My first kiss was under an ulu tree at the Bishop Museum. It was field trip day for St. Ann’s second-grade class. Instead of the stiff white, short-sleeved dress shirts tucked into confining blue plaid skirts and high-water slacks, we frolicked around in our red PE uniforms.
As we trekked to Hawaiian Hall, frazzled chaperones and tired teachers did their best to contain the chaos of 64 seven-year olds. I fell behind the group with my neighbor and youth ministry buddy Ali‘i Cruz, a Hawaiian-Chinese-Filipino boy who gave me Valentine’s Day cards year round.
“You like ulu?” Ali‘i asked, pointing at the bumpy, greenish-yellow fruit hanging from the tree above us.
“Ulu?” I asked. Whatever it was, it looked kind of gross.
“It tastes so ono,” Ali‘i said, rubbing his belly. “My mom make ‘em ‘cause das her favorite. Mines, too.”
“Yum! She can make it for me?” I didn’t trust my Japanese mom not to burn it.
Ali‘i shook his head and looked down. “Nah, she sick.”
I patted his shoulder, something I’d seen Mom do to Dad when Bachan died. “Let’s buy her a present,” I suggested, since I loved getting gifts. In fact, whenever I visited the Cruz house, Aunty Sharon gave me cool things my mom didn’t let me have like strawberry lip gloss and baggies of cereal mix without the yucky dark brown Chex.
Ali‘i shoved his hands into his red PE shorts pockets. “No money.”
I pulled my Jem backpack off my shoulder and rifled through it. “I have a quarter for icee after school.”
Ali‘i peered into my pack. “Eh! You get room.”
We looked at each other. “For u-LA!” I cried.
He giggled and corrected me, “U-LU, Lolo.”
I always made dumb mistakes, but Ali‘i didn’t care. “Right. U-LU! Let’s get one!”
Making sure no one was watching, we tried our best to reach the weird-looking orbs. But they were too high up. I stood on Ali‘i’s shoulders, he balanced on a trash can, and we even tried throwing our shoes to knock the prized fruit to the ground.
“Ugh!” Ali‘i said, his chubby fingers struggling to tie his shoelaces. “She no cook now, anyways.”
I felt even more determined to get that ulu. I kind of wanted to taste the breadfruit but mostly I wanted to make Ali‘i’s mom happy. Our families always hung out since we lived in the same cul de sac and went to the same church. Mrs. Cruz smelled good, like the Thin Mint cookies I had to sell for Girl Scouts. “Well,” I said, “we’ll make it!”
Ali‘i’s round face lit up. “Can?”
I nodded. “Can! After school come over, and I guess my mom can help us. We won’t let her mess it up. Then we’ll surprise your mom.”
We high-fived with renewed energy, and I looked around for anything that could help us. Then I spied another breadfruit tree at the bottom of a nearby hill. There was an ulu cheerfully dangling from a low-hanging branch. If we stood at the top of the hill, we could reach it!
“Come on,” I said, grabbing Ali‘i’s hand, leading him to the tree.
I gently pulled the ulu off the branch, wrapped it in my red knit sweater and tucked it safely into my backpack. I smiled proudly.
“Yeah!” Ali‘i said. He hugged me and gave me a peck on the lips.
I was shocked, but before I could say anything we heard someone scream our names. It was our teacher, Mrs. Gomez, holding the hem of her blue palaka muumuu as she stomped towards us. “Gunfunit! Wea you kids was?”
Ali‘i and I jumped away from each other. “We got lost,” Ali‘i said.
“You skea awe da parents an made da teechas look bad!” She shook her head, strands of white hair falling from her bun secured with a plastic plumeria clip. “And nevamine kissing unda da ulu tree. One pervert goin’ snatch you!”
I shrugged. “Sorry.”
“Sorry? No lunch fo’ eeda of you!” Mrs. Gomez grabbed our arms and roughly led us to the rest of the class.
“I goin’ call yo’ maddahs, an’ you goin’ get lickins,” Mrs. Gomez threatened.
I saw a panicked look in Ali‘i’s eyes.
“Aunty Sharon--I mean, his mom--Mrs. Cruz, is sick you know,” I said in my most adult voice.
“She loss all her hair,” Ali‘i said, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
Mrs. Gomez’s face softened. “We’ll see. Get inside.”
I looked back at the ulu tree, and found myself yelling, “Thank you!” Its branches swayed in the wind, waving goodbye.