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Anyone who grew up in Hawaii, certainly has heard of a little piece of paradise called Kalihi. It's a place where a lot of poor, hard working families raised some of Hawaii's most famous individuals. Kids that believed in themselves and went on to become governors, senators, lawyers and world class athletes, ran barefoot in Kalihi as youngsters. I grew up in Kalihi during the 1950's and 60's. It was a time in my life that I will forever be grateful. In those days, the only problem a kid like me had, was getting home after the street lights went on or not picking up all the fallen mangoes and putting it out before the rubbish man came on Fridays.

Yeah, those times sure were nice. It was a time that a lot of us still refer to as "Small Kid Time". In those days, the neighborhoods all seemed full of trees and big old yards that took forever to rake. Every kid in our neighborhood knew where all the delicious star fruit, mango, guava, cherry, avocado, tamarind and mountain apple trees were.

One day when I was about ten years old, my friends Johnny Judd, Pake, Poi and his sister Honey Girl and myself overheard some grown ups talking about their "good old days" and how they use to raid a lychee tree that was "the biggest lychee tree in the world".

They all laughed when they remembered the old Japanese man who would chase them around the tree. This legendary old tree was supposedly on a dirt road just in back of the old Sacred Hearts Academy School. Somehow, we decided to go searching for the great fruit tree and it was a day that I will never forget.

This tree was all the way across town and just getting there was an adventure in itself. With the little information and directions that we remembered, we navigated through new neighborhoods and unknown streets. After being chased by a dog , yelled at by people as we cut through their yards and taking a few dead ends, we finally came to the road. I still recall that the skies were a deep ocean blue and cloudless and that all of us were laughing and talking as we walked up that worn out road filled with potholes.

All of a sudden the sun disappeared from the sky and everyone became real quiet! The only thing you could hear was the wind blowing and our hearts pounding because before us, stood the greatest lychee tree that we had ever seen. The shade of the tree covered half the road and all of the owners house and yard. It was so thick with fruit and leaves that even grass couldn't grow beneath it. It's funny how people are but only the fruit over the road was picked as the rest of the fruit fell rotting in the yard. They tied paper bags around a lot of the bunches to keep them from falling but there was just too much to save. We couldn't believe the amount of juicy red fruit that hung from it's branches.

As we approached the gate, we decided on two things. First, was that one of us would ask for permission to pick some fruit, and second, that that person would be me because I could run the fastest. We figured with the ten thousand lychee rotting on the ground, the owners might be happy if we helped get rid of some of them. As I pushed open the creaky old gate I noticed all these small bells that were hanging from the branches of the tree and an old sign nailed to it that said "KAPU - NO PICK LYCHEE". There was also an old poi dog with one blind eye tied to the trunk of the tree. You would have thought that the dog was dead except for that one good eye that followed me as I walked up to the screened porch.

There in the corner of the the porch, was an old Japanese man sleeping on his rocking chair, next to a can of rocks. I couldn't figure out what the bells and the can of rocks were all about but it didn't matter when I saw how the elderly man was dressed.

The skinny gray man wore only his boxer shorts, a ragged under shirt, two rubber slippers that didn't match and an old aviators cap with goggles. We heard rumors that he was an old Kamikaze pilot that got lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor and felt it was his fault for Japan losing the war. I couldn't see his eyes because of his goggles but I knew he was asleep. His mouth was open and he was quietly snoring.

"Excuse me, papa san," I said after taking a few deep breaths, "can pick lychee?"

"Huh, who you?" he cried out as he awoke. "You go home before I give you licking! And you better run fast before I sic my dog on you!" The poor dog was too busy scratching for fleas.

"OK! OK!" I said . "I sorry for asking. I going so no get mad." As I walked out the gate I knew there was only one thing to do.

PLAN B! We tried to be nice but now we had to show him that we meant business and we didn't travel all this way to go home empty handed. What we didn't know was that, to the old man, the tree represented Japan and he was prepared to defend it with his life before he was going to give up a single juicy lychee.

Honey Girl and I looked out for the old pilot as Pake, Johnny Judd and Poi climbed over the wall. Cautiously stepping past the sleeping dog, they quickly scurried up the tree. They all grabbed the bottom of their shirts and put it in their mouths. This helped form a pocket to fill with fruit, so that they still had the use of both their hands to climb and pick.

Just as they crawled to different parts of the tree, a bell rang! And then another bell rang! And another! And another! Till all the bells in the tree were ringing out of control! Now I know what the bells were for and I was soon to find out what the can of rocks was doing on the porch.

The sound of the bells turned that scratching, wrinkly old dog into an attack trained monster! It was barking and growling and foaming at the mouth. It was also scratching huge grooves out of the trunk of the tree as it was trying to get to the boys high up in the branches.

Then leaping off the porch with his can of rocks, was the old Japanese man in his underwear, firing stones up into the tree. It sounded like Japanese but I think he was yelling "Get the hell outta hea!"

The size of the tree was so enormous that it's arms stretched far over the road. Like monkeys, the guys all headed for the end of the tree branches and jumped safely to the road. In their attempts to escape, all the lychee that they had picked fell in the yard. The old man and his dog stood victorious at the gate as we ran down the road, screaming and laughing at the same time. He had won the battle.

As we raced down the dirt road, we came to a river that we could not cross. This meant that we had to go back by the old man and his dog again. This also meant that the ancient warrior knew that we had headed down a dead end and that he would be prepared for a second attack. Cautiously we crept up to his part of the road and just as we were about to sprint past his house, we noticed two large bags filled with lychee sitting just outside his gate.

Stunned, we picked up the fruits and walked slowly towards home. Without saying a word, we all waved thanks and kept walking. As we looked back, we could see the dog still scratching and up on the porch was the old general.

A small smile came across his face. He had also won the war! Years later, after we all grew up and moved out of Kalihi, I decided to drive down the old road to see if the tree still stood as magnificent as it did when we were kids. I knew the old man and his dog were probably gone but when I got there, so was the house and the tree.

It's sad how time erases many of the precious things in our lives. That's why it's important to live your life as an adventure and treasure all your beautiful memories. For me and my friends, the lychee tree still stands... the dog still.


About Author

Scott Haililani Mahoney is a Kamehemeha School and University of Colorado graduate. Originally from Lanakila in Kalihi on Oahu, Scott writes small kid time stories for his father, who is also a writer. Scott now lives on Maui.

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