Meandering Back in Time, Along Our Mamalahoa Kona Heritage Corridor

For two years I have been wanting to write a post on this “ten mile trip back to Old Hawai’i, where coffee farms and nature flourish on the cool mauka hillside.” The signs have been in place designating this byway for years. I found this old blog post from 2009 sharing that this was Hawaii state’s first scenic byway. It did go on to become a national scenic byway.

Bea’s Knees Farm is about half a mile north of this, on the makai (ocean) side of the road.

For a while there were brochures available detailing its sights and significance; maybe there still are. I recall last seeing them at Kimura’s Lauhala Shop in Holualoa. In this day and age, if there’s a brochure available, surely that is also available online in PDF format, or there’s a website for whoever produced the brochure. I wanted this post to link to that. But I couldn’t find it, so I thought I’d wait and check again later. But I still can’t find the brochure online. So I’ve taken photos of it and included them here.

Bea’s Knees Farm is in the south section of this heritage corridor (the bottom of the bottom half of the map), where Honalo junction, more commonly referred to as Teshima junction, is. This is the Y-type junction where many a tourist coming from the south (e.g., Kealakekua, Honaunau or Volcano) has unintentionally traveled our corridor because they went straight instead of taking the curve and remaining on the main Belt Road.

This junction, looking in the south direction from the byway sign, is famous to locals because of Teshima restaurant, the red Daifukuji buddhist temple, and the utility pole. There have been many collisions, injuries, and two fatalities in the past seven years at or near this utility pole. Just last Thursday, they replaced the wooden utility pole with a giant, metal pole. It almost seems to say, “try and bring THIS down!”

I think this junction keeps UH (Uncle Harold) alive. Improving safety and traffic flow here is his pet cause. He used to work for the California Dept. of Transportation before returning to his roots in Kona. He has written letters to the editor for our local paper, attended many meetings and provided timely comments (& encouraged the ‘ohana to comment) to the Hawaii Dept. of Transportation. He knows how state bureaucracy works.

Today I’ll close with a scene seen on the north end of this byway, as we were heading south. Pau hana. Finish work. End of a productive work day on Friday. Each bag holds roughly 100-150 pounds of coffee cherry.

A Cup of Coffee Memories

The coffee harvesting season mandated that the summer vacation for Kona schools coincided with the “coffee picking season,” to the chagrin of all the students whose parents were farmers. All family members were depended upon to harvest the crop. August, September, and October were the endless coffee picking days of summer. So, we became very astute at finding excuses to steal away a few hours to have fun. But our parents were even more astute to not fall for the daily ploy to escape the work. However, there was one guarantee that never failed to grant our great escape — it rained often during the coffee season! Looking back to those young-kid-days brings back such pleasant memories of family members working together to advance the family economics and fellowship that strengthened the ties that have bonded each family for generations.

“Uncle Ray”

This is an old postcard from United Airlines. The postcard description on the back says, “School vacations coincide with harvests so the youngsters can help to pick coffee beans.”

Jeep Days of Summer

At the end of WWII there was a huge surplus of the all-purpose military vehicle
named the “Jeep” that replaced the pack animal, the “Kona Nightingale” donkey, that carried the 100 pound bags of coffee cherries. Cherries were picked each day and hauled to the pulping machine next to the hoshidana drying platform that every farmer had.

But the Jeep was used for a better purpose on those days when there was a break in coffee picking – the Jeep was our transportation to the beach. With luck on
our side, we survived the Jeep that had no seat belts, no doors, no power brakes,
no power steering, no roof, no ABS, no GPS, and no rational adult behind the wheel.
Those were the fun Jeep days of summer between coffee picking days.

“Uncle Ray”

Bea really liked this story.

I have a few of my own memories of the jeep, different than Uncle Ray’s. Grandpa would take me in his jeep to go pick poha berries (cape gooseberry, not the same as gooseberry; or physalis peruviana) so Grandma could make jam. I don’t remember a door or seat belt in that jeep.

Another memory is when my California-born-and-raised dad drove us in Grandpa’s jeep. When we took the steep road down from the mauka road to the Belt Road, he had trouble getting it into gear as he downshifted. We were picking up speed in neutral, and I could sense the danger with Dad fumbling and scrambling. He did have experience with military jeeps during his army service, so muscle memory came through in the end.

I know we must have photos of Grandpa’s jeep, but I just couldn’t find any yet. So for the moment I had to find a royalty-free image, not even in Hawaii. When searching for an image, I stumbled upon an apparently long-running myth about $50 for a WWII military jeep in a crate.

Uncle Ray Talks Story

[This is Sharlene writing the majority of this; Uncle Ray’s voice comes at the end of this post.]

I grew up on the mainland. I loved going to Hawaii and spending time with the ‘ohana. I’d keep my Hawaiian aloha going when back home in California. As a kid I adored the yellow book, Pidgin to da Max, and I loved listening to cassette tapes of Frank de Lima’s comedy sketches. I danced hula on & off, as a kid and adult. I have quite a few friends with Hawaiian roots and connections.

