The wildflower known as Aloha Wing was plucked from the Earth on May 31 at 5:15 a.m., the sky outside Serenity House just beginning to glow with its two- or three-trillionth promise of a new day, birds slowly gathering their morning mojo, yelling at each other with singsong gusto as the light grew brighter. It was as if the universe didn’t know of the goings-on in our little room. Aloha’s long day was ending, following 90 sloppily choreographed Technicolor years of love, mischief, adventure, bemused motherhood, piercing sorrow, ill-advised ’70s-era macramé purchases, fairway divots deep enough to plant in, helpless wet-faced laughter, and a former meat loaf recipe any prisoner would be within his rights to protest having to eat. My extraordinary mom’s laughing, bright blue high-beams are closed. Forever? What idiot came up with this plan? How does this make sense? Doesn’t.
Born to Army Colonel Julian Hurlburt Gist and Arlene Hazel Gist at Schofield Barracks, Honolulu, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, in 1923, Aloha was sneaking out of Army-issue family housing just as soon as she could run quietly at great speed. Her older sibs, brother Bill and sisters Jean and Jeanette, watched from a safe distance as Aloha blossomed into a looker and a benign thorn in her adoring father’s side.
One evening at a crowded, bunting-festooned air force servicemen’s dance in Florida in 1942, Aloha found a grinning teammate in Bob Wing. The beauty and her handsome, wise-cracking beau joined hands and ran through the rice, marrying in Tampa in 1943 and producing their own understudies in Bill (globehopping Freedom Defender and one of the funniest guys on Earth), Jill (trophy-collecting equestrian, early adopter of experiential Bohemianism, journalist/writer extraordinaire), Jeff (lazy left eye and quite a bit balder than he realizes), and Patrick (thrill-seeking boundary-pusher, survivor, and final co-caregiver to Bob). Aloha and Bob tore through their journey together in a zig-zagging variety of air force assignments and officers’ clubs that took them from Florida to Georgia to Puerto Rico to Louisiana to Wyoming, and finally to Wheelus Air Base outside Tripoli, Libya.
There at Wheelus, they watched a brash young Libyan army captain named Muammar Gaddafi give old King Idris the bum’s rush in a 1969 coup d’état. The Americans were soon asked to leave. Incidents ensued. In one, our neighbor tried to smuggle a Jewish friend out of Tripoli (a dangerous stunt in the anti-Semitic afterglow of the coup). The consequence: His wife, a defiant French academic, was consigned to house arrest until she agreed to be stripped of her belongings and sent out of the country to join her husband. Aloha and her loudmouthed, capri-wearing best gal pal Stephanie thought otherwise, and through a weeks-long process combining stealth and shameless flirting with young Libyan guards, they shipped Genevieve’s belongings, piece by patiently smuggled piece, to the couple’s new home in Okinawa in flagrant defiance of Gaddafi.
Retirement from the air force took our family to the Wonderland Hill neighborhood of Boulder, Colorado, at the very foot of the Rockies. Several cyclonic winters later, we packed up the car and drove straight into the arms of the blistering desert and Phoenix, Arizona, where Aloha became a bridge sharpie, Senior Olympic swimming champ (17 gold medals but who’s counting), perpetually tanned party hostess, downtown history museum docent, early database manager (Phoenix Bureau of Tourism), and chardonnay enthusiast. Bob passed away in 1993, and several years later a drifting Aloha moved to Santa Barbara to join Judie and Jeff in the American Riviera, where she made new friends, continued her daily swimming regimen in the cold Pacific, and grew to love the Courthouse, the Museum of Art, Alameda Park, and the view of the city and ocean from the rooftop garden at Villa Santa Barbara. She adopted Santa Barbara with all her strength and heart.
And now this. All that overstuffed cornucopia, all that wild energetic mess funnels down to a beautifully appointed, utterly silent little room on a hill, awash in early sunlight and ringing with hollered birdsong the guest of honor is finally unable to hear.
Aloha was the army brat born in Grandpa’s long-sought paradise, the blue-eyed baby, the dazzler. Her unguarded expression was always, always that of a joyous, jittery kid about to round the next corner. Now Aloha is no more. Completely impossible. We’re each a living story. Aloha’s was a good one. Her last full sentence, two days before she left, was the line, sung in a murmur — “I can’t give you anything but love, baby.” That says it all. We love you so, so, so much, Mom. Thanks for the laughs and the guidance. Where are you?