EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for TucsonCitizen.com before the site ceased current-events operations earlier this year. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com about Arizona Wildcats athletics. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.
BY ERNIE McCRAY
Special to AllSportsTucson.com
I’ve been to the islands of Hawaii four times, thoroughly enjoying the unparalleled beauty each time. How can one not?
Maui. The Hana Highway. The howling trade winds, the sudden rains, the rainbow eucalyptus, with its bright green inner bark and blue, purple, orange and maroon tones. The wonders of the Seven Sacred Pools.
Kauai. The Garden Isle. Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” wild chickens everywhere. ‘Opaeka’a Falls after a heavy rain. The wet and dry caves.
Oahu. City life. Waikiki Beach. North Shore with its huge epic waves. Watching the hang gliders at Makapu’u.
The Big Island. Hawai’i. A volcano that erupts constantly. Black sand beaches. Coqui frogs galore, drowning out all other night sounds.
Usually after returning home I reflect on the beauty of it all for days. But after this trip I had to hit the streets of San Diego running. Returned on a Tuesday. Had a speaking engagement at SDSU on multi-cultural education the very next day. Needed desperately to prepare for a show, “On the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme,” for the San Diego International Fringe Festival, which opened last Sunday, having missed three weeks of rehearsal. Putting tap dance to spoken word takes a little doing.
It turned out, though, that soon as we put the performance to rest, Hawaii eased its way back to my mind and I found myself not only remembering the eye catching comeliness of these sparkling wondrous pieces of earth, but I also reflected on how each visit I’ve made to those shores has represented a significant moment in my life.
I went there the first time with my second wife, in my mid-30’s, feeling free, like a man who had come out of a horrible life experience and was seeing, again, how up life can be. And that was me. My life, everyday it seemed, for over a decade, had been like that of a surfer wiping out on a 50-foot monster wave and being thrust underwater up to the point where he can hold his breath no longer and takes a deep breath, thankfully, in air that arrived just in the nick of time.
But now I had a new life. I went snorkeling for the first time, swimming alongside fish of every color one could imagine and sea turtles and other sea creatures in waters portraying every shade of blue.
I body surfed in the rough waters of Sandy Beach which, in retrospect, even though I’m a strong swimmer, I shouldn’t have even put my toes in that wild and wooly shore break, but I was still not old enough to fear recklessness. I was on a high. Up for anything.
On the other hand, who knows what life will bring? I eventually left that relationship. My second time flying to the islands I, in my late 30’s now, was with the woman with whom I would live happily ever after but many years later she played a role in “until death do us part,” crushing my soul and my heart. It wasn’t until she came into my life that I finally realized what I needed in a woman. It was the right move for me as we were destined to be together, as we proved every minute of our time as a couple. She had a miscarriage in a Kaiser Hospital in Honolulu and it wasn’t much later that our twins were conceived. Life can, indeed, be good.
The next time I made it to Hawaii, Kauai and Maui, it was with that beautiful woman and our daughters and our son, a gift to ourselves after they had all graduated from college. Such a wonderful time for us in paradise. It was a golden era of accomplishing life goals. I was embarking on 70 years of age at the time.
This latest trip was unique in so many ways. First of all, there were nine of us and we got along marvelously: My beautiful bright and talented sidekick who is all about the making of a world where diversity is appreciated and honored and has given me a priceless new leaf on life after the loss of my beloved wife; her witty and funny sister; her son, about the most gentle and thoughtful man I’ve ever known and his brilliant insightful fun loving girlfriend; her daughter, beautiful, smart, an organizer extraordinaire and her husband, quiet and right-on when he speaks and their daughter who is sweet and observant and musical and their son who has the energy of the sun and is curious about everything under that very sun. Delightful people all.
And long lanky me, all 76 years of me, giving a little “mahalo” to the universe for such recent life experiences as: playing in a warm sea; listening to the howling winds and the brief downpours; watching children playing in the surf, bubbling with glee; breathtaking hikes; walking through sparkling sand and lava tubes and the charm of a lavender farm and into a volcano that was lush and green and looking at the red glow of another one in the cold night air and walking along a hot trail where its steam escaped, polluting the air with the smells of sulfur; going over a script in my mind in a bamboo forest…
Feeling Hawaii, indeed.