Let me be clear: I did not leave my Dad on an active lava flow. Just close to one.
Summer makes me think of family vacations, and thinking of family vacations inevitably reminds me of my family vacation to Hawaii.
It’s been several years now since our trip to The Big Island. On the afternoon this picture was taken, we were spending a pleasant afternoon at the Botanical Gardens. That’s Aunt Betty on the left, my hubby David on the right, and Uncle Walter in the background. My mom-in-law, Bonnie, is standing behind David. My Dad’s not in this picture because he elected to stay at the hotel that day.
David and I envisioned a family trip involving far less group activity, but that was not what our traveling companions had in mind. Not long after our plane landed in Kona, we accepted that we’d been drafted as the official tour guides, which made sense since we’d been there twice before. We joked that we could call ourselves “David and Terrisa-aa’s Tours.”
David’s family was thrilled to be in Hawaii and wanted to see as much of the island as possible, but my dad was there mostly to see the Camp Tarawa Monument and the volcano. All other sight-seeing he barely tolerated. Several times he opted out altogether.
Dad had trained at Camp Tarawa before participating in the Occupation of Japan after World War II. Camp Tarawa was also where the Iwo Jima forces trained. I imagine it was a sobering moment for Dad to see the monument, although he never said so.
What he did say, however, stayed the same no matter where we went: “Didn’t look like this 50 years ago.” That was Dad’s only observation. About everything.
Dad had serious health conditions, like heart disease and emphysema. He was missing his right leg below the knee. Dad could walk with his prosthetic leg, but he couldn’t walk very far, so we took a wheelchair with us in the minivan when he did go on outings with us.
And it was in that wheelchair that I left him on the lava field, in an area that looked very much like this.
You had to hike to the red hot lava, which is to say that people in wheelchairs (like Dad) were perfectly safe from the active lava… although I must say that I didn’t notice any other one-legged men parked in wheelchairs in Volcanoes National Park.
The park ranger who later stopped to ask Dad about who had left him there probably didn’t run into that too often, either.
That section of the park was peppered with signs warning people about the hazards of the volcano’s fumes, which were noted as particularly dangerous for heart patients. I rolled Dad past several of those signs. It was just the two of us on that lonely, lava-surrounded road after the rest of the group had gone on without us. The lava wasn't far away.
The “vog” (a combination of volcanic emissions and fog) got denser. I asked Dad if he wanted to turn around.
“I’ll let you know when to stop,” Dad said.
In the distance, you could see steam rising in massive clouds from lava pouring into the ocean. When a breeze blew a big whiff of sulfur toward us, Dad said, “That’s good.”
Dad put the brakes on his wheelchair, crossed his legs, then pulled out his pack of Camels and lit up a smoke before he said, “I’ll be fine right here.”
To our right, a trail led to where the lava flowed into the ocean. Ahead of us, out of sight somewhere over the hardened lava that had closed the road some time ago, the rest of our group was watching fresh lava ooze out of the ground.
Then Dad said, “Go ahead. I’ll be fine right here.”
I briefly pondered whether or not this was a good idea. I hesitated to leave him there. But lava was not far away, and when was I going to get the chance to see lava again?
So I left him on the road in the middle of the lava field.
(I must say it sounds really awful written out like that.)
I hurried to the lava, which was gurgling out of the earth and pooling around the edges of the viewing area. I quickly snapped pictures before saying to David, “We really should get back to Dad.” We told the rest of the group we’d meet them back at the minivan, and then we took off at a jog.
As we got closer, we saw a park ranger’s truck pulling away from Dad. A female ranger smiled and waved at us.
I knew instinctively that the lady ranger had not been just chit-chatting with Dad. She’d thought that we’d left him there, which technically we did… just not permanently.
“That very nice ranger asked me all about who I was with, and where you were,” Dad told us. There was no telling what he’d told her. This was the same man who had been telling people all week that a shark bit off his leg.
“She asked me all kinds of questions,” he continued. She had even given him a bottle of water. At that time, there had been a couple of high-profile cases about disabled senior citizens being abandoned in public places, which I’m sure my news junkie dad knew.
He looked positively gleeful.
What are some of your family vacation memories?
Family photos and close-up of lava by Terrisa Meeks.