Saving the Ham for Portuguese Bean Soup

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“I know this sounds lame but do you have traditional Hawaiian food at Thanksgiving?” wrote a New York buddy of mine in a text message.

“What?” I replied back. I knew what he meant. I chuckled.

“You know…like the pork and the poy. All that stuff,” he wrote.

“Ohh. Actually no. We do Turkey/Ham/Mash. The usual. Poi would be nice tho,” I replied. He sent an “LOL” back.

Thanksgiving 2010 was my first celebration with my family in seven years. Let’s think about that for a second: The last time that I spent Thanksgiving with my family, I was 17 years of age and nervous I wouldn’t make it to college. Back in 2003, we went to my first cousin’s grandmother’s house out in Ewa. Between the little kids running around, the dog chasing the cats, and the hearty¬†wala’au, the home became a hub for all things turkey and family. Without fail, someone brought tako poke.

In the years that followed, I would spend my Thanksgiving with dear family friends in Hamilton, New Jersey. The traditions changed a bit: The cadre of little kids were replaced with the athletes of Hamilton’s stauch rival high schools at the traditional Thanksgiving morning football game. There were no dogs or cats (not until late 2008). No one brought tako poke to the table. Only the lively conversation among family and friends remained the same. I also discovered what it’s like to be cold during Thanksgiving. In fact, it snowed in Hamilton this year.

Fast forwarding from 2003 to 2010, Thanksgiving felt familiar and commemorative. I made a glazed ham while my father watched football, I helped my mother load the car with our potluck contributions, and then we headed out to–you guessed it–Ewa. Despite the familiarity of the process, I felt out of place. Why wasn’t I at Penn Station waiting for the express New Jersey Transit train? Who would bring the string bean casserole? Am I actually perspiring? In November?!

When we arrived at the house in Ewa, I marveled at how things were only a touch different. The uncles still sat in the garage on folding chairs while watching the kids, now young adults and teenagers, skateboard and play catch in the driveway. There was a new dog named Angel and the cat (the only one left) seemed to have suffered an injury to her tail in her old age. The used-to-be baby was now able to formulate full sentences and the Igloo coolers still chilled all of our favorite Hawaiian Sun drinks, but what is this? Hawaiian Sun Green Tea with Lychee? Since when!

Over guava juice and food devoured using chopsticks (no side comments about this old time habit!), the conversation fluttered. I also rediscovered that local people like to joke a lot; something this once uber-serious city slicker forgot about. “Ho! You sound so ha’ole! Haha!” I realized it was okay to laugh again, especially at my own expense.

At the end of the meal, everyone sat around and continued to wala’au. Without fail, the Kanack Attack struck and someone fell asleep on the couch. This year’s Kanack Attack Award went to TWO awardees; my cousin’s wife and my father. As always, the grandmothers and mothers mulled about the kitchen “making plates,” the redistribution process of the leftovers. As always, the ladies faux-argued, each one suggesting that the other keep all the food. The only real request came from my mother, “Is the ham bone still around? I wanna make a variation on Uncle Ed’s Portuguese Bean Soup!” Uncle Ed’s “Pocho Bean Soup” should never be altered as it is the best on the island. However, the beauty of the family unit is the unconditional love shared, especially in the event of blaspheme against a perfect recipe.

Though I miss my Hamilton friends and the holiday fanfare of New York City, I can say with great confidence that it is good to be home. The time spent with my family fulfilled my desire to feel rooted again.

And where else can you wear rubber slippers ALL DAY on Thanksgiving?!

Lucky we live Hawai’i.