Christian Galano is a writing student at the University of Hawaii, Maui College. Maui Now periodically publishes work from the students in partnership with the university.
By Christian Galano
It was just another humid day in the town of Lahaina, and Mitch and Ann Okumura were seen walking through the cobblestone pavements of Front Street, heading toward a nearby Starbucks.
This had become a part of their daily routine that grew throughout the years; their way of replenishing themselves after a long and laborious day at work. The Starbucks baristas had already started making their usual drinks as they arrived, and within minutes, Mitch was sipping on his freshly brewed cup of coffee, while Ann held onto her glass of iced green tea.
61-year-old Mitch Okumura was born and raised on the island of Oahu, his wife Ann was born and raised on the island of Maui.
“Growing up in Oahu is like festive days,” said Mitch. “It was like the in-thing; you meet many people, you go to nightclubs, and Ala Moana Center used to be our hang-out place after high school. Whereas for Ann, Maui was slow and laid back.”
Before meeting each other, Mitch used to work for the Sheet Metal Company in Honolulu, and later joined the US Army in 1973 for three years of service. When he got out of the military, his boss held a job open for him if he wanted to return to the sheet metal trade. He got into the sheet metal apprenticeship program, attended night classes, and met Ann.
Ann was attending the Honolulu Business College then. “I was in the business sorority,” said Ann, “and it just so happened that I was sponsored or advised by someone that Mitchell knew, and they introduced us in a blind date.”
Later, the two became good friends.
“When she and I met, we were both into sports,” continued Mitch. “You don’t really find opposites when you like someone. We used to go to the UH football games. Ann used to play volleyball for her sorority; I played softball when I was in the army. We went on a date. After that…that was it.”
Three years after their first encounter, Mitch and Ann professed their vows and married on Maui. Even today, they still share the commonalities they once shared since they first met. Both of them enjoyed fishing and outdoor activities. And since they don’t have any children, they promised that they would go on a vacation annually.
“The biggest thing we did was the cruise to Alaska,” said Mitch. “My second oldest sister and their good friends joined us on the cruise, and we had a nice time.”
Mitch and Ann described their vacation experiences as The Love Boat, a 1977 American television sitcom set aboard a Princess Cruises ship where passengers and crews aboard had romantic and hilarious adventures every week.
Last year, they flew to Las Vegas to celebrate his sister and brother-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was also a chance for them to spend time with their families.
“When you live away from the family, it’s hard,” said Mitch. “But when you visit them on the mainland, it’s like a big get-together.”
Although Mitch was never fascinated with educating himself about his own Japanese ethnicity and culture, he keeps his own samurai Okumura family crest believed to have been made hundreds of years ago. The crest, which resembled two flower-like figures intersecting along the tips, was passed on to his family from generation to generation.
“We take our parents for granted,” said Mitch. “When you’re young, we say that they’re very strict. But my mom used to tell us that ‘someday, it’s going to come back to you.’ You’re going to get married. You’re going to have some kids, and you’re going to raise your kids to the way you were brought up. But you can’t…because generations change.”
Mitch and Ann’s relationship was later tested when his dad was sent to the hospital.
“Both of our families are very close,” said Mitch, “and when it comes to family problems, she and I knew that we’re going to be there for them. I think the hardest part for me is when you lose your parents. Yes, you take them for granted. But when you lose them, you tell yourself ‘Aww, man!’”
Mitch’s father passed away 10 years ago. The entire Okumura family wanted him to visit the doctor, but he refused. At the hospital, his father had brought along a small box, safely secured and locked. But the key that kept everything inside was already on the keyhole; it contained his dad’s checkbook and heaps of paper bills.
Two days after Mitch’s conversation with his dad, he passed away. It was then that Mitch knew that the key and the box represented that Mitch was going to take over the responsibilities his father had left for the Okumura family.
“It was like my dad knew that if he goes to the doctor, he’s not coming back,” said Mitch. A slight glint of tears shone momentarily from his eyes, yet his smile and his positive and joyful attitude enveloped the sadness away from his face.
“When I look at the younger generations today, money is a big thing to them. But they need to realize that their parents put them through to be who they are today. They have to look at their parents and enjoy their time with them. Money is just a material thing.”
The two couples then discussed the differences between relationships today, from then until now.
“When you look at the younger ones,” he said, referring to the teenagers, “why do they get jealous? I don’t understand. For us, when we were dating, I look at women, she [Ann] looks at guys, and I never get jealous. I think this is what strengthened our relationship. Both partners need to give and take, that way you understand each other.
“In a marriage, you have to be honest to your partner, you have to be open-minded, and you need to have trust in order for this relationship to work.”
“You need to trust each other,” agreed Ann. “You need to know each other’s likes and dislikes; there’s always good and bad things in anybody. And don’t rush. Relationship takes time.”
Even after 34 years of marriage, Mitch and Ann Okumura never cease to continue learning about each other. No matter how treacherous the obstacles that awaited them, whether it’d be family, relationships, or friends, both of then knew that they could get through to it together.
“If you want to ask me personally,” said Mitch, “I feel like I’m still young as far as when we first got married. It’s like a learning experience every day. Even though we’d been together for so many years, you know that your partner is always there for you.”