You might be wondering, so what’s a Midwest gal doing in Hawai’i anyway? Are you kidding? Two years before we moved we had 100 inches of snow. The next year we had 60 inches. We lived on a corner lot, so we had lots of snow acreage. That’s a picture of me hip deep in the stuff trying to reach the back garage door. I hate winter. It’s not just the cold, it’s the duration. In Wisconsin it lasts from December to March.
I hate the boots, mittens, scarves, and winter coats that make you look fatter, overheated malls where you have to take it all off and then lose it, the slop of freshly fallen snow with multiple tire tracks running through it – ugh!
As I approached retirement age, I decided to use our family vacations as a way to explore places to retire. We kept coming back to the Big Island. We all liked it. It really is as simple as that.
But here’s an email I sent to a friend back then that might help you understand my thinking and my feelings.
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2011 8:27 PM Subject: RE: Where are you moving?
We are moving to a little town (population 2000) called Honoka’a on the Big Island of Hawai’i, to the north but still on the wet side of the island. The trade winds come in from the east, so our weather does too. The east sides of the islands are wet, because the trade winds drop whatever moisture is in them as the clouds rise up over the mountains (old volcanos). By the time the wind gets over the volcanos, the moisture has been wrung out, so the west sides of the islands are dry. That is where the tourists go on the Big Island.
The dry side has massive lava fields from eruptions in the 1850’s. The lava is ugly; very little is growing on it yet – a few tufts of grass here and there, enough for the wild goats and donkeys to eat and survive. But it’s also the side with beaches, dry weather, cruise ship stops, nightlife, and touristy things to do. That’s not what interests me. I want to live on the lush tropical green side of Hawai’i. Life is authentic here, not just focused on the tourists. You see the real Hawai’i.
I was looking for a small town. We could have settled in Hilo, the second largest city in the whole state at 47,000 people. (Only Honolulu on Oahu is bigger at just under a million.) But Hilo gets too much rain – over 100 inches every year. It is 50 minutes away by car, so we can get there when we want to shop the bigger stores. But Hilo was not close enough to the school we chose for the girls.
In fact, we chose the school first; everything else had to fit around that. The school is in Waimea, but I didn’t want to live there. It’s a cattle ranching town at 2500 feet, much of it and the surroundings dry and scrubby. In fact, it is home to one of the largest cattle ranches in the whole United States. And because Waimea is at the low point between two extinct volcanoes, the wind blows fiercely all the time, with nothing to break it except the occasional tree among the cattle in the pastures. What’s the point of moving to Hawai’i and then living in Wyoming?
Honoka’a is 17 miles to the east and down the mountain at 1000 feet – still high enough to avoid any tsunamis. The town was built around the sugar cane crop, with small plantation camps all around. When the sugar industry collapsed in the 1990’s, Honoka’a was left to die. But people were loyal, and it has managed to survive.
I can’t get over how quaint the town is. It doesn’t even have a stoplight and only one four-way stop. The guide books describe it as stepping back into the 1950’s. We have no big box stores. Our post office is tiny; it doesn’t even deliver mail in town. It’s closed at lunch and is only open for one hour on Saturday. But it’s only two blocks from our house, so it will not be a big deal to pick up our mail.
In fact, everything is close to us except for the girls’ school and the church we will attend. We are one block off the main street, and within walking distance of the community pool, our bank, library, fresh vegetable stand, downtown shops, grocery store, four restaurants, my yoga class, and the movie house. The movie theater was built in 1930 and brings somewhat recent releases every week for $6 as well as live music.
I love the hardware store. It looks like a movie set – cement floors worn smooth with decades of use, an old wooden stand of drawers filled with individual screws, nuts and bolts, narrow crowded aisles filled to capacity, stuff hanging from the ceiling and loft. You almost expect to see a wooden barrel with a checkers game set on it, except the third generation owners are Japanese and they’d more likely set out Go or the Japanese version of Mahjong.
Despite its small size, it has everything you might need or want, and the owner and his daughter can put their hands right on it. They even have some things a Home Depot or Lowes wouldn’t have, such as the new washboards in the front window just like my grandma used. They still hand-write receipts on pads with carbon paper, add up your purchases with an adding machine, and package your purchases in little paper bags. Like the post office right across the street, they are closed at noon while they eat lunch at their home behind the store. And even though much handiwork gets done on the weekend, you better get there before noon on Saturday, because they are closed for the rest of the weekend – they need a weekend break too.
A block away, I plan to get spoiled by Ted’s Garage: they still pump gas for you. There’s no extra charge for the service, and I know that because his gas is always the same price as the brand name station across the street that doesn’t pump gas. At Ted’s they’ll also check your oil and fill your tires with air for a nominal fee. Ted also conducts the car safety inspections required in Hawai’i though it’s clear he’d rather be under a hood, tinkering with someone’s car in the garage.
The town feels safe. The former owner of our house didn’t even have locks on the doors! I had to install them before renting it out. I think I’ll be okay with Faye or Jade going to the grocery store or veggie stand alone. That is a big deal to me because we don’t allow them to go around the block here in Racine, and they are 12 and 16!
I bought the house last summer and have been renting it out since. It’s a vintage 1935 plantation house originally built for the post master on a double lot. After our experience with our 1904 home in Wisconsin, BG said he’d never own another house that was older than he was. That’s why I bought it myself; that and the fact that he wasn’t ready to commit money to this adventure a year ago. But the day we went to the house to take a second look and take measurements, he went to the hardware store and bought a tape measure and a brass ring. Handing me the ring, he said, “Go for it!” He was in if I wanted to take the plunge!
I was glad to see that the house was upgraded with new hurricane fortifications and electrical wiring in 1995 – the old system would not have run the hot tub and modern appliances and electronics. It has two big lanais (covered porches) and you can see the ocean from the backyard. The former owner planted lots of exotic (that is, local) plants and eleven palm trees. She owned a garden center in Honoka’a, and when it closed she filled her yard. It’s like a botanical garden – everything but a vegetable plot, but I plan to change that. With a year-round growing season, I will want fresh veggies of my own.
We’ll see if we like small town life – we’ve never done this before. But I’ve never been retired before either. It’s hard to believe that I will actually retire before 60. This has been a dream of mine for a long time. Dream isn’t the right word. This is my philosophy – I believe that we can all create our own futures. I believe in journaling, writing down goals, creating a vision board, asking a Higher Spirit for help, showing gratitude for blessings, and thinking positively. And yes, I know some might think it’s hocus-pocus. But I truly believe that I created this new reality.
The scary thing now is what’s next? I’ve focused all my time planning how to end chapter two of my life. I haven’t spent any time figuring out what I’m going to do now that I’ll be retired, except to reconnect with the girls before they go off to college. I’ve been so busy with my career and being the main bread-winner that I’ve missed much in their lives. And it will be interesting for BG to have the main job again, maybe the only job in the family.
BG is sure I will be bored and looking for a job in no time. I’m not so sure about that – I feel burned out. I told him I would spend the first three months on my backside reading multiple novels. But then what? Where will I volunteer? Do I want to get a job? What is my next life’s passion? I have no idea. For decades I’ve defined myself as a manager, and now I have to do a total mind-shift. But I do know it will be an interesting journey. I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing in this third chapter of my life.
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