A Dedication to My Grandmother in Laupahoehoe, Hawaii

Celebrating Grandma Navalta’s Life with the Fernandez-Navalta Family

I love my family. ❤️ This is last time we’ll all be together at my grandma’s house as we’ve come to know it. It’s been a tough week of saying goodbye to my grandma and going through all of her things, but the major plus was that we were all able to be here to do it together. As loud and crazy and out of control as this family is, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

‘Twas a week of literal blood (lava rock gashes, ocean wave body slams, stepping on rusty nails), sweat (hello, labor in a tiny house in 112% humidity), and tears.

We spent the first couple of days on the island cleaning my grandma’s house (rat poop/destruction, cockroaches, termites) and running through a preliminary sorting of her things. (Let me tell you, I’m going straight home and dumping everything I don’t need. Hoarding seems to run in the family.) Although it made for a really intimidating task, I had such an amazing time looking at all of her mementos, photographs, letters, notes. I found so much family history amongst the rubble. (Grandma, why was your marriage certificate and children’s birth certificates stashed in a pile of old newspapers?? Why did you have my old Souplantation nametag?)

However, in all of the strife in going through the nonsense, I realized how invaluable it is to keep these little mementos, make little notes, save little letters. So bear with me as I document this week that we just had.

Thursday afternoon was the viewing for immediate family. I’ve never seen my family like that. It was so hard to see my grandma. I kept expecting her to wake up and give us that shrill, shrieking laugh of hers. Another one of Grandma’s mean pranks. (Aunty Jenny, remember when she pretended not to remember you after recognizing me at the home? I’ll never forget her hunched snicker as she turned to me to share the joke.)

Friday was the funeral. The entire family, family friends. Folks coming in, sobbing, telling us how much they loved our grandma. The final goodbye.

We went back to the Hilo house to “talk story”. My Aunty Criselda went straight to the kitchen and whipped up enough homemade pancit and pinakbet to feed a small army.

Later in the evening, we played our family favorite “Spoons” with chopsticks. A game that usually turns very violent for us — even scarier with splintered wood! I almost peed my pants.

Saturday. Back to Grandma’s house in Laupāhoehoe. The siblings needed to go through all of the things in the house, the husbands needed to do patchwork on the rat-attacked house. I realized my stress in throwing things out earlier in the week was warranted when Aunty Jenny held up an old, banged up sheet of metal in triumph and exclaimed, “THE TOASTER!!!!” I would have thrown that out if I’d gotten to it. So, I took the cousins + guest, Chase (all 11 of us 😬) in our rental van down the hill to Laupāhoehoe Point (where we spent many a childhood summer climbing the rocks and splashing in the water) to keep us out of the way. I can’t even explain the feeling that I had as we all jumped off the boat dock and swam around in the ocean together, or the feeling that I had as I watched (yes, I just watched) ALL of the cousins work together to build a “wall” to keep the waves from knocking over the youngest, 5yo Cheyenne. I wish my grandma was there to see.

My Uncle Wendell takes us to the place where my grandpa used to fish and where he drowned at the the age of 69 as he swam out to a distant rock carrying 70-lbs of opihi attached to his waist.

Grandpa would wake up at 2am on nights where he had the feeling that the fish were out there. He would go out in pitch black (new moons, especially), no flash light, and scale the lava rocks/boulders down at Laupahoehoe Point and come back with a huge catch of all of the best, highly-prized fish (nenue, manini, kolekole, aholehole, etc.)

Uncle Wendell showed us how Grandpa used to spot the fish, told us how LONG he would wait for the perfect opportunity to throw (2-3 hours of watching the water for the shadows and the following glimmer to all coincide in one spot), and showed us how difficult it is to get that net to open when we’re even standing on flat, steady ground. My grandpa was pretty badass.

In the evening, the “adults” had a meeting to discuss the fate of the deteriorating house. The little cousins organized a game of hide-and-seek (they’d been asking me to play all week, but I really liked eating and sitting around a lot better). I finally gave in and we had ourselves a 10-cousin game of hide-and-seek going in the 7b, 6.5ba historic mansion. Ages spanning from 28 to 8 running rampant up and down the stairs, laughter and screams filling the house for TWO HOURS. I can’t even. Who am I. But whatever. My heart is full. I love them (even though we have cheaters in the family. Cough Dana cough Meli.)

Sunday, back to Grandma’s house to keep going through her things. We are allowed to go through grandma’s handmade shirts and dresses and take whatever we like. I went a little bit crazy. I wish I appreciated her work more as a kid. It’s really amazing, her artistry. 

The “kids” play games and take walks outside. My Uncle Wendell tries to catch a chicken with the throw net. The Betz kids and Uncle Mike go back to Oahu.

Monday, the Nehls fly back to Michigan, the Padillas and Navaltas and Aunty Jenny go back to Grandma’s house to sift through the last of the things.

Everyone has flown back to their respective homes and I am staying the last couple of days on the other side of the island in Kona to unwind. Leaving the Big Island has always been emotional for me and I am fearful to leave because I know it will be even more so this time around. This place carries so much genuine heart and soul and I’m appreciative of every experience that I have here, especially when the whole family is involved.

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