The Hoolauae Street Challenge

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - December 07, 2005

The day after Thanksgiving my wife, the high-strung Filipina, rushed out of the house at 6:30 in the morning.

No, she wasn’t on her way to the mall. Her destination? The Pearl City Home Depot, where, she said, the first shipment of Christmas trees would go on sale at 7 a.m.

As my 11 regular readers know, the high-strung Filipina takes her Christmas trees very, very seriously. Thus, when she arrived at Home Depot and was told that the trees would not go on sale until 9 a.m., she grabbed her place in line and waited.

In fact, I don’t know what she did, but I can somehow picture her walking up and down beside the store’s cache of trees, eyeing them critically, even ravenously.

I do know, however, that she called the Hoolauae Street gang to save them a trip down the hill until 9 a.m.

My 11 regular readers know the Hoolauae Street gang as well - Uncle Richard and Aunty Pat, retired school teachers and part-time, calabash grandparents; my former colleague gone to the dark side, Uncle Ned (he left UH-West Oahu to become a UH Manoa Mandarin) and lovely wife Kamaile, and the Matiases, John and Pauline.

John holds the record as a Farrington High School baseball player and Hawaii Islander for the most home runs hit in the old Honolulu Stadium. He also boasts a reputation for one of the most heavily decorated houses in Christmas-time Honolulu.

Every year one newspaper or another lists it as a “must see” for those who appreciate gift wrapped homes.

So, anyway, at 9 a.m., the Matiases, the Oyamas and Pohai - daughter-in-law of Uncle Ned (he and his good wife are on sabbatical in Korea; all Manoa faculty, it seems to me, are always on sabbatical somewhere or another) - and the high-strung Filipina dive into the Home Depot trees and begin their search for the perfect tree.

Five perfect trees. For the Matiases, Uncle Richard them, Pohai, the high-strung Filipina, and - well - an East Honolulu physician and his wife. “We’ve seen the quality of their work,” says the Kahala matron, who engaged the Hoolauae Street gang’s services. “They pick out nice trees.”

It isn’t easy. It took 90 minutes of looking at dozens, nay scores of trees, from every angle, every perspective. “Turn it this way,” said Pauline. “Now that way,” said the Filipina. “It’s not full enough on that side,” said Aunty Pat. Another discard for some less sophisticated tree picker to purchase.

The women choose; Uncle Richard holds. “You try standing in line, holding two trees at a time, three women looking at them,” he says. “There’s no scratching, no hair-pulling. They work as a team, but they’re picky.”

As the morning wanes, finally five Christmas trees have met the ladies’ high standards. Uncle Richard, dirty, his shirt wet with perspiration, ties the last tree and loads it onto his pickup truck.

“Now wasn’t that fun?” says the high-strung Filipina.

“No,” says Uncle Richard. But Uncle Richard may not find happiness back on Hoolauae Street. There’s tension there this holiday season. You can feel it in the festive air, and it’s all about decorations.

Seems there’s a new kid on the block: Kanekoa, Pohai’s husband, resident with his family this year in his Korean-fled father’s house. For years his dad, product of an uptight East Coast upbringing, kept Christmas decorations to a minimum while his sons looked longingly across the street at Uncle John Matias’s joyful display of the season.

This year Kanekoa will not be denied. He gave a hint of what was to come at Halloween. He ran a line from his house to a utility pole, attacked a deflated basketball with a white sheet over it, rigged a pulley system, and ran it back and forth across the yard at night. “He put up pumpkin lights, little ghosts,” says a neighbor who prefers to remain anonymous. “We knew then that at Christmas he’d be a contender.”

Contend he has. By the weekend after Thanksgiving he’d strung icicles from every eve on the house, draped every tree and shrub with colored lights, and found a plastic Santa Claus or two.

Uncle Jim, another Hoolauean, rose to the challenge. One recent Saturday he climbed up and down his roof (“For at least 10 hours,” says a neighbor) building a platform on which he placed three reindeer. “I now have seven animals,” he boasts. “Six reindeer: three on the roof, three on the ground - and a moose.”

He admits feeling a challenge from the youthful Kanekoa, but insists he is not making a run at neighbor Matias. “I stand in awe of Mr. Matias,” he says. “We all do. On the other hand, we can plug in the vacuum cleaner and at least one other appliance during the holiday season.”

Kanekoa agrees: “Uncle John has set a standard I can only aspire to. Besides, I don’t have the pocketbook.”

Uncle Richard did not add any lights this year. “I have my own standards and I stick to them,” he says, looking enviously around the neighborhood.

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