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An aloha Christmas

It’s that time of year when we are becoming increasingly worried about what a certain person might think of us. And no, I don’t mean that ex whom you recently friended on Facebook.

Santa Claus is finalizing his “naughty or nice” list, a task made infinitely easier by the latest spreadsheet software. I hope that Santa has protected his computer from hackers and viruses. On the other hand, I’ll have a plausible excuse if I land on the wrong side of the ledger.

A dozen years ago, my wife and I must have secured a spot on the “nice” list because we got to spend Christmas in Hawaii.

Our youngest son, Chris, was in college at the time. He discovered that SDSU had an exchange program with the University of Hawaii at Manoa that would enable him to spend a semester attending classes at Manoa. It seemed like a great program, although I doubt that many Hawaiians swapped a semester in paradise for a semester on the barren tundra.

The plan was for Chris to stay with his cousin Adam, who is an Army nurse and was to be stationed on Oahu. Adam is like a third son to my wife and me. He and Chris are more like brothers than cousins.

Much to my surprise, the boys managed to turn their plans into reality. Chris flew to Hawaii, stayed with Adam and attended classes at UH Manoa, where his blonde hair and blue eyes put him in a minority.

My wife had always wanted to experience Hawaii, so we decided to visit the Aloha State at the conclusion of the fall semester. This happened to coincide with Christmastime.

It was a long, long journey from our doorstep to Adam’s house. I love flying, so I spent the flight with my nose glued to the window. My wife hates flying, so she spent the flight gripping the armrest and muttering a rosary. And she’s a life-long Lutheran.

Neither of us got any sleep. We were beyond exhausted when we finally arrived at Adam’s place. Minutes after setting down our suitcases, my wife and I plopped onto a bed and fell into a coma.

We awoke some hours later to discover that the boys had decided to go out. Adam, thoughtfully, had left us a note that began, “Dearest old people…”

What could we say? Guilty as charged.

Our week in Hawaii consisted of cramming in as many touristy activities as possible.

We went to the North Shore and watched towering waves crash onto the beach. A few crazy people were trying to use planks to ride atop the frothy mountains of water. I guess that living in paradise doesn’t present enough challenges, so folks have to invent their own.

As we dined at an open-air restaurant, a jungle fowl sauntered in and checked under the tables for crumbs. At Adam’s urging, I tried sushi for the first time. It wasn’t bad; it tasted like fish.

Somewhere in downtown Honolulu, we drove past a giant fiberglass likeness of Santa and Mrs. Claus. Santa had taken off his boots and was giving passersby the “hang loose” hand signal that’s popular among surfers. We now know where Santa spends his offseason. Smart man!

It felt strange to experience a Yuletide without cold or snow. It was weird to drive past palm trees that shimmered with Christmas lights. It seemed odd to look out the window and see rainbows instead of snowdrifts.

Topping our “must see” list was a stop at the USS Arizona Memorial. We and the other visitors stood in reverent silence as we contemplated that white wall etched with all those names. We didn’t go to services while we were in Hawaii but visiting the Memorial felt like attending church.

Our time in Hawaii whipped by at lightspeed. We shared a final meal with Adam at a restaurant near Honolulu International Airport, a repast that was doubly poignant. We were merely leaving a balmy, sun-drenched paradise, but Adam would soon be shipping out for a deployment to a warzone.

My wife wept as we bade Adam farewell. Something was wrong with my throat because I found it difficult to speak. Chris and Adam simply hugged each other; words were insufficient.

Santa must have heard our entreaties because everything turned out exceedingly well. Adam is married now, and he and his wife have four children. Chris graduated with honors, got married and has a fulfilling career.

My wife began to cry once again when landed back at Joe Foss Field and stumbled out of the terminal. Because there was about two feet of snow atop our car.

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