Editor's Note: The following appeared as a Clippings piece in the Addison Independent.
There’s something about a hula dance that speaks volumes in ways that words don’t.
So it was at my uncle’s wedding this past week in Oahu, Hawaii that the most memorable moment came when my uncle’s bride to be took his hand in the midst of the ceremony, walked down from center stage to the first pew and sat while a middle-age Hawaiian woman came out to sing or chant the mele.
But it was more than a song. As the woman filled the chapel with her booming tenor in native Hawaiian dialect, Fran, at 61, also took center stage and began a hula directed toward my uncle. As the Hawaiian woman sang the mele, Fran interpreted the native Hawaiian words with that amazingly fluid movement and expressions of the hands, hips, eyes, heart and soul.
It was a surprise for the congregation as well as the seven of us in the wedding party, and it set the wedding apart in a special way that we’ll all remember.
The dance was perhaps made more enchanting because Fran, the Reverend Doctor (the PhD-kind), as her congregation of this Methodist church sometimes calls her, has lived on the islands for about eight years as a minister in Hilo on the big island, and now on Oahu, yet she has been keen to pick up and cherish many of the Hawaiian customs. And perhaps it was special, too, as it was my 73-year-old uncle’s first marriage.
Yea, he waited a while .... for someone real special, we joked with him. It just took him a bit longer than most.
And it was not for a lack of trying. My early memories of my uncle were of him as a young man in Los Angeles, a U.S. Marine who was fit, strong and adventurous. He told us brief tales of survival training and travel abroad and we boys were as mesmerized as we were eager to get older so we could test ourselves in similar feats of daring-do. He lived in a big house that looked out on the Pacific Ocean with another bachelor and three things have stuck in my mind ever since: he had a gigantic tortoise (slow moving but you could practically ride it!), both my uncle and his friend could play fun, swinging hits on their piano, and Amanda. She was Swedish, blonde and was living in this hip American city in the early ’60s. It was hot then, so it must have been our summer vacation, but my brothers and I were flushed for other reasons as well. He had it made, we thought.
A major in the reserves, he worked as a stock broker first in LA, then moved to Oahu at the tag end of the ’60s to settle in for what has been more than four decades. I visited him there at 18 for three weeks, again at 25 for a couple of weeks, and a couple times here and there since. Each time, he’s been dating someone, but never took the leap.
He and Fran, Francis actually, met at the Methodist Church. She being a minister and he being an active lay person in his own church in Kaneohe. They’ve been dating for several years, and we’ve gotten to know them as a couple best when they’ve joined us at the family cabin in Colorado for our annual two-to-three week hiking vacations that some of our spouses have lovingly called the “fat-farm.” (We do burn a few calories on the 15-to 20 mile day hikes that are part of our family heritage.)
My uncle, Walter, has been kind (and he’s 73), so their walks have been more casual, but apparently equally endearing. It was there at the family cabin a couple years ago that my uncle gathered us together in the living room with the wood fire blazing on a cool evening and announced their engagement to our stunned silence.
Amazing, as my mother said. She didn’t think her brother was ever going to tie the knot and had given up on him years ago, she said. (Family: what can you say; the truest friends, but also the harshest critics.)
So it was that the invitation came this fall for the late January wedding. It gave me a break from Vermont’s winter, and was an excuse to use up as many frequent flier miles as I needed for my flight as well as my three daughters (one still in Brooklyn and the other two now in Colorado). So we made a quick vacation out of the event. Saw the sights, walked and sunned on Waikiki, drove to the North Shore and watched in awe as surfers braved waves 10-15 feet high, body surfed and did those family things (rehearsal dinners and such) that made it all that much more special.
We met her two children: Grace, a junior at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, and six-foot-seven Ben, a first-year PhD candidate in chemistry at Colorado State University in Fort Collins; and we bonded as well as any family does in a short time, making plans to get together in Colorado this coming summer with any luck. As a fellow groomsman, Ben and I were bonded by that on-stage performance and mandatory rehearsals and by our matching blue Hawaiian short-sleeve shirts that we wore with tan khakis as the official wedding attire (you got to love that!)
But now, 10 days later, it was the hula dance that says the most to me about their wedding. Through the grace of movement, she expressed the opening of one’s heart to another, the invitation to join her and walk life’s paths together, the promise of joy and happiness. They joined the wedding party afterward and read their rites to each other, kissed and made it official, but the hula had said it all moments before and in ways that are etched in our minds more than words can be remembered.
The chant or song is called a mele. The hula dramatizes or comments on the mele.