The Midnight Sun

October 22, 2007 04:00 pm

There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone’’ called The Midnight Sun. It’s a disaster because it’s the hottest day ever. The paintings are melting and there’s a sluggish kind of pandemonium trudging through the city. At the end of the episode, as the main character expires, she wakes up in her dark living room. The world is not burning up, but is frozen. The city is covered in snow and ice.

The chilly weather that is approaching, threatening the tips of our ears, fingers and toes makes me long for my warm childhood. I’m getting sentimental about sunburn. I guess that I am thankful that I grew up in a warm climate, but I’m sure when I settle in Hawaii, I’ll tell stories about the magical feeling of frostbite.

Certain warm stories comfort us. I probably spent most weekends in the 80s and many in the 90s under a small tree at Magic Island beach park. My grandma would spread out her soft flowery sheets and her dark wool army blankets on the grass.

We lugged lawn chairs and golf umbrellas from our cars. The kids could not resist plunging their hands into the big cooler filled with ice to shake the freezing drops on each other.

My grandma would set up her small black hibachi to cook teriyaki which had been soaking for at least a day while all the kids went to the beach until lunch was ready. All of us ran to the ocean — the diapered and the divers, the beachcombers and the architects of turreted sand castles.

This was our weekly family potluck. Aunty picked up Chinese noodles, someone made a pot of rice, Uncle brought Zippy’s chili. I wrapped my arms around chilled bowls of macaroni salad, and placed them in the big cooler, the sound of the plastic hinge I still remember. If we were lucky, Grandma brought us Hawaiian food like poi or kulolo and maybe someone brought shoyu poke. She used to carry this kind of food in her big purse and if I ever found the packages while I looked for a tissue, I begged her for a taste whether we were on a bus or at the bank.

At the beach park, we crossed our fingers that Uncle Tom would show up later with a white box full of pastries and doughnuts from King Bakery or another local bakery. He also always brought a hand of bananas or some other fruit to even things out. The entire afternoon, he would play his ukulele, tell jokes and stories and philosophize about the state of the Hawaiian people.

As the hibachi smoke spread through the busy, breezy park, people got interested. It was family policy to offer our food to anyone who looked hungry — sometimes it was a little kid wrapped in a big towel, detached from their family somehow, and sometimes it was a homeless person under an adjacent tree.

My mom would make the plate and she was not stingy about it. One of the kids, sometimes it was me, would deliver the food. We were to say to enjoy, ask them what they wanted to drink and tell them that there was dessert.

I never thought this was strange or made us good people, it was just a part of our understanding of eating that anyone was invited. To this day, my family home is booked with visitors and they are always offered an enormous spread each night for dinner. A friend stayed with my family on the Big Island last year and he still craves the food they made him. He called last week saying that maybe next time he’s in La Grande, we’ll get poke — a “salad” made usually of fresh raw fish, seaweed and a variety of seasonings — delivered. Apparently, there’s a website.

And it’s such a good feeling that our visitors bring us food too — sometimes big shopping bags full of packages from Chinatown containing char siu, moon cake and roast pork; a pink box full of Leonard’s malasadas; Zippy’s apple napples; rice cake; cream puffs from Lilia bakery (chocolate and vanilla); heavy bags of lychee; mandarin oranges; fresh carrots; full heads of lettuce; avocados; and all kinds of other things.

Back at Magic Island, my mother would pass out the chopsticks. Uncle Tom would offer a long rambling prayer in Hawaiian with a translation and a list of what he thought we should be thankful for — the piece of hair on my baby sister’s head that would not stay flat, the sunny day, all of our friends. We would eat on Grandma’s blankets — our wet salt water hair drying in the wind and the sun. Sharing is an abundant vegetable.



Eden is the news assistant at The Observer. Ono is the Hawaiian word for delicious. People say onolicious for something that is doubly good. Send cold weather recipes and food stories to:
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