Sunday, October 4, 2009

Formally speaking

"I just saw your picture."

I ran into my friend Stephanie Ohigashi for the first time in months and those were her first words.

"Where?" I asked, trying to remember if I'd written something for a paper or a magazine, thinking that maybe she'd been to Sansei and seen my face on the backflap of the cookbook cover. That's usually where people see my picture these days.

"At Gilbert's."


She was still talking. "...when Susanne Hota and I were going through her old scrapbooks. There you were." "Oh my goodness! With my friend Beverly, both of us in tuxedoes. That was in 1985...or '86. you have GOT to be kidding me." To think that Susanne had kept that photo for almost 25 years was absolutely unbelievable. And then, a wave of regret. I'd known, as did our entire community, that Gilbert's Formal Wear was closing at the end of August after 60 - SIXTY - years in business. The landmark shop is steps from my office, I had meant to go in and wish her well, blah, blah, blah. No excuses. I screwed up, plain and simple.

"You can make up for it. She's being honored with a resolution by County Council on Friday, October 2 at 9:00 a.m. in the Council Chambers."

"I'll be there."

And I was, along with Susanne Hota's three daughters, a granddaughter, and a great-granddaughter as, one by one, the council members spoke of how she'd dressed them in formal wear for their weddings, their sons for their proms and how she had done it graciously and lovingly for three generations of Maui men...and a couple of crazy young women.

I learned things I hadn't known. The shop was her husband's dream and, tragically, he died just six weeks after the shop opened. She continued on her own. In 1976, she lost her only son. And again she soldiered on with the support, of course, of her three daughters.

I know this. Susanne Hota has been the definition of a strong, independent small business owner, beloved by her community for six decades. I wish her years and years and years of healthy, joyous retirement.

Mahalo, Susanne, for making so many folks - even wacky Beverly and Bonnie - look good.

(Scroll down to see the photo - if you must. The occasion was my friend Madge Walls' first exhibition of her grandmother Madge Tennant's art work at the Stouffer Wailea Beach Resort where Madge was the PR director. I had just started a little company called Discriminating Taste that made chocolate-covered Maui potato chips - yes! - and did gourmet catering. This evening was the public debut for the chips. That's our chef, Joyce Little (now Joyce Solis) regular women's clothing!)

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