I share this because I’m not local or kama’aina (born and raised in Hawaii), but I’m familiar with what’s local. I notice and experience things differently than true locals. I will sometimes write and explain things that would be obvious or maybe uninteresting to locals, and sometimes I may even get things a little wrong (if so, please let me know).

In Hawaii, the culture is to call your peers “braddah” and “sistah” and your parents’ peers “uncle” and “aunty.” So, when you and your dad order poke at Umeke’s, da braddah behind the counter might ask your dad, “Uncle, you like brown or white rice wid dat?”

One time I was in the sitting area at Daleco waiting for a new car battery to be installed. I kept hearing, “Aunty! You like eat Cheetos?” “Aunty, you like?” I finally looked up. Oh, they were talking to ME! The three guys behind the counter were having a snack, and good manners dictated they also offer me some. And now the time has come … I’m in the aunty generation.

My friends’ young daughter once told me, “Aunty, no offense, but my mom and dad said your grey hair makes you look old. But no offense.” I think I caught her by surprise with my response, “So why are you telling me then?” I am old. Older than her and many others; younger than others. A meditation mantra I like comes to mind, one I find particularly helpful in acknowledging and accepting our human condition:

I am of the nature to age.
I am of the nature to get sick.
I am of the nature to die.

All this has been a meandering wind-up for the rest of this post and a few upcoming posts. “Uncle Ray” is a Hawaiian uncle, not my blood uncle like Uncle Harold (UH), but a family friend and a peer of Bea’s. During the stay-at-home order (recently loosened to safer-at-home), three of my mom’s generation have been sheltering altogether on their parents’ former coffee farm. I asked them if they had stories to share from the old coffee farm days. Uncle Ray rose to the challenge, giving me several stories.

More Than Just a Coffee Farm
The “coffee land,” as we called the farm, grew more than just coffee. Coffee was the
economic platform on which the family stood. But coffee was only the floor of the
house – the values of a family working together for the good of all created the walls
and roof that sheltered and nurtured the occupants of the house. There were
branches to be pruned, young shoots to be yanked off the tree trunk to prevent
over-growth of branches, fertilizer to be applied, weeds to be dealt with, coffee
berries to be harvested, and the berries to be processed and dried. It was a carefully orchestrated effort with everyone in the family playing a part. The coffee land brewed and fostered robust values of work, ethics, accomplishment, cooperation, appreciation, and enjoyment that created an Arabica brew that was uniquely Kona Coffee.

“Uncle Ray”

Happy (Inter)National Coffee Day

Today, September 29, is National Coffee Day, and International Coffee Day is October 1. Those are good grounds to get me back writing after a social media, and real-life, vacation. The coffee from last season sold out (hurrah!), our current season’s crop is still being picked and processed, and my husband and I visited his family in Norway.

Many years ago we brought some Hawaii family to Norway to experience midsummer and the midnight sun, among other things. A Hawaiian Flat Stanley probably is still hiding unseen in the Lofoten Aquarium; he slid down alongside the glass of a tank when posing for a photo. And in the years afterward, various in-laws have come to Hawaii several times. One young couple even married in Hawaii, with all guests happily coming from Norway in January (except four Americans from our family). Yes, the Hawaiians and Vikings have had some fun times together.

You can reflect for yourself just how different Norway and Hawaii seem. I instantly think cold/winter vs. hot/summer. Northern Norway alternates seasons of no-sun and all-sun, if the weather lets you see the sun. Hawaii has about the same number of hours of daylight all year long. Fishing is a big part of culture and life in both places. Coffee is, too (drinking coffee in Norway; growing coffee in Hawaii).

On this recent trip we brought almost 20 pounds of coffee to share with family and friends. Every household we visited had a Moccamaster coffee machine (a handmade Dutch product), and we were offered coffee at all times of day. I think Norwegians must have the genes that detect caffeine’s bitterness and the genes that quickly metabolize caffeine.

Most Norwegians I met shared that Norway is the, or one of the, top per-capita coffee consumers in the world. Of course, I had to research a bit into where that came from. I couldn’t find any one source, but this one from WorldAtlas in 2018 seems to be oft-referenced. It says Norway is second in per-capita coffee consumption at 9.9 kg/person/year.

I’ve been peripherally following a bit of the Nordic coffee scene for a few months. “Oslo is Scandinavia’s New Coffee Mecca.” I have a fantasy of someday selling some of our green coffee to a Norwegian roaster. On our first full day in Oslo, my husband’s brother took us on a crazy urban bike ride to try coffee at Tim Wendelboe’s cafe in the trendy Grünerløkka neighborhood. Delicious, and it was a treat and experience. Tim Wendelboe is one of the writers for the Nordic Coffee Culture blog, where you can find a 5-part series (with more parts originally intended) about a history of coffee in Norway. I can’t imagine too many of you readers who aren’t Norwegian or married to one are interested in that, but now you know.

Check out the Learn section of Tim Wendelboe’s website. I like the Brewing Guide videos. They’re educational, but they also amuse me. This guy takes his coffee very seriously, but there are these little hints in the videos that show he doesn’t take himself completely seriously. He’s targeting an international audience, given that his website and videos are all in English.

I’ll end this more international- vs. Kona-flavored post on that note. Happy National Coffee Day and an early Happy International Coffee Day.