Families share food,
memories at graves
Many hold picnics, not justBy Gordon Y.K. Pang
on Memorial Day, to spend time
with those they love
Arthur-Leon Drapesa loved pizza and beer.
So when family and friends went to visit his grave at Hawaiian Memorial Park, they brought along two combination pies from Boston's North End and some Coors light.
Drapesa, 20, was a Hawaii Army National Guard soldier who died last year in a training accident.
Amy Lee, Drapesa's sister, said she visits his grave once a month. Her husband, Malcolm, and Drapesa's friend, Lance Taufaasau, also visit the site often.
On this day, Lance's wife, Maddy, is along, as are kids from both families.
"It's an excuse to come and eat pizza," Malcolm Lee said, jokingly.
"Occasionally, we bring him weeds," he said, noting that Drapesa lived with his family and was responsible for cleaning the yard.
The remark brought some laughter from the party. And then it got quiet.
"He was always asking if there was anything that needed to be done," said Taufaasau, who was in Drapesa's outfit and was with him when he died. "He never shied away from his duties," he said, choking back tears.
Picnics a local traditionCemetery officials say picnics at grave sites are a phenomenon unique to Hawaii, a reflection of its diverse culture. Call it family values, local style.
"People here tend to use this place more like a park," said Scott Sells, vice president of operations for Hawaiian Memorial. Sells should know -- he's been in the cemetery business for 20 years, for the last three in Hawaii.
"They spend time with their families here, remember their loved ones. That doesn't happen on the mainland very much."
Family services counselor Steven Lee said many consider grave site visits a social event. "Mainland (cemetery) executives are astounded at the kind of turnout we have here."
It's not limited to just holiday weekends, or even weekends. Lee said that up to a dozen families find the time to set up a beach mat even on weekdays. On weekends, picnics number in the hundreds.
The practice isn't exclusive to any particular ethnic or cultural background.
"I think it's because of our roots," Lee said. "Look over there, you've got grandparents, great-grandparents and grandkids."
Said Sells, "It used to be like this on the mainland."
A birthday presentFor Leona Low, yesterday wasn't so much Memorial Day as it was the birthday of her mother, Hazel Malterre. Low, husband John, their children and their spouses have gathered with a portable picnic table and chairs around the grave site, eating Zip Pacs and drinking canned juice.
"It's the idea like even if she were at home, she would just be sitting there listening to the conversation," Low said. "She's gone but she's not forgotten."
On the grave is a miniature cable car, a present brought back from San Francisco by Low's daughter, Kanani.
"She loved cable cars," Low said.
Keeping grandma updatedPan-fried shrimp, pinacbet, fried pork, fried fish and a pot of rice adorn a portable picnic table set up by the Antonio and Torres families, who met at the grave site of family matriarch Crispina Torres.
The grave site is used to visitors. Daughter Celing Antonio guesses someone has changed flowers three to four times a week at the site since her mother died in 1997.
Eddie Antonio couldn't explain how the practice of picnicking at the grave site started. "It just came natural," he said. "When she passed away, we just came."
All four daughters of the Torres family were on hand, ranging in age from 22 to 14.
Larma Torres said it is important she and her sisters keep their grandmother updated on how they are growing up.
"She lived with us, she took care of us, she raised us because our mom and dad always worked," Torres said.
Before graduationGeorgiette "Gigi" Guieb, 17, was to take part in Waipahu High School's graduation ceremony this Sunday.
But before going to Blaisdell Center Arena for the ceremony, parents Judy and Joe Guieb and Gigi's siblings, Janice and Jason, will visit her grave at Hawaiian Memorial.
They've made the trip nearly every weekend day since January, when Gigi died from a kidney infection. Yesterday, they were joined by more than 20 other relatives and Gigi's friends from school.
Judy Guieb said they arrive early in the morning and leave late in the afternoon. Some relatives come before work. Later in the day, Gigi's school friends stop by. In mid-day, a cousin might go and get some food.
A large portrait of Gigi's yearbook picture lays atop her grave along with her favorites -- a can of passion-orange juice, mochi crunch and cookies from Kauai.
The same foods are placed on the grave next to Gigi's, that of her grandfather, Asuncion Guieb, who died in 1996. Gigi used to join the rest of the family in visiting her grandfather's grave.
Janice said they sometimes bring Gigi her favorite breakfast, an Egg McMuffin and orange juice from McDonalds. Sometimes they bring a CD player and play her favorite music.
On this day, a copy of the Waipahu High School yearbook was passed around. A section is devoted to Gigi.
Jason and some of his cousins played near a fishpond just to the side of the graves.
Judy Guieb said Gigi would have been the first person from either side of the family to go to college. "She was a good student, she was a very good girl. She always looked out for her siblings."
While his wife explained different aspects of his daughter's life, Joe Guieb stood quietly by her side, staring blankly into the lawn. "We feel she's still around us," he said.