MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 65 – Sunset Beach
One afternoon, returning from their search, Billy ran excitedly up the steps taking them three at a time, and into our room, almost as excited as I had ever seen him, except when the babies were born.
He and Rusty had been riding along the ‘Kam’ Highway outside of another little ocean town on the North Shore called Wiamea when they had seen a sign saying, ‘New Houses for Rent’. A tall, thick hedge hid the houses, so they quickly found a place to turn into the narrow hidden road that ran parallel to the highway. Both of them were excited when they found four redwood ‘A’ frame houses, two complete and two still under construction, sitting together on a lot that backed up to the beach, but reality soon set in and they decided that no way could they afford these houses on a lieutenant’s pay. Although Billy, ever the optimist, insisted that Rusty stop the car, and they got out and followed a trail back to a Quonset hut sitting under the palm trees overlooking the beach. An older, partially gray haired woman, with skin so tanned by the sun she seemed to be made of leather came out of the hut to greet them, and observing by their uniforms that they were officers, she asked if they wanted to see the houses. They explained that they had only so much to pay for rent but had decided to stop by just for the fun of it, never imagining that they could afford what she would be asking. She then told them that her husband was a doctor, and that they spent most of their weekends at the beach with their two teen-age sons who were dedicated surfers. They had been having problems with ‘squatters’, probably surfers with no jobs, camping out on their unused land, so they decided to add to their income and rid themselves of the unwelcome boarders by building these houses to rent to officers and their families. She went on to say they had just put out the sign that morning and Billy and Rusty were the first to stop who fit the profile of the type of tenant that were hoping for. She continued and said that she was as delighted as they were to rent to two families with young children, and she even went as far to say that arrangements were possible to make the rent affordable. I am sure that Billy charmed her from the very first, as he did everyone else, and she seemed excited about the prospect of having the children around, and even said that we could have a dog.
The houses were identical with the exception that one had red carpet in the great room and one had cream. The entire front of the house was glass with sliding doors leading to a lanai that faced the small road and hedge. There was a nice modern kitchen down one side of the house, which led back to two small bedrooms, and right inside the side door was a staircase that led to a loft, a larger master bedroom, and a small powder room with toilet and sink. The only drawback was that the only bathtub was in the larger downstairs bath, which would be an inconvenience, but both Rusty and Billy did not take much convincing that they were about the luckiest officers on the island that day. The timing had been perfect, the price was right, whatever was inconvenient was of no importance, and they knew that Trish and I would be just as excited as they were. They had found two houses, right next door to each other, on Sunset Beach! As if life mandated that we be neighbors here as we had at Benning, our children would have each other to play with, and even more importantly, Trish and I would have someone to rely on in emergencies.
By then our car and household goods had arrived, and both men could hardly wait to take us out to see the houses. Billy said that he would arrange with the Quartermaster warehouse to have furniture delivered on Monday, and we could be sleeping in our little A-frame by Monday night!
With Trish and Rusty following in their car, Billy led the way down the highway that ran through the pineapple fields towards the north shore of Oahu. We passed the booth in the middle of the pineapple fields that our waiter aboard the Lurline had told us about, where the tourist in buses and rented jeeps could stop for fresh, ice-cold pineapple served on a stick, much like a Popsicle. Just as we had anticipated the price was prohibitive on our already stretched budget, but later Billy remembered that the waiter had told us that by the time he left work for the evening, he could stop at the booth just as they wanted to close up for the day. By this time, they would sell him the ‘perfectly ripe’ pineapple for next to nothing, and if I remember correctly, I believe they charged him a quarter for about half a dozen large slivers, since it was too ripe to last another day, but just right for our supper. We ate so much pineapple I thought surely we would tire of it, but that never happened.
