Novel set in Norway
Talking Location With… author Linda Ulleseit – HAWAII
12th September 2020
TalkingLocationWith…. Linda Ulleseit, author of The Aloha Spirit – Hawaii
I write historical novels about my female ancestors. Because of that, I have a particular interest in the places their stories happened. The main character of my recent novel, The Aloha Spirit, was inspired by my husband’s grandmother. She was born on Kauai and grew up in Honolulu. My husband and I love vacationing in Hawaii. Every time we go he puts 500 miles on the rental car as we drive around the island. We’ve thoroughly explored Kauai and done a pretty good job on Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island of Hawaii. We love old Hawaii, like you find in Hanalei on Kauai or Lahaina on Maui, and historic businesses like Matsumoto Shave Ice, Leonard’s Bakery, and Rainbow Drive-In on Oahu. I enjoy the beach and the warm ocean with no seaweed like there is near my home in Northern California. My husband appreciates the fresh air and panoramic views. We both love the mai tais, poke, and Spam musubi!
My husband’s family came to Hawaii from the Azores in the last years of the nineteenth century. Many who worked in the vineyards came to Hawaii because the climate was similar. They worked as lunas, or supervisors, on the sugar cane plantations. By the time the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown, they were firmly entrenched in Hawaiian culture.
One of our best trips to Oahu and Kauai was the one where we spent time researching his family. In Honolulu, we stood on the corner of Iolani and Magellan where the family’s house once stood. From there, we imagined the view without the high-rises blocking it.
They saw all the way to Pearl Harbor on the morning of the attack. In fact, his grandfather worked there as a civilian shipfitter, and was at work that Sunday morning. We drove by the church the family attended and the school where his grandfather cut class to surf at Queen’s Beach. We saw the King Kamehameha statue in front of the Aliʻiolani Hale and laughed, remembering Grandpa’s story of “someone he knew” climbing up to place a roll of toilet paper in the king’s outstretched hand. Knowing the family stories made each place resonate with us. It’s one reason why I write about these people. I want future generations to do more than memorize the dates and events. I want them to understand the desires and obstacles of the people who inhabited the historic places. It’s the personal stories that bring history alive.
On Kauai, we stayed at the Waimea Plantation Cottages in a cottage similar to the one in Honolulu where his grandmother spent her early childhood. I hope the one Grandma lived in was bigger, since she stayed with a large Hawaiian family. It’s hot there, but the windows open wide to catch the trade winds. The one-bedroom cottage was tiny and efficiently laid out. The bathroom had a claw-footed tub and pedestal sink. The living room, with doors to the outside, the kitchen, and the bedroom, barely had room for two chairs and the TV (which Grandma wouldn’t have had, of course). I imagined a bunch of children running from the bedroom, through the living room and kitchen, and escaping out the back door into the sugar cane fields. The kitchen must have gotten hot since the lower part of one wall was louvered shutters to the outside. I found it very inspirational to write from that kitchen table and imagine my characters there.
My husband’s great-grandfather worked as a dairyman, and Grandma was born in Makaweli. That area of Kauai was the Gay and Robinson sugar plantation for decades. We aren’t sure whether Great-Grandpa worked for Gay and Robinson or for Waimea Dairy, but nothing is left now but the tiny Makaweli post office, surrounded by grassy fields that used to be sugar cane.There is one lone street off the highway, Kaukamani Avenue, that is lined on both sides with older homes from the 1890’s. The first plantation hospital in Hawaii used to be on this street. Maybe Grandma was born there? Wondering if family members walked those streets is part of the delight in discovering their stories.
Hawaii is full of wonder. The hills, the flowers, and the ocean are all beautiful. The people are filled with aloha. It’s a special place. Maybe it’s the family history that makes Hawaii resonate with us, and maybe it’s just appreciation for the past in general. I know that wherever we go, we gravitate toward the stories of the past, and we love places that contain part of our family story.
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