The summer I was 16 was unlike any other in my life. It was the first time I was away from home for more than a week. I was 3,000 miles from home, but I was surrounded by several hundred other young men that were in the same situation.
Oh, it sounded exotic up front. A whole summer working in the paradise of Hawaii planting pineapples. But back in those days, the island of Lanai was no paradise. Rather, it was quite the opposite. One tiny dingy town surrounded by miles and miles of red dirt that tinged everything on the island and got into every nook and cranny. There were no five-star resorts, world class golf courses, or million dollar bungalows on Lanai back in those days.
We got up around 4:00 AM and spent our days doing the hardest, most boring agricultural work I have ever done in my life. We rode to and from the pineapple fields in the beds of pineapple hauling trucks. Each group of 17 lived in a dormitory house that consisted of thin walls on a slab of concrete with a corrugated tin or fiberglass roof overhead. Bugs (some quite large) and small critters were regular visitors/residents.
My group’s house was over a mile from the main compound. We covered that distance on foot many times that summer. The next most popular spot, Taka’s Candy Shop, was about halfway between our house and the compound.
Radios were very common. It seemed like we heard the Honolulu radio stations blaring just about everywhere we went. Pineapple pickers got to hear music while they worked because they were always near a pineapple truck that had a radio.
Pineapple planters each worked in their own field and only saw trucks rarely during the day. Personal media device technology hadn’t reached the point where it was feasible for planters to take music with them into the field. Such devices were too expensive and bulky, and the fine red silt of the planting fields quickly ruined them anyway. Still, it was common to hear music at other times.
I haven’t heard many of the songs that were popular that summer for many years, but I can still replay them in my head. Some of the common ones were Easy Like Sunday Morning by the Commodores, I’m Your Boogie Man by KC and the Sunshine Band, Hotel California by the Eagles, Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold, Boogie Nights by Heat Wave, Telephone Line by E.L.O., Give a Little Bit by Supertramp, Jet Airliner by the Steve Miller Band, Knowing Me, Knowing You by ABBA, and many others.
Other common songs with which I was barraged that summer, but that I couldn’t stand include Undercover Angel by Alan O’Day, Barracuda by Heart, and Black Betty by Ram Jam. The worst, however, was Telephone Man by Meri Wilson. Just thinking about that song still creeps me out.
My roommate for the first month of the summer repeatedly played 8-track tapes he had of albums by KISS and Boston. I came to somewhat enjoy the latter, but I never developed a taste for the former.
As a teenager, Top 40 music was a big part of life. One August day I was standing the back of a pineapple truck getting ready to leave the field and head toward the compound when the radio blared the news that Elvis Presley had died. Almost everyone around me thought this was a big deal. I had never been into his music, so I didn’t see how it could be very important in the big scheme of things. (I still feel that way. I will never understand the cult of Elvis.)
Even today when I hear one of the songs that were commonly played that summer, it takes me back in my mind to the three months I spent on the island of Lanai, which we less-than-affectionately referred to as, “The Rock.” Certain songs take me to a specific time and location.
That summer was a harsh growing experience for me. I learned how to manage being away from home for an extended period. This served me well the subsequent two summers when I worked on Boy Scout camp staff and the two years that I served as a missionary in Norway.
That summer I began to learn how to do long days of hard work. I had been a mildly chubby kid, but I trimmed down substantially. I learned how to set and achieve hard goals. I learned deep lessons in dealing with stress and disappointment.
It’s been decades since I’ve seen most of the people that were part of my summer that year. I have no idea what happened to most of them, although, some had a deep impact on my life. My summer in Hawaii was far from the most pleasant experience of my life, but it was a very important experience for me. It was a significant rite of passage.
There are portions of the summer that I can look back on with fondness, but that is not the sentiment I have when I consider the summer as a whole. The overall effect was good for me. But I sure wouldn’t ever want to repeat it.
Although it is difficult to see a child go through a harsh but growing experience, I wish for each of my children an experience similar to my summer in Hawaii, but tailored to their own needs. My two oldest have already begun to have such episodes in their lives. I hope that from this, they will develop valuable character traits that will serve them well in the future.
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