Anyway at the end of the pineapple fields, Billy turned right staying on the ‘Kam’ Highway, and we passed through the delightfully old-fashioned village of Wiamea where wooden buildings with tin roofs looked like they would blow away in a high wind, and in fact, probably had many times in the past. A large Bay protected a public beach, pristine with white sand, and huge palm trees for shade, so perhaps this was the reason the flimsy-looking buildings were still standing. The sidewalks were of board and stood atop pilings sunk into the ground, and later I learned that was because of the sticky red mud when it rained, much like our own red clay in Georgia, but the village was a native treasure and typically Hawaiian. I tried to see what kind of stores were there and found, much to my surprise, a general store, a much smaller version of Moore’s Store in Dahlonega, and I thought that perhaps they would carry fabric so that could make curtains since I hoped to save some money by doing so. As we left the village, to the right ran a narrow road and a sign saying ‘Wiamea Falls’, which I knew that Billy and I would eventually have time to explore, but like living in Washington, D.C., you never see the nearby sights until guests come and you visit with them. Regretfully, we never did get there.
About ten or twelve miles from Wiamea, Billy turned onto what looked like a service road that ran parallel to the highway, behind a tall hedge, and there, on our left, stood the A-frame houses. Obviously new with red dust for yards, the houses were larger than I expected, and I thought surely much more than we could afford. Billy had promised that they were within our budget, but I knew that I should not have listened to him since his definition of budget was whenever we ran out of money, and he simply could not make it stretch over an entire month. Often, in the past, he had depended on his father to get us over a tight spot, but I just had a feeling that with Ruth at the helm, there would be little, if any, help coming from Eugene in the future. It would all be up to us now, and in a way I was glad that he no longer had his father to depend on, and that maybe, just maybe, he would learn to budget.
We could hear the roar of the ocean from the houses so we walked back past the two houses under construction that were sited not quite directly behind the two in the front, rather angled a bit to the side, then up a small sand dune. There we found the doctor’s Quonset hut sheltered from the sun by huge palm trees where Billy and Rusty had met our landlord’s wife just hours before. Beyond the hut, was a forest of large rocks protruding from the golden sand but on closer inspection, I found that the sand was not sand at all, but tiny, tiny shells that did not stick to my hands as sand would. I wish that I could find the words to describe my first reaction to the ocean at Sunset Beach, but again they fail me because of the magnificence. The huge waves crashed with a foamy rush about fifty yards from shore onto a hidden coral reef, and the rushing of the foaming maelstrom turned into a docile whish of water once it hit the beach, and then quickly rushed back into the sea, only to begin the same cycle over and over again. There were quiet tidal pools filled with all manner of sea life, and where the reef ended, the water was that clear deep aqua that we had first seen from The Lurline when we arrived in Honolulu. I imagined that in a storm the waves would be much larger and quite frightening, but my desire to dip my feet into that clear aqua water was so strong, that pulling off my sandals, I handed the baby to Billy, and holding Michael’s hand rushed down towards the water. I had not counted on our son’s fear, which was so strong that he wrenched his hand from mine, flung himself to the ground, then got up and ran back to the shelter of the rocks just beyond the dune, and he would come no further. Disappointed, but in a way relieved, since I would not have to worry about him wandering into the ocean by himself, I left him behind and waded into the foamy brine. Expecting to find the water warm since after all we were in the tropics, I jumped as it lapped my ankles and sprayed my knees - it was so very cold! When Billy joined me, I told him that I had thought the water would be warm, but he had done his homework on these islands and explained that this water came straight from Alaska, and from here, it went to Japan. He also knew that there was nothing between Japan and this island but this part of the Pacific Ocean. Alaska! I was shocked, but his explanation made sense and now I understood why water that looked so warm could be so cold that I gasped in astonishment when it first rushed up to my knees. This would take some getting used to, but it would not be that difficult.
After living on the Atlantic Ocean much of my life, I had expected the Pacific to be the same, but the differences were profound in the temperature of the water and the color and clarity. Where the Atlantic had been a grayish green with little or no clarity, and usually warm, this water was quite the opposite – completely clear, deep aqua, and cold.
We played in the foam until our feet were wrinkled, and Billy finally turned to me, pulled me close and said, “I cannot wait to make love to you on this beach under the stars, little girl.”
