On the spur of the moment Becky invited me to go with her and Susan to visit Leigh on Hawai‘i island last weekend. I didn’t have to think twice. Of course! We hadn’t seen Leigh in a few years . . .
Leigh’s life partner Diana told me, when I visited before she died, that she planted every day. The evidence shows now with all manner of fruits, vegetables, and flowers flourishing on the 12 acres of the farm called Tofu Acres.
As the plaque stuck in a rusty planter barrel reads, “The kiss of the sun for pardon / The song of the birds for mirth / One is nearer good heart in a garden / than anywhere else on earth.”
Citrus, papaya, banana, poha berry, guava, taro, chayote, kitchen herbs, and strawberries mingle with gardenia, cigar flower, hibiscus, ginger, plumeria, anthuriums, orchids, and roses. Hāpuʻu tree ferns, ʻōhiʻa lehua, and waiawī of the neighboring ʻŌlaʻa Rain Forest remain rooted at the borders. All embrace two small wooden cottages that Smiley built.
. . . Becky and Leigh were my first two Lanihuli-Drive-apartment roommates, one after the other, in college. We were all journalism majors at the University of Hawai‘i in the late Sixties and started our careers writing the daily news. Leigh is still a reporter, Becky became an attorney, and here I am the blogging fool. Susan latched on to us sometime along the way.
Leigh didn’t have a choice in the matter. We three descended on her private world, inviting ourselves to spend Saturday night and all-day Sunday. Just us girls. For a few hours, time stood still . . .
Tofu Acres sits between Mountain View and Glenwood on the way to Volcano. It is home to 9 dogs, 5 cats, 1 black pig, 1 goat, 1 mynah bird, 7 ducks, about 40 chickens, and Leigh—who rescued most of the animals and has names for all except some of the chickens.
Did I mention fresh farm eggs for breakfast?! That’s what we woke up to after an evening of pathetic Scrabble and reminiscing. You know, journalists and their words are almost as bad as linguists. The romantic glow of antique lamps was no help as we ladies fumbled for our reading glasses. From the four rocking chairs we moved the game to the brighter-lighted big beds, serenaded loudly by the unmistakable coqui frogs into the night.
Before Leigh had shown us the supply of bottled drinking water, I took some meds with water from the tap, to her obvious concern. “It’s okay, isn’t it?” I asked. She said she never thought to tell us city folk. At that elevation she’s on rain catchment. “I don’t know,” she replied still concerned, “I’ve just always drunk bottled water. I’m sure it’s okay, it must be okay.” Did she brush her teeth with it? “No.” Not knowing what to do, in sympathy she filled a tumbler half full of tap water and downed it. That’s my friend Leigh.
The after-breakfast routine is to greet and feed all the animals and gather more eggs. That takes some time on Tofu Acres. It’s a bright and sunny morning. Smiley has emerged respectfully from his house trailer parked recently in Leigh’s driveway, announcing he’s washed the dogs and picked up some supplies.
He’s assembled a potting shelter down the way, and this morning he’s tending systematically to new tomato seedlings. He’s a kind, sweet man, a wonderful friend who appears when you need him the most. Leigh told us that when Diana died, Smiley prepared the land for Diana’s crypt in the pouring rain (you’re allowed to be buried at home with the proper permits). When some lōlō showed up with Leigh’s car after it disappeared for a few days, Smiley was there to greet it and advised Leigh to call the cops.
As the poignant story unfolds, we learn from Leigh that Smiley’s wife is ill, and that he and their son take turns caring for her. Smiley comes to Tofu Acres for respite.
Before heading out for the day to explore some property, to go shopping, and to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we bought our senior passes for life—yay, age has its privileges!—we went to see where Diana rests peacefully in a lovely setting.
. . . Of course we roomies know the next chapter of the story, even though dear Leigh doesn’t.
True friendship is clairvoyant. Cultivate your friendship like a garden and hold it close to your heart. Be kind and take care of each other, the animals, and the land, for we are One.