exercises, led by the yoga-voiced officiant, Sarah. We read a poem in unison. We watched as the bride and groom circled each other seven times, an old Jewish practice, which gave the vague impression they were considering a beatdown. Most intriguing, they did an exercise that was a sort of live-action marriage therapy session. They asked each other three questions, each three times in a row. Tell me a way you avoid connection with me. What’s right about avoiding connection with me? What’s it like when you allow connection with me?
It was intimate and intense. Certainly we had never seen anything like it. There were some very moving moments, like the third time Emma answered the “What’s right” question with a simple “Nothing.”
A life-changing moment in blue blue Hawaii.
And then there were vows, rings, breaking the glass, throwing flower petals, followed by a pescatarian buffet and a mocktail bar that truly defied expectations. Only a bottle of rum could have made it better. Immediately after the ceremony, the bride and groom hid for a while in a lacy teepee that had been constructed some distance from the picnic shelter. They said it was a Jewish tradition to go consummate the marriage immediately but no report was given on whether they actually did so. Then they repaired to their beautifully decorated head table. b
In addition to the friends’ toasts I mentioned, Chris’s parents gave Emma a warm Midwestern welcome and Emma’s mother brought the Pikesville with extended metaphors and l’chaim. My ex-husband Crispin delighted the crowd by reading from the adventures of Rainbow Brite, with whom Emma had been obsessed as a girl, and drawing apt comparisons between his beloved daughter and her heroine. He even found a place for Chris in the myth — as Buddy Blue, Rainbow’s romantic lead.
There were a number of people who were attending the ceremony on Zoom, but connection issues had caused them to miss part of the ceremony. We later heard that a rabbi friend among them entertained the group during that time by singing old Hebrew songs that everyone knows. During the reception, you could go up to the laptop and greet the Zoom attendees, among whom were several grandparents, the bride’s brother, and others who couldn’t make the trip. My son Vince told me he tried to get on from Germany where he was traveling with The Killers but no luck.
Finally, my second quasi-parental duty. The day before the wedding, the woman who was supposed to bake the cake called to cancel because she’d contracted Covid. I was charged with finding a replacement in short order — and on the first try, phoned a place in Lihue that would make just what the bride wanted, a tiered chocolate lillikoi cake decorated with orchids. Then, when the time to cut it arrived and we realized that we had no dessert plates of any kind, Jane and I jumped in the car and found some at a not-so-far-away 7-Eleven, which seemed really lucky considering how spread-out and undeveloped this part of Kaua’i is.
Talk Story, the westernmost bookstore in the U.S., is in Hanapepe.
“Well, *that* wasn’t a complete emotional nightmare,” was the last thing my ex-husband said to me as he and his partner headed out from the beach hangout Emma had organized the day after the wedding, a lovely afternoon at Salt Pond Beach near Hanapepe, the town featured in Lilo and Stitch. Considering that he had not one but two ex-wives and a current partner among the company, perhaps his fears were understandable. But we ladies have no beef with each other, nor him, anymore. In fact, I would say, we admire each other. I certainly admire them.
Actually, the only emotional nightmare came on the way home, which began with waking up at 4:30 am to return the car to Will and get to the airport, then an extended layover in Vegas, finally landing in Baltimore pretty close to 3 a.m. We raced to the courtesy van area where we expected to get a ride to our car at the airport Hyatt. When it didn’t come on the hour as advertised, I called and learned that it wasn’t running. (This parking option costs only $5/day, but if this sort of thing happens a lot, it’s not worth the savings.) We found a taxi to take us over there, by now feeling quite flayed.
I put Home into the GPS, handed it to Jane, and we spent the next half-hour screaming and cursing at each other as the directions took us through parts of Baltimore I had never seen in my life. It was insane. The first landmark I recognized was BCCC, which is located somewhat northeast of my house, while the airport is due south.
It was probably too good to be true that Mozzie and Nooza, as Jane and I used to be known, got along perfectly for our entire trip. Almost! But this was kind of a messy ending. And I blame this grueling, draining, sleepless 24-hour debacle for the depredations to my immune system that have finally resulted in my GETTING COVID!!! Yep. It doesn’t seem that bad, so far, and fortunately I have no major plans that must be cancelled. I already went to Hawaii.
And so, here I am in quarantine, alone with my suntan and my memories, which are pleasant indeed.
The day after the wedding we watched the sunset at the Kukuiula Small Boat Harbor.
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University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of “The Big Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her monthly email at marionwinik.com.
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