I was dumbstruck thinking that as much as I loved my darling Billy, I could not make love out in the open for fear we might be seen, but I did not say it out loud or dampen his enthusiasm at this magic moment.
I knew though that from the second that Billy and Rusty had found these houses, there was no point in looking further, in spite of the rent that was a bit more than I thought we should pay. I really needed not to have even questioned Billy about the cost, since unknown to Tricia and to me, our husbands had paid their deposits, and it was already a ‘done deal’. Our house was the one with the cream carpet, although I was not sure if I wanted white with a little boy running in and out in this red dust, which surely would turn into sticky red mud with the rainy season. On the other hand, it would be far easier to decorate and much cooler to look at than the glaring red carpet in the other house, and since Rusty seemed pleased, I should have known that he had taken first choice. I had no idea at the time what was available from the Quartermaster, but white would be easier to deal with than red, so I accepted that Billy had either made the right choice, or had no other option. He was not the type to ‘argue’ over what he considered aesthetics, and would have been happy with either house.
Trish was as excited as I was that we would once again be neighbors, and of course, the advantage for both of us was immeasurable since Michael and Elizabeth played so well together, and we could continue to baby sit for each other. Soon she would be adding to her family, but I knew that I would be taking Margie with me almost everywhere that I went since the nursing was coming along so well. She was a contented, roly-poly, happy baby with her father’s disarming smile, and I knew that she would not be any trouble to carry along, unlike her brother who was big mischief in a three-year-old package. Of course, it was a great help that she was still immobile at this point, although I knew that before long she would be learning to crawl on the soft cream carpet.
That very day Rusty and Billy had another surprise for us, and told us that they had put deposits on German Shepherd puppies that they had heard about locally. This made both of them feel more secure about the safety of their families, especially on the nights that they had to work late, since our new landlady told them that sometimes the surfers would break into the homes along the beach to pilfer anything that might be turned into quick cash. The thieves certainly did not expect anyone to be home since the beach houses were mostly weekend homes for successful Honolulu residents, so our husbands, knowing that we would often be home alone, decided that Trish and I needed the protection offered by the soon-to-be large dogs. Billy and I had always wanted a dog, especially a German Shepherd, and had hoped that some day we would be able to get ‘Fella’ back, but by now, it would be unfair to take him from the boys who loved him, and besides, bringing a dog into Hawaii was an expensive and lengthy ordeal.
The Hawaiian Islands did not have any snakes, and the reason for this phenomenon being that at one time the snakes had been so plentiful and dangerous in the tropical location that was such a perfect environment for the slimy creatures, the islanders’ imported mongoose from India. Now the mongoose was the pests, and although not dangerous they were plentiful, but now there were no snakes. Mongoose breed like rabbits and quickly inundated the island and a rabies outbreak among these usually harmless rodents would be disastrous for the population. Anyone bringing a dog from the mainland, or anywhere else, to the islands had to keep the poor animal in quarantine for six months, at an outrageous daily boarding fee, until it declared free of rabies. Thus, it was far less expensive to purchase a dog on the island, and Rusty had heard about this litter of puppies, supposedly purebred, but without the A.K.C. papers. After finding the houses and hearing the locals say that sometimes the surfers caused problems, Rusty had taken Billy to see the puppies and they had put deposits on two females. Now I had to worry about housebreaking a puppy with the cream carpet and red mud for a yard, along with Michael tracking it in all day long.
Billy and I discussed this with some fervor on the way back to our temporary quarters, but he promised that he could train the puppy not to get on the carpet at all, but frankly, I had my doubts. Besides, I would be the one doing the training while he was at work, and I knew that he was only concerned for his family’s safety. He looked so contrite I almost felt sorry for him, so I moved closer to him and assured him that all was fine with me.
He put his arm around me, kissed me on the forehead, and said, “Darling, I promise you, this will be paradise for us. We have the beach; we have each other, our perfect family, and now the German Shepherd we have always wanted. What should we name her?”
Oh, what a scoundrel I married! He could charm a boa constrictor, and I had absolutely no chance at all. All I could do was love him, which I did – more than life